After Soul Mining

The exhibition at CEART in Fuenlabrada was my second solo show. My work had evolved after "Soul Mining" exhibition, based on things I had observed through putting on that exhibition. Below is a text I wrote at the time and have amended for this page. I think it explains well my thoughts on my changing direction in my work and the incorporaton of videos in my work:


I don't paint portraits.

In my previous series "Soul Mining" I had been trying to explore deeper than the mere representation, using paint and the painted surface with a confrontational physical size, and using the magic of oil paint to try to delve further than the skin and bone or mere representation, into what I hope was the soul of the sitter.

I had questions I was hoping to answer in the process of my paintings. I had side-stepped a question in my previous work, but I realised that in fact it is vital to be approached before my work can progress. I wrote the following statement in my previous exhibition:

"If the "something else" (soul) being pursued is considered to be of a time and place in itself, this will surely condition the context of the piece in due course. If its not, then I see that even the subtlest of shadows in the background (let alone things that clearly condition and define such as clothes, situation or place) will provoke certain assumptions by the viewer of the subject, and that I want to avoid."

I had previously wanted to concentrate more on pigment, the paint and the passion of the sitter, a technical challenge to capture the "something else" and satisfied that to some extent I had managed it my thoughts turned to the pieces themselves.

I found that after painting my subjects some time usually goes by before I saw them again, months sometimes. As I had mentioned, my paintings felt successful to me if I had somehow captured a part of the what I considered to be the subjects "soul". My "Soul Mining" was closely linked to how my sitter felt the day I was with them. However with this obsession with the likeness of an emotion (over a general likeness of the sitter), when I met up with my sitters/subjects later I often struggled to see them reflected in the finished work. A different person with different emotions or preoccupations would be before me, a different face. Could that mean also a different soul?

Not a traditional portrait.

I'd come to the conclusion that the advantage of traditional portraiture, the lack of capturing emotion, serves to create a neutral/emotionless version of a sitter. Advantageous as it will never be emotionally (and therefore physically) far removed from the subject's temporal state of being at any one time. As the painting portrays no current emotion in the first place, it can never be "wrong". For me to not even try to capture an emotion I can clearly see in a person, would be a waste of time. To not portray "soul", why bother?

So then questions are formulated through these thoughts:

  • Does the soul in itself belong to a certain time and place?
  • Am I only capturing a part of a complex soul, or does a soul change?
  • Are we physically as moulded by our outlook on life at a certain point, as we are moulded by our souls predisposition on life?

I had set out before to try and capture one aspect of a soul, but now I return to the paintings to scratch further into the painting, to reflect these conflicting emotions we can have at the same time. Perhaps to capture more than one emotion in a painting? It's clear we are perfectly able to laugh and cry at the same time, how to represent not such a simple base outpouring, but more complex subtle emotions.

I felt in my large portraits of the Soul Mining series that although they worked in the sense of catching something more than a physical likeness, they only managed to catch a snapshot of the soul. Of a time and place.

Can a painting ever be more than this snapshot (or series of snapshots) even if the soul is found? And if our soul is in constant change, is this interior change responsible for change so visibly reflected in our face.

By exploring this I’ve found a way of painting where each can have a place on a painting, where they interact, compliment as well as destroy each other. Many paintings were ruined at the final stage, with a stronger emotion obliterating any subtle nuance I had tried to balance between more than one emotion.

So I can say "I don't paint portraits" and with that liberation, a heavy burden of a neverending genre is lifted from me. Not caring that traditional portrait mute emotions in order to capture a nullified version of a superficial likeness. Free to use these interesting edges in paint and layers, so that the interaction within themselves takes me in a completely new direction with new intentions.

Daniel O'Sullivan