Eóin Francis McCormack
I ran into Eóin McCormack the day I started this post, near the university campus. We had gotten together for a coffee (and beer) a few days prior, so it was funny running into him again. He was on his way to the graduation ceremony, taking the final step to his MFA after a whirlwind spring of hard work and the degree show which ran at Edinburgh College of Art from 24 May - 1 June, 2014. During the weeks leading up to and during the show, I became familiar with just about every name in the graduating class, and for the most part could have matched names to work, but even after watching numerous films, walking around sculptures and through installations, I was always brought back to the paintings, and particularly those by Eóin. Their scale and vivid color and textures tapped into my own love affair with the physical quality of paint.
Eóin's canvases are large yet contained, as the edges of the canvas often form only one of two frames around the image. In many of the larger works, such as the Modern Times triptych or the text works below, he paints a bold border a few centimeters from the edge of the canvas as if making sure that whatever then manifests itself within that border is free to do as it pleases, as long as it doesn't get too out of hand. The roundness of the border brought to mind an Egyptian cartouche which would contain the name of the pharaoh--as if contained within Eóin's works are important messages. Perhaps the message is simply that paint is king.
When we met up for a chat about his work, one thing was made perfectly clear: he loves painting. He loves the material quality of the paint and he loves the work. The process is central to the work, and he has even devised mechanisms that do the painting for him, playing with ideas of chance operations and different levels of control. He makes his own pigments and does a lot of smaller sketches and mock-ups of work, but too much control can mean getting wedged in a corner, and an element of deliberateness, at least in terms of general composition, and color choices blend with intuition. 'The more you know in the beginning, the more you understand when it's finished,' he explained. 'It's doing it every day and failing a million times,' until it starts to come together.
Having earned his BA at Limerick School of Art and Design, I asked what it was like to start the MFA at Edinburgh and why he chose that particular school. For a couple of years between graduating from undergraduate studies and beginning postgraduate, he worked in a studio and a gallery in Limerick while figuring out what the next best step would be. He had established a particular style as a BFA, but as an MFA he was conscious of a need to change, and found one of the biggest challenges to be moving away from the style he had been concentrating on, or at least to expand outward from it. He explained that the first eight or nine months of the MFA were an exercise in patience and hard work as he knew he wanted to develop his work, but could not at first figure out how or in what direction to move.
The MFA program at Edinburgh College of Art is intense and left largely up to the artist. Eóin expressed that there was no hand-holding there; he was given a studio space and plenty of room to work, but aside from other students and friends at the school, it was up to him to figure out his work. This allowed great flexibility but also the real-world implication that being an artist in today's market is all about hard work and self-promotion, and until you find gallery representation, you really are on your own. It was a valuable lesson.
Eóin's work is bold, sometimes monumental in scale and deliberately left a little bit to chance. A recurring element in recent paintings has been the print-like overlay of a pattern of dots, which came about initially as an accident when a carpet underlay fell onto a painted surface. Now, by painting the underlay and laying it on the ground, he presses the canvas over the top of it, transferring the paint and creating a rudimentary monoprint which itself overlays or is accentuated by color and other pattern. Paint left to dry and crinkle like plastic film, spread over textile, globbed, layered and stretched, he explores the multifarious ways that oil paint functions on a surface.
‘The main thing--' he said, 'the one thing I want to emphasise out of this whole thing—The main thing about the work is the working.’ In a statement for the degree show he wrote:
The work of the painter and the world of the artist’s studio often seem to exist in contradiction to accepted concepts of ‘working’ in our contemporary culture. To choose to be a maker of something, without a clearly defined purpose, in our society is something artists must constantly deal with in their work. Acutely aware of this as a painter, I explore these contradictions through the working methods I implement, stressing the routine and physical labour aspects of working as an artist.
He mentioned having seen artist John Byrne speak at ECA about the idea of doing work, and it stuck with him: work is essential, and often strangely overlooked in visual art, as if the art simply appears and only incidentally is there an artist that has to make it in the first place. But one can not simply pretend to be an artist; the work is the work.
Eóin will be showing a piece at this year's MacMillan Art Show in Edinburgh which takes place at Bonham's auction house from 14-17 August. Based in Edinburgh for the summer, he's seeking galleries and exhibitions but also exploring possibilities outside the UK and Ireland as well, possibly working in a stay in Berlin to explore opportunities there. I certainly look forward to seeing what's in store.