Interview: Enda O'Donoghue talks to Susan Hollan

Included in issue 4 of Occupy Paper published in October 2010 and the complete Issue is available to download or read online here:

Occupy Space is based in Limerick, Ireland and is an artist run initiative. More details here:

Susan Holland- Enda, your current practice engages a broad spectrum of photographs, taken from the public domain, which then undergo a transformative process into painted works. How do you go about filtering these images?

Enda O’Donoghue- The filtering and selection of images is an ongoing and continually evolving aspect to my work. My selection criteria are based as much on the subject as the style and quality of the images, I am mostly interested in everyday subject matter and an aesthetic of low resolution and unconventional compositions. I have been compulsively collecting and cataloguing images found on the Internet for the past 10 years or more and while there is a definite subjectivity to my criteria for selection, there is also a strong element of randomness at least at the stages of searching and finding. As a method of pre-selection I have almost wallpapered two walls in my studio with hundreds of printed photos, a selection from those that I have downloaded and this acts as a way for me to find images which play off each other and have potential to be worked on into paintings.
SH- Your recent series of paintings seems to have moved from the politicized context of previous works, what influenced this transfer of emphasis?

EO’D- I am not sure I would think of it as more or less politicized. The change in focus for me has been quite gradual and I think this has been more reaction on my part by what I have seen as a shift in the way people are using images on the Internet, mainly due to social network services such as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace. Also I am very interested in the way digital photography has changed the way people actually take photos, the preciousness that once existed when you had a roll of 36 or 24 shots on a roll of film is gone and replaced with a more throwaway attitude. This idea of the throwaway and banal or everyday snapshot is something which has become more important to me in the work.

SH- Some of your recent works utilise close-up images which evoke a sense of subversive intimacy with your anonymous subjects, I refer here to paintings such as Not to mention the coffee... and In the Elevator, is this investigation of the boundaries of privacy a particular intention of this body of work?
EO’D- There is something inherent with current mobile technology which has changed the very nature of public and private and then there is an ongoing debate at the moment about people’s rights of privacy both in the online and offline world. This is certainly something which has been an influence on my ideas but I am also interested in ideas of identity and a kind of open-ended pictorial narrative and for me the works that you mentioned are also playing with these ideas. I should add that with each photo that I work with I make contact with the original photographer to request their permission and in some cases I have ended up staying in contact with them. This has been a distinct parallel strand to the work which is partly as a way of dealing with the anonymous nature of the Internet and also a reaction to the issues surrounding online copyright.

SH- Indeed there is a suggestion of voyeuristic gaze within some of your recent works, particularly in paintings such as Too slutty? and Mistaking the Peplum. Is this perhaps a comment on the extent of uncensored imagery uploaded, or perhaps the narcissism of the individual as a reflection of society as a whole?
EO’D- I am not interested in trying to make any comments or statements about society as a whole. My interest lies more in the way people are photograph their lives, their surroundings and themselves. It is almost like tracking new phenomena of behaviour in photography that seem to surface organically from the chaos. In that way it is more related to an idea of memes than social commentary. With the most recent paintings my focus shifted to look at photographs that people have taken of themselves. So while there is a sense of voyeurism, it is a confused sense. I like this confusion.

SH- Do you intend the titles you choose for your works as implicit textual references, as significant as the image itself, or are they simply addendum's you attach once the work is completed?
EO’D- All of the titles for the paintings come from the original titles or from the comments or tags used for the source photo online. So when titling the works I have always tried to find a balance between keeping the work open, providing a link to the original context and also acting as a hook to the beginning of a new conversation that, interestingly, often echoes the conversation that happened in the comments with the original photo online.
SH- There is a particular strength in the painting medium to make remarkable the unremarkable. Personally I find some of your most engaging paintings are those that depict completely un-considered throwaway shots such as the rear of the subjects head. Which of the series are you most excited about currently?

EO’D- I am generally always most excited about the newest piece, so at the moment that is a painting called “Reflection”. But I agree with you about these unremarkable photos and with future work I am planning to push this idea of working with even more unremarkable and throwaway images. These are very slow paintings to make with a complicated, highly analytical and methodical process and I find something powerful in that contrast of working for weeks or months on a large scale canvas with a photo that is was made by a complete stranger of a seemingly insignificant scene.
SH- Where do you cite your artistic influences?
EO’D Never an easy question to answer as I have quite a long list which is constantly expanding and changing but the two main artists who have always been a stronginfluence on my work, particularly with
regard to the painting process, have been Gerhard Richter and Malcolm Morley. Also over the past few years I’ve been quite interested by some of the new art coming out of China, in particular the work of Xie Nanxing.

SH- It is interesting to note that your background includes a Degree in Programming and a Masters in Interactive Media, and yet your practice at the moment seems to be primarily concerned with painting. Has any of your recent work taken alternative forms?

EO’D- I have been working with a text based form of drawing using computer character codes and also making ongoing experiments with video and some purely photo based works. One recent photo and video based piece came out of a collaboration with a curator who agreed to give me all of the photographs and video clips from his mobile phone and permission to use or present them publicly. To date I have only shown this as a photo based work but wish to redevelop it in the coming year or so to include the video.

SH-You have been based in Berlin since 2002; do you find the cultural climate there conducive to your practice?
EO’D- While it is great to have all the museums, internationally recognized galleries, art fairs and a biennale on my doorstep, the thing that interests me most about Berlin is the vast grass-roots scene of artist run galleries and project spaces. When I moved there first I wasn’t expecting or even actively looking for a place with a strong artistic scene. What I found has been hugely influential on and constructive for my practice and over the past few years I’ve watched the art scene and its reputation grow internationally. There are now a huge number of artists living and working in Berlin, some would say too many but for me this community is what makes the city very special. Over the past few years I have been involved in organizing and curating a number of group exhibitions in various locations throughout the city, mostly in unused commercial premises and this for me has acted as a great way of being involved in the community and getting to know artist whose work I admire.
Enda O'Donoghue is currently exhibiting at Galerie Hunchentoot, Berlin until 16th October, his solo exhibition is titled 'Is Feeling Lucky!'. 


October, 2010