Welcome Aisling Drennan
Aisling Drennan is an Irish painter known for her witty style and flamboyant palette. Prior to her career as an artist, Aisling toured the world with ‘Riverdance – The Show’ as an Irish dancer performing in over 400 cities covering 43 countries over 6 continents.
A Recipient of the Freyer Award for recognition of excellence in painting from the Royal Dublin Society and listed as 'One to Watch' by state Magazine in their emerging artists profile. Her contemporary vibrant canvases feature a multitude of textures, lines and shapes. Pay close attention to titles of her works as they really change the way you interpret her seemingly abstract compositions.
H: Congratulations on 'Leap' being selected to Royal Ulster Academy’s annual exhibition 2020, how did that piece come about and what does it mean to be selected?
A: Thank you! 'Leap' was created last year after completing the art residency at Cill Rialaig. This painting was an early part of my current exploration in to stone wall formations, their heaviness of form yet lightness of appearance and how I can portray this. Studies of stone walls were abstracted and etched into the layers of paintwork in this painting. Constructed, deconstructed, scratched, rubbed and finally reapplied to form a new skin and begin the process over; a method of finding and losing the painting until visually robust.
H: Where does your interest in art come from?
Aisling: My mom is an artist so painting and drawing were always encouraged. As I remember it, growing up there was always an air of creativity present. I knew I wanted to go to art school but it wouldn't happen until later as I first had a career as a professional Irish dancer with Riverdance touring internationally for years -I always had my sketchbook in my suitcase though!
Looking back now I feel lucky to have merged from one creative career to another. Having the ability to transfer what I learned as a dancer into my painting practice has taught me a lot, particularly with self-discipline because no one else is going to do the work for you. There’s definitely elements of my dance career that have a place within my painting for example, collectors regularly comment on the fluidity and sense of movement within my work.
H: Can you tell us about your first ever experience of ‘art’?
Aisling: My first experience of art, as in painting, is the scent. I have clear memories of running around my mom's studio which had that lovely musty scent of oil paint, turps and well-used brushes pretending I was ‘Wonder Woman’, stopping every so often to consider what she was painting. As a result, the scent of oil paint and everything that goes with it is very comforting to me now. I should really switch to painting with a healthier paint thinner but there's something wonderful about having that nostalgic feeling in my own studio now.
H: What inspires you?
Aisling: I’m far too impatient to sit and wait for inspiration! I’m a ‘do-er’ meaning I get stuck in, I feel my way into a painting until something clicks and creative flow starts to unfold. If it fails, I’ll still have learned something.
H: What does your work aim to say?
Aisling: There is no definite narrative to my work- it’s a response to what I know and what I am learning. This is within the confines of my painting practice but realistically you're affected by what's around you and what feeds into the subconscious- I like to soak up as much of the curiosity and playfulness of this as I can.
H: Which current art world trends are you following if any?
Aisling: It's taken me 6 years of study plus a few more experimental years to ‘find my own voice ‘ in my practice. I am my own guide, I trust what I put on canvas and stay true to the development of my painting practice rather than following trends.
H: Tell us about your process.
Aisling: My process is quite ritualistic. The focal concern of my work is the malleable qualities of paint and its mark-making abilities. I always begin with studies in my visual diary and see what emerges. These initial studies inform each body of work. It’s a very empirical process that sometimes drives me mad but I find that preconceiving the agenda of a painting removes its spontaneity; the instinctive visual decision is the backbone of my work.
I have learned not to labour my decision making in the studio (or I would never get a painting finished!). Sometimes this goes catastrophically wrong but I believe failing gloriously is part of the process; it’s how I learn to trust my decision making. There’s a realisation that a lot of finer work is derived from failings or as a tutor of mine used to call them, ‘happy accidents’. Painting demands a particular type of concentration and that is the most absorbing thing for me. A close second is the sheer physicality of paint as a medium; there is something very indulgent about mixing large swathes of oil paint.
H: What would be your dream commission?
Aisling: As my background is in performance I'd love to see my paintings used theatrically. For example, I really admire the work of choreographers Wayne McGreggor and Matthew Bourne- it would be fascinating to see how they might translate my practice into theirs.
H: How do you deal with creative block?
Aisling: When I was eight my mom bought my sisters and me ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’. I was too young to really understand the book but it got me into the habit of keeping a diary which I still do today. When I began art school I wanted to record what I was doing and so mimicked my diary habit and started keeping visual diaries. These contain studies, thoughts, comments, paint experiments which are then transferred onto canvas. I have a shelf full of visual diaries in my studio now that acts like a big back catalogue to my practice and visually explains all the work I’ve made to date. They’re my antidote when creative block kicks in.
H: If you could make a list of your favourite artists, who would you pick?
Joan Mitchell- Her work has been continually informative as well as inspiring for me plus she was one of the major female painters of the Abstract Expressionist movement for which I stem my practice. I have a book on her work and regularly flick through it- the fluidity, palette and conviction of her work continue to surprise me still.
Willem de Kooning- I considered his work a lot while I was a student but didn't fully appreciate it until I saw a retrospective of his painting in Moma, NYC in 2012. The raw, visceral content of his painting was really exciting.
Sean Scully - If I won the lotto I would buy a Scully! I’ve seen his work on numerous occasions and it never ceases to tingle down my spine. It's the paradox that gets me, his work is ethereal but also dominantly present. He’s a tricky one too because he’s a big character himself but it's a good point to note that sometimes you have to separate the art from the artist
H: What are you working on next?
Aisling: In 2019 I was selected for an art residency at Cill Rialaig Artists Retreat in Co. Kerry, Ireland where I made a lot of work in response to the rock formations known as 'Skelligs' (splintered, distorted rocks) unique to the area. I’m still teasing out work from that residency and have just been awarded an Arts Bursary from the Women's Irish Network in conjunction with the UK Irish embassy in support of a 2021 solo show which will comprise of this body of work, so lots to be focusing on which I really appreciate because 2020 as we are all aware, hasn't been the easiest of years.
Image - Skellig A- trí, 2019
H: Outside of art what makes you the happiest?
Aisling: Having a glass of wine while watering my plants at the end of the week, a good painting exhibition always lifts me up and recently I got married so getting to hang out with my husband feels that bit sweeter now. However, we’ve just got a puppy so all this may move down the list!!
H: How would your friends describe you?
Aisling: Luckily I have some very old friends from my dancing days with Riverdance and I put it to our WhatsApp’s group! I asked, they answered … Determined, Loyal, Ethereal, Caring, Funny and a Titian Gold Goddess (I’m a proud redhead!).
H: We are bombarded every day by bad news, what one thing would you change in the world if you could?
Aisling: I would like everyone to have a couple of minutes each day for play, a time to simply let our thoughts and curiosities run wild and switch one’s focus to the unknown for a while rather than what the media dictates we must know … In other words, let's start taking the time to stop and smell the roses again.
H: If you were to tag yourself on HATCH, what 3 words would you use?
Aisling: Abstract, Play, Colour
H: Ok last one......tell us a secret?
Aisling: I hate bananas!
Aisling is an MFA graduate from Central Saint Martins in London. She also holds a First Class HONS degree in painting from GMIT, Ireland. Drennan has been shortlisted for the 2018 John Moore’s painting prize and has received a commended listing for the 2018 Jacksons Open painting prize. In 2011 she received the Royal Dublin Society’s Freyer Award for excellence in painting.