Sean McGuill who has been shortlisted for this year's Hennessy Portrait Prize
Originally from Dundalk, Co Louth, I came to Limerick to study at Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD).
I went to primary and secondary school in Dundalk and also did an Art and Design Post-Leaving Certificate Course (PLC) there. I was lucky to have had teachers who encouraged me to pursue my interest in art. The PLC, in particular, was great for getting a taste of doing it full time and learning to work independently. Once I decided to go to Art College, I went to several open days for colleges but Limerick stood out as having the best student work as well as an open and friendly atmosphere. I am currently in my final year and will be graduating next year. I always liked to draw as a child but only in the way that most children do. However, my mother, Margaret Roddy, and some of my uncles have an interest in art and my family has always been supportive of my creative endeavours. That is very important for any young artist.
Today, printmaking is my specialty but when I first came to Limerick I was planning on doing painting (I actually only changed my mind after doing an elective in first year of Art College).
Printmaking is something that most people aren’t too familiar with. Historically, it has taken a back seat to painting and sculpture, but today it is an area that is becoming more popular with a lot of exciting possibilities not seen in other processes. One of the main benefits is that you can reproduce an image cheaply and easily which also means that it is often more affordable. There are also a great variety of aesthetic effects that you can’t get with other media. Limerick, of course, has fantastic facilities for printmaking between LSAD and Limerick Printmakers while there are a number of great practitioners working around the city.
Most of my ideas come from observing the world around me and making work as a response to it, for example, the produce of other artists, exhibitions, movies, books, in other words what inspires me.
My common interest with most artists is simply a curiosity about the world and life itself. One of the great things about art is the wide range of ideas or topics that can be explored, for example; nature, politics, people, identity, places or pretty much anything you can imagine. It comes down to having that interest in exploring something in a visual way and of course you have to enjoy the physical act of making work, whether that is painting, photography, ceramics, or whatever medium you choose to work in. The main inspiration for my art, at the moment, is coming from looking at the Internet and the visuals of popular culture. I am interested in the way these images we see on social media, the news, or advertising, can influence peoples’ opinions about the world. The style I work in is generally to collage images I find on the Internet and to manipulate them through various print processes as well as painting and drawing back into them.
There are plenty of examples of famous artists who are self-taught and who never studied at college, so it is certainly possible to be a successful artist without going to college.
However, such people are the exception rather than the rule and for most a college education is very beneficial. During my time at LSAD I have been lucky to have had fantastic tutors in the Print Department who have shown me so many techniques. As well as that they gave me endless amounts of motivation and critical feedback that would be impossible to obtain outside of a college environment. Besides the educational aspect, it is inspiring to be surrounded by a community of other artists and friends on a daily basis.
Even though it is a bit of a cliché to say that art is a way of life, rather than a vocation, I think it is certainly true.
To be an artist the number one thing is to be passionate about art and to have the dedication to practice your skills. So, if someone has that interest then I would certainly recommend them to pursue art. Almost everybody is born with creativity but it is often ‘educated’ out of us in school so anyone who taps into their creativity has the potential to enjoy making art. That said, the starving artist stereotype certainly has some basis in fact and only a small percentage of artists can make a living entirely off their work. I have been lucky as a student to be able to sell some of my work and make money from a couple of competitions recently. Being proactive about keeping an online presence and keeping an eye out for opportunities, can improve your chances.
Limerick is rapidly becoming a national, and hopefully an international, artistic centre.
The likes of Limerick City Gallery of Art, The Hunt Museum, and Ormston House, regularly have fantastic exhibitions and events and there is always a lively community of artists in the city. With that being said, the arts in Ireland as a whole, are still woefully underfunded with the annual spending on arts and culture being one of the lowest in Europe. So for that reason it is important to fight for the arts to be prioritized. This is the only way we can compete in an international context and not just within Ireland!
Sean McGuill’s work will be exhibited in the Hennessy Portrait Prize Exhibition (National Gallery of Ireland), Dublin, at the end of November. His degree show exhibition takes place in June 2018. For more information please see: https://www.instagram.com/seanmcguillart/ and https://www.facebook.com/seanmcguillart/