I don’t make art as a form of escape – or as entertainment, but rather it is my way of really being in the world.Fergal Styles
The following interview forms part of a series where I invite contemporary artists to each reflect on their personal history, meaning, and philosophy, and how those are embedded throughout their creative process.
This week I talk to Fergal Styles, an artist from Dublin, who “utilise[s] a wide variety of media in attempt to breach the picture plane and in extension, the dream-like nature of reality.”
Tell me about your piece, ‘The Jesuit’s House’.
The Jesuit’s House is part of a series of illusionistic tableaus I have produced recently. Figuration is still something quite new in my practise – so coming from an entirely abstract picture plane, I have let space and more specifically, interior space emerge within the work. In The Jesuit’s House I started with the table and chairs which created a depth of perspective that was interesting to me. I then slowly added the other elements. The apparent forms are intuitive rather than rational. The painting is almost entirely blue, other than the orange dot of the lit cigarette. This is a kind of formalist trick, which appeals to me because of its stupidity.
The other thing to mention about the painting is that the title came last. The Jesuit I am referencing exists specifically in the minds of 19th century, anti-Catholic, Swiss protestants. Who regarded the Jesuit order as an international conspiracy of depravity. This is probably useless information to anyone other than myself.
What motivates you as an artist?
The contours of my own motivation are difficult to discern! Though I would say at a fundamental level, I make art because it feels meaningful. In the face of all concerns, it is ok to make art. Art is free to perform a wider critical role, but it does not have to do so. I don’t make art as a form of escape – or as entertainment, but rather it is my way of really being in the world.
Are you guided by any essential philosophy in your creative expression?
No. I would not say that I have an essential philosophy that guides my practice. However, I would say that I have certain values like playfulness, irreverence, and the willingness to embrace failure. A work must go trough several stages of failure before it can be finished. This is a painterly cliché – but a true one in my own experience. So, I allow all manner of mistakes, foolish misadventures and stupid ideas into the work because not to do so would be paralysing. This is sort of a philosophy of practise. I also try to be sincere rather than clever.
Feeling lost, stuck and without meaning are experiences we all face as human beings. Why do you think that is?
I think outside of specific teleological frameworks it is hard to find a satisfying answer to why anything is. Often, we are asking why because are searching for a kind of narrative finality. Generally, we must accept that it may be impossible to arrive at a satisfying finality. In such situations, it may be more fruitful to ask how? How am I stuck? How am I lost? Asking how might allow us the possibility of understanding the nature of our suffering. By examining causality, we can find a boundary of peace within the wider unknown.
How might you approach those feelings in your work?
I think my work doesn’t attempt to resolve the feelings. These feelings of being lost, stuck, or without meaning might be there sometimes, for some people. I’m not sure. I am interested to know if there is a particular image, I have produced that you think relates to these feelings?
I think my work doesn’t provide the viewer with the kind of narrative finality I mentioned before. The work is full of ambiguities and that’s ok. I make no strong claim that my work is manifest of my authorial intention, nor do I think that the work has its own subjectivity, and the process of its production remains in part, a mystery to me.
If there were an artwork that depicted your current experience of the world, what might it look like?
This is a very interesting question. The artwork is a painting. Portrait in orientation. I am standing naked in the left foreground of the painting. Beyond my figure moonlight from a curtain-less sash window makes a pattern on the wooden floor expanding towards the viewer. Through the window in the right background of the painting, the moonlight is falling across a body of water. The moon is in the centre of the final square pane of glass in the extreme right background. The painting is varying tones of dark blue, except for the moon and its light on the water. These are orange and a cold pink respectively.