As an artist, I regularly get asked about my work, which artists have influenced me and what is the art that inspires me?
It’s hard to give a straight answer to this as I’ve had influences since childhood as my mother Doreen Drennan is an artist. Growing up mom took me to exhibitions and museums giving me exposure from a really young age. As a painter, her own work is influenced by impressionism so I was aware of the big players of the movement such as Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne but it wasn’t until I went to art school that I learnt about the more obscure artists of impressionism such as Mary Cassatt, Albert Lebourg & Gustave Caillebotte and how impressionism influenced abstract expressionism which is the movement I most associate my work with. Here’s a really good article on this.
I spent 6 years studying fine art (that’s a lot of artist research!) which began with a foundation year at the art school in CCAM, GMIT sampling the main disciplines of art- painting, printmaking, sculpture, textiles & ceramics and being introduced to prominent historical and contemporary figures of each discipline.
Painting was consistently my most favoured subject during this experimental time- obviously, this hasn’t dwindled. There’s something seriously subline about mixing oil paint for me- the texture, the consistency, the sheer physicality of squeezing it from a paint tube, I never tire of its facets. Once all disciplines were sampled you selected your practice of choice which of course was paint for me.
Art that inspired me during my initial years of studying paint were works by Beatrize Milhaze for her confident construction of a painting, Marlene Dumas for how she stains paper to find the paint marks to reveal her figures and Christopher Wool for his unapologetic application of layered and laboured paintings. I can recognise now why I was drawn to these artists. Each has a specific way of mark-making which I admired. This early interest in specific mark-making has stayed within my painting practice and plays a big role in how I build and develop paintings.
In the latter part of my undergrad, I found the art that inspires me altered. I was fully immersed in learning about the abstract expressionist movement which began in the mid- ’40s and wrapped up around the mid-’50s when Andy Warhol and Pop art came on the scene.
I had images of paintings by Clifford Still, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko taped to my studio wall and had library books by Franz Klein and Cy Twombly on my studio floor trying to soak up as much knowledge around the movement and its artists as I could. This movement resonated with me because it reacted to the world in a way I found relatable- literally removing or abstracting from its environment.
In order to understand this you have to appreciate the cultural contexts of the time and remember that there was nothing else like this type of artwork around, it was completely unique and was shocking to many of its viewers- how can one make a painting that is non-representational?!
My BA thesis “ From Rothko to Rae: The Evolution of Abstract Expressionism” was about, well it’s fairly obvious what it was about (!) But I really enjoyed writing it because it helped me gather my thoughts around my art influences and all the knowledge I had been gathering was dissected and analysed leaving me with a well-informed understanding of this movement and its artists contemporary as well as historical.
Moving to London
In 2012 I moved to London to do my Masters in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, UAL. I had worked in America the previous year to make some money to fund my MA and while there had become interested in mixing graffiti art with what I had learned from abstract expressionism.
This kind of practice is sometimes referred to as mixing as high and low-end art although for me it just came back to mark-making. I liked how graffiti artists made marks and developed tags and enjoyed reading up on the historical development of graffiti art.
Of course, being in London I was exposed to a whole new world of galleries and museums with art that inspires me. I continued with my exploration into abstract expressionism including experiments with mixing graffiti art into my practice. This however turned into a bit of a studio mental block for me. I didn’t quite achieve the paintings that I wanted to make but I learned about the complexity of mixing or trying to merge two very different genres of art different in many aspects- culturally, historically and process.
So it wasn’t a complete failure! I guess I’m a purist at heart and was continually drawn back to the intrigue of abstract expressionism and its artists. The Rothko room at Tate Modern ( now sadly gone) became my favourite place to go in London where I would happily gaze at his paintings and try to figure out how he built them and applied his paint on each layer.
I finished my MA being seriously inspired by Joan Mitchel. My interest was not just in her paintings but also in her life as an artist. She was one of the main female players of the movement but was a bit of an outcast because she had come from a wealthy background whereas many other artists who formed abstract expressionism had fled Europe during WW2 and had struggled to find their footing in the art world of America.
Art that continues to inspire me
I have a book of Mitchel’s life’s work in my studio that takes pride of place. I still flick through it whenever a creative block starts to raise its head in my studio because I find her work extremely moving, calming and inspiring. The odd time when I get a chance to see her paintings in the flesh at a major art show or art fair I genuinely get tingles on my spine. Her paintings have a serious conviction that is executed in the lightest of manners- something that I hope to emulate in my own work as I grow and progress as an artist.
Thanks for reading! To see my latest paintings please pop over here and maybe you’ll spot some of the influences I’ve been writing about!