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“Art is a way of staying in love with the world”
Mariola Wiazowska

Mariola ;

How do you see the role of art in society, and do you aim to convey any messages through pieces?

Fionna ;

Well, I’m not sure about the role of art in society but something I heard the artist Jeremy Deller say recently in an interview that rang true with me, that Art is a way of staying in love with the world and possibly that’s the essence of it for me, or to put it another way staying curious about the life you’reliving. The making of the work (and also seeing art) is a way of staying in love with the world in the way you were as a child. That sense of awe that we lose as adults because we have less time to just take in and experience what’s around us. But Art has the ability to stop us for a period of time and give us space to think, feel and reflect through looking. As an artist making work to be shown, you hope to offer the viewer a possibility to connect with something meaningful because you've experienced it in the making. A circle is created because I will have looked at artworks in an exhibition that have touched me in some way, and the experience of that influences my thinking about what I’m doing with my own paintings. I was at the Philip Guston show at Tate Modern in November and his paintings were giving me the space to reflect on so many things not only my own work, but in their timelessness, they were pointing at the human condition really. The sheer quality and impact of great art is inspiring in a particular way that, say, scrolling images on a phone just cannot match. In its actual material form, an exhibition has a particular unique effect on the body and mind that the distancing nature of the screen cannot. The circle. And that goes for every art form, doesn't it? Music writing, film, theatre, even football at its best, a good football match is very inspiring, especially when it's Arsenal winning!

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Mariola;

Have you ever collaborated with other artists, and how has that influence your creative process?

Fionna;

Being a painter is quite a solitary activity most of the time but in terms of collaboration, I was involved in a group show in 126 Artist Run Gallery here in Galway earlier this year. The experience in 126 was great, actually, having a show with two other artists from Art space Studios, and we didn't know what it was going to look like when we began the process. We had some meetings where we talked about what we each had in terms of work and what we wanted to do with it. The positive thing about discussing the possibilities of this more experimental space was that we pushed the boundaries of what we could do singularly and together to make an exciting exhibition. Helen Roberts is primarily a painter, but she also had a video projection, and she incorporated a sound piece. Anne O’Byrne made a hanging piece in the centre of the gallery and placed wooden construction pieces from her renovated house on shelves. I had the opportunity to try out some new installation pieces on the floor and walls alongside a single painting. Sona Smedkova was one of the directors in 126 and was very much involved in the process as a facilitator rather than a curator of the show. She was holding the process and made things happen around the exhibition, which was inspiring. It was a very rewarding experience.Sona, Anne and Helen are also all graduates of the Art programme at ATU.

Petal 118x93 cm Paper

Mariola;

Can you tell us a little bit more about your art, what themes or subjects do you find yourself drawn to repeatedly in your work?

Fionna;

Well, I was born in London and lived in that city, but I’ve also lived in Ireland for nearly 30 years now, and I think that juxtaposition is the backdrop to themes in my work–the shifting experience between the two places. So the paintings become a contained space that’s between city and country, and the imagery often utilises the city park as a similar urban / rural construction. An in-between space that is full of possibilities for play and imagination.

Mariola;

Could you give us a short brief of the process?

Fionna;

As source material there might be photos, memories;for example the paintings in my recent solo exhibition at The Dock in Leitrim. One of the paintings has a swan in it, most of the imagery is actually an amalgamation of images that I’ve collected, but the painting is also drawing on memories of a certain park in London. So the trees are abstracted and referencing remembered fragments that are put together to make a sort of artificial landscape. There's a curving painted mark for a river running across the canvas and the swan is inside an oval, which doesn’t make sense in a rational way but which is like a vignette, referencing the idea of a portrait, maybe even self-portrait. So I'm also alluding to the idea of painting and that anything can happen within the painting. And the swan, of course. Swans are often in city parks, and it refers back, I suppose, to London parks. These paintings were a development from a series of watercolours that were painted more realistically, but I didn't want to paint in that way on canvas. I didn't want them to be realistic. So the recent works are almost a bit like a children's storybook in the way that the imagery is more imaginary.

   That painting has quite a poetic title. Sometimes my titles come from songs or a few words in a book I’m reading. This painting“The River is Blue Because the Blue Sky Looks into it” comes from a poem that I wrote myself many years ago, and I always liked that line. That's probably about the best line I’ve ever written (laughs)and I thought it was appropriate to the painting-the sense that it's about the colour and how the river is reflecting the sky and the river's blue because the blue sky is looking into it. So again, it's all about looking. Often, I’m referring to the act of looking when I'm putting together the paintings. When I was at art college in London, I was introduced to other art forms by, tutors or fellow, students, and it was there that the penny dropped for me about poetry. After leaving, school, I didn't really read it any more.

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“The River is Blue Because the Blue Sky Looks in to it“, acrylic on canvas 45x60cm 2022

That's the lovely thing about the creative possibilities of art college-that it introduces you to all these other parallel strands that feed into your particular interests. I remember another student gave a poem to me, and it suddenly made sense in the context of painting. And poetry, in a way, is quite a kin to painting, isn't it? Because it's ambiguous, and it's not explaining-it's a sort of condensed language, which I think painting is, in a sense, a condensing of experience. There is something worked out in that space, and what's left behind is an evidence on the surface of the canvas. This trace of someone having been there and experienced something of the world in a particular way.

Mariola;

What recognition or awards have you received for your art, and how have those accolades influenced your artistic journey?

Fionna;

They gave me opportunities. In 2010, I received First Prize at The Claremorris Open Exhibition. The award was 4000 euro, which was quite substantial and enough to cover all my expenses for a residency I had organised in Rotterdam later that year. On the opening night of the exhibition, they announced that I was the winner that year. It was a gift I really didn’t expect, and it was amazing and was also recognition for the work I had made. An award like that gives you confidence to keep going because of course we can all suffer from self-doubt at times in the process. And sometimes you think, Am Ianygood at all? You know, is this worth it? So the awards are recognition from a larger body that what you're doing is worthwhile. I'm very aware that I have been lucky to have been able to live as an artist here in Ireland. I left London to study on the MFA in Belfast and then moved to Galway without really knowing what the future would bring. But at that time the opportunities were there to teach at third level and to keep a studio going. Which meant that I could continue painting and build a career both teaching and exhibiting. It has always been a challenge juggling the two activities, but I’ve gained so much from being part of the community of students and fellow lecturers at GMIT/ATU. Here I am being interviewed by you Mariola, one of the many students I’ve had interesting and enlightening conversations with, in the Art programme’s studios over the years.

My interviewee was Fionna Murray, Artist and ATU Lecturer. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me and wishing you all the best in the future.

Mariola Wiazowska

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