Are you a lover of bright colours, of colourful and textured paintings?
Then Aoibhin Maguire’s works might be as well your new favourites.
We talked with the young artist from Belfast about humour in
a piece of art, curating in unconventional spaces
and life as an emerging artist.
Aoibhin, please tell us a bit about your background: who are you and how did you get into art?
I am Aoibhin Maguire, an artist born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I moved to Lancaster in Northern England to do my Fine Art BA, spending my second year studying art abroad in the USA at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and have recently graduated with an MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art. I am currently living and working in London.
I was involved in the arts from a very young age. I attended arts and craft clubs as a child, played the fiddle and was an Irish Dancer. My mum did a lot of art with me when I was very young – we made huge suns and moons, things out of clay and my dad would show me techniques to draw trees and cats. I am very lucky in that my upbringing allowed art to just be a natural part of my life. I know it sounds cliché but I really have always loved art. In secondary school I would always stay behind after school and paint in the art classroom and my studio mates throughout my degrees are always commenting on how I never leave the studio! My favourite bit of ‘art life’ is definitely the bit where I’m actually making the art!
I know it sounds cliché but I really have always loved art.
Now, please tell us about your work.
To sum up the themes of my work I would say joy, horror, anxiety, otherworldly, disorder, vivid imagination, colour, honesty and humour. I have always been a very physical painter and it is very important for me to get MESSY when I paint. I work predominantly with paint however I also make mixed media works and installations. I definitely prefer the physical rather than the digital. I am inspired by thick, textured paintings which I can get up close too and really admire the layers. I am influenced by artists such as Rose Wylie, André Butzer, Katherine Bernhardt, Sam Keogh and Andi Fischer.
I have always been a very physical painter and it is very important for me to get MESSY when I paint.
I read on your website that you took over a vacant retail space in a mall in Lisburn, Northern Ireland to open your own gallery and studio. Tell us more about that experience, sharing that space with local artists and curating the exhibition ‘EMERGING: A Room Full of Art.”
I took on the space during the Covid19 pandemic. The first year of my MA was online and I needed a studio. All studios in Belfast were either full or unaffordable for me at the time. I reached out to the Divisional Director of the Mall with my proposal to take over the empty space as my studio, and to give back I would open it up to the public who would come in to view all my work and have a chat. It was quite tricky working in a space which could have visitors walk in any second and it meant I couldn’t go as crazy with the space as I would have if it were closed to the public, however I wouldn’t have had it any other way – I met some amazing people and had great conversations.
Curating the show was a super busy but incredible experience. There were 20 local artists exhibiting and Covid restrictions had just been lifted. After artists not being able to exhibit for so long, everyone was so excited. It definitely was a challenge to curate an exhibition during the pandemic and it was important I made it as safe as possible. The feedback was great and we even got a visit from the Lord Mayor. It was important to me to pay people from the local community so we had a fantastic local singer provide live music, one of the exhibiting artists provided photography and another, who used to be a security guard, provided security to monitor numbers due to covid. It was so beautiful to see everyone come together to help in whatever way they could.
So, you are an artist who also curates exhibitions- what is it that you like about it and how does it add value to your “normal” artist life (if there is something like a “normal artist life“)?
As of yet, I am still trying to figure out what a ‘normal’ artist life is haha. I guess my normal artist life mostly consists of being on my own for hours in my studio painting and experimenting, listening to art podcasts, social media/website/work documentation and trying to get out to exhibition openings at least once a week. I definitely think it is important to get out and talk to other artists, as so much of being a painter is just, well, painting in your studio.
I love the buzz of curating exhibitions in unconventional spaces. It’s a great thing to do with an enthusiastic group of people. It generates super interesting conversations and makes you think outside the box.
It forces you to engage with work which is often completely different to your own which I think is very important. I also think curating shows is great for emerging artists to get out there and have their work seen whilst they are perhaps working up to showing in other spaces.
Do you believe that more artists should get engaged culturally, opening spaces, galleries, organizing their own exhibitions?
Honestly, I think it is entirely up to each individual and their preferences. It’s such a hard one, and burn out in the artistic world is real. Although it can definitely be helpful and empowering for artists to give themselves the opportunities galleries aren’t, it can also be hard to do this and the million other things which you have to do when starting out as an artist – social media, applications, more applications. Personally, I really enjoy it, but I can totally see why someone may want to put all of their energy into their own practice as well. I would definitely recommend doing it at least once.
For people who would like to try that, but don’t really know where to start, do you have any kind of advice?
Yes I do! Firstly, while it is good to push yourself out of your comfort zone, you don’t have to overwhelm yourself trying to curate the ‘perfect’ exhibition (not that this really exists). Start out with what you feel comfortable with. If that is just wall based work then that is fine! Personally I think it is also nice to start out with your local community, or to focus on giving opportunities to people who may, for whatever reason (e.g. not having gone to art school), find it hard to get into a traditional gallery. For me, this is the most rewarding part of it.