In one sentence say what you do.
I am an artist, painter, tutor and encourager of creative activities.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be an artist?
Well, since I was very young, I’ve been surrounded by visual imagery having both parents involved in the creative industries. It seemed inevitable that I was going to be part of the next generation. Being dyslexic, words didn’t work for me either, I did everything visually. I used to read comics, Tin Tin and all that kind of thing so I connected visuals with words and started making my own comics and got to looking at things properly.
Your work is very figurative, what is it about the human form that inspires you?
The human form always surprises me. They are all different and never cease to amaze me. There are seven billion figures on this planet, all different. Every time I see a new figure, what ever size or shape or age, I am always fascinated by personality and differences. Trying to paint a figure is like trying to be a detective, I want to figure out what that figure is like, not just the colour and shape, but the person behind it.
You have been an art tutor for how long?
On and off for twenty years.
In twenty years of having taught art what do you think the most important lesson there is to teach?
The most important thing there is is to actually look at the subject and work out what is going on. Making a picture is an exploratory pursuit to start off with, I say to my students just look, experience, try things out and if something doesn’t work take off the top layer and try again; keep at it. If there hasn’t been a battle in the production of an image or a painting, then really it hasn’t worked. Nothing good comes easy.
You paint a lot of figures interacting with water, what sparked this interest?
I’m a regular at Tooting Bec lido, which is Britain’s biggest lido, and it’s quite interesting to see how figures break up in liquid form. It fascinates me and also makes me look at Hockney again and his bigger splash, which influenced me quite early on as a teenager. That was one of the ways I got into painting. Figures in water, contemplating how does water absorb light? How does it deal with the figure? What happens when the figure dives in?
Who have been your other inspirations?
Later on I discovered Keith Vaughan, who was a big figurative painter in the fifties and sixties. He explored the figure in the landscape and how he got away with things was quite remarkable, he had a very big library of nude males in the 1950’s which could have put him in jail but surprisingly many of his collectors were pillars of the establishment and he got away with it.
What is is about his paintings that are appealing?
I’ll describe his work in a nut-shell. Man-scapes. I have been looking at man-scapes ever since. Hopper is another early influence. I always liked the way he portrayed people in an urban setting. He was of his time and liked painting people in hats, jackets and coats because they were everywhere. The people in his paintings have a conversation, a silent conversation and that’s what I like. There is implied narrative and they tell a story.
If your paintings were to tell a story what would you like them to tell?
I would try to extract the subject’s personality somehow; to express what they are thinking of. Most of my figures are nudes which means they don’t have props like hats, waistcoats, etc, and that can be harder, but there can be other props. Today 40% of men have tattoos and that is a narrative which I’m currently investigating. Lately I have been painting guys with tattoos on and tell their story. Why do they have tattoos? What are they trying to say with them?
Recently, I took part in a group show titled Indelible. I got people to come forward to model by putting notices in tattoo parlours saying, ‘You’re having a tattoo, tell me your story’, and they did, I had about a dozen responses on that ongoing project.
What advice would you give to a young artist commencing their career?
Be honest with yourself. Be your own critic. That means to have a balanced opinion, don’t be frightened of chucking a piece of work away because it has gone wrong, because there is always a next one. If you are painting at night time and you come back the next day and think ‘Oh dear, that’s crap’, start again. Sometimes making a painting can be like one step forward and two steps backwards. Sooner or later it will be two steps forward one step backwards and in the end you will be happy with it.
What do you think the hardest thing about being an artist is?
The hardest thing is making a living. Trying to convince people that you are the genuine article, you’re not bullshitting with conceptual stuff, putting chewing gum on a wall and calling it ‘Art’ or getting a found object and calling it some precious little thing. You are doing something that demonstrates skill and is something people would want to own and have on their walls.
I can tell from your response that you lean towards a certain style of art.
I am a realist. That doesn’t mean to say that I paint photographically accurate paintings, I like the skill of producing something that is real and tangible, and people relate to it. People come and looked at my paintings and said, “I really like that because I can see how it was made.” Rather than a few scribbles and dribbles on a floor or an installation of things thrown together.
So, the tangibility of the process is what appeals to you?
Yes, it’s a bit traditional. There are lots of ateliers around where lots of people want to learn to paint for real.
What do you think of the art scene in London 2016?
The art scene is expanding, not necessarily all in the right direction. There is a lot of bullshit going around. Lots of conceptual, digital and push-button art. An incredible amount of hot air being blown around which is effervescing nowhere. But in amongst that there is real art and I go back to real art being something tangible, showing a skill and being something someone could pick up and say ‘I like this’. Showing, skill, observation, thought, and development is what the art buying public want and what most unsubsidised commercial galleries sell to the art buying public.
So, whether it is realist or not, is it to have an understanding of form, perspective…?
It’s not necessarily perspective, if you are doing buildings, then yes of course that is vitally important. There are some abstract paintings I like, I keep looking at Richard Diebenkorn and I say ‘That works for me,’ the colours work, have been thought out, they don’t jar and lock together.
Where do you hope to be in ten years’ time artistically?
I’ll still be painting, and selling and maybe having a bigger gallery that genuinely interested in selling my products. That’s what paintings are after all. I want people to look at my work and say, ‘That is interesting, I like that. Come in and have a closer look.’
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Come and enjoy the show!
Martin Ireland will be exhibiting his paintings in Focus LDN's Winter Exhibition this December 13-17th at The Menier Gallery, London Bridge.