What has become the conventional practice of having an artist talk/conversation to either open or occur during the run of an exhibition, has the potential effect of either injecting the artist’s divorced artworks in the gallery with some personality, or not. Can what an artist has to say about their art practice devalue the artist and his or her artworks in the eyes of the fan or collector? On the other hand we live in an era in which, when David Beckham speaks, he doesn’t devalue brand ‘Beckham’.

With only a week remaining of Paul Doran’s solo exhibition at Green on Red, a conversation with the artist took place at the Dublin gallery with Robert Armstrong (head of painting at The National College of Art & Design). My interest in attending was based on reviewing the same exhibition two weeks earlier on +billion_, in which I commented on Doran being a reluctant grandstander (read here). You could argue that, by following convention and partaking in an artist talk contradicts such a fugitive position. However, Doran speaking in public about his work is a rare occurrence, and what the artist had to say on the night cemented what is generally the case regarding the artist’s social relationship with the artworld – a  jigsaw wherein the socially awkward or socially reluctant artist struggles to fit in comfortably.

What discreetly surfaced during the conversation, amid discussion of the methodological trajectory of Doran’s painting practice over the last ten years, was the subjects of art and life, which collided in a significant way on Doran’s canvas in 2009 when: (1), he moved his studio into his own home; (2), this move coincided with a massive shift to Doran’s painting method. For those new to Doran’s art practice, his earlier paintings – works that the artist admits still haunt him to this day – were drooled over by collectors. Built on layer upon layer of creamy oil paint, imagery was always on the verge of collapsing under the weight of copious corporeality. It was as if collectors were buying equal measures of oil paint and creativity by the pound – creative bulk for your money. The reason why Doran’s paintings don’t fetch as much money or stimulate as much collectors’ saliva as they once did, is partly because he didn’t ride the wave of collectors’ taste for his meatier oil paintings from five years ago. On the night of the conversation, an admitted collector disclosed that he, and a collector friend, were very proud owners of early ‘Paul Dorans’: nostalgia for the meaty ‘Dorans’ was evidently on the tip of his tongue as he spoke. Significantly, it was the fear of the audience sticking their fingers into the surface of his works (which happened once) that pushed Doran one day to poke and collapse the surface of one of his own paintings. And so the creative deconstruction began, and with that a birdie to his audience and collectors. Furthermore, directors of galleries are often branded as proliferators of style (or style pushers) rather than supporters of creativity. Jerome O’Drisceoil’s support for Doran’s less collectible works paints a very different picture of the gallery director.

On the night of the conversation a very intriguing observation was shared by fellow Irish painter Mark Swords from the audience, on the paradoxical nature of things being described as broken; suggesting that failure is not possible when dealing with things that are already broken, especially with regards to artists using everyday scraps from broken objects in the makeup of their work. I responded quizzically that ‘broken’ is a subjective notion, especially when the artwork is defined as non-functional or useless. There are some collectors, however, that believe Doran’s new paintings are irretrievably broken. We can only conclude that from certain vantage points that aesthetic and conceptual value comes in different packages, and the package that catches the light best above the collector’s mantlepiece comes with a monetary handshake. What Doran’s recent paintings lack in glossy glamour they make up for through bucket loads of improvisational creativity.

During the conversation Doran mentioned Dave Hickey, the American art critic who retired from the artworld a couple of months back. His name was said in jest, following a quip by Doran that he may himself retire from the artworld, not feeling at all comfortable with artworld etiquette, especially concerning career advancement. In another instance ‘beauty’ was mentioned via O’Drisceoil’s description of Doran’s paintings being “ravishingly beautiful” in the press release, a description that, understandably, was met by forced laughter on the night. The combined mention of Dave Hickey, beauty and awkwardness at the mention of the latter, provoked me to tell the story of Hickey’s accidental, theoretical marriage with the term beauty, a story that is shared by the critic in his book The Invisible Dragon. Hickey was a panelist at one of the many art criticism seminars that he has participated in over the years, which may have explained his lack of engagement with proceedings. Doodling away in his notebook he was asked during the Q&A what was the next big thing in theory? ‘Beauty’ he blurted, without thinking. It was a lie. Perhaps an unconscious truth. The hope on Hickey’s part was that it was at least a provocation. It wasn’t.

Consciously or not, Doran relating to Hickey’s predicament does make sense. In Hickey’s personalised and poetic brand of art criticism – what he calls fugitive writings (not to mention living a relatively fugitive existence teaching in Las Vegas) –  he is explicitly present in his critical negotiation of the artwork ( ‘I’ being his constant crutch). Some would call this personal investment narcissistic, others generous. Doran exhibits facets of his life through his painted assemblages, in some cases narratives only ever known by him. He disclosed during the conversation that his nephew painted the top half of one of his more sculptural works in the current show, Sky Shelter. Hickey’s exit and others from the artworld makes perfect sense when you take into account that personal investment is a mainstay of working in the artworld, whether you are an artist, curator, critic, gallery director etc. But being personally invested comes with its advantages, as we see in Doran’s paintings, and disadvantages, as Hickey’s premature exit demonstrates. Keeping one foot out of the artworld and your heart rolled up away from your sleeve are probably the best ways to hop around, what can be – if you’re not careful, an unforgiving environment.


Personal Investment

(Paul Doran in conversation with Robert Armstrong)

Green on Red Gallery, Dublin

20 September, 2013, 7.30pm



Left top: Paul Doran, Surfer (2002)

oil on canvas over board 23 x 23cm

Left bottom: Paul Doran, Sky Shelter (2013)

wood, acrylic paint, 16.5 x 45.8 x 18.9cm

Right: Paul Doran in conversation with Robert Armstrong

Green on Red Gallery, Dublin

20 September, 2013, 7.30pm

Courtesy of the artist and Green On Red Gallery.

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