as told to sublimotion: Enda O’Donoghue


Enda O’Donoghue - an Irish man in Berlin - His recent paintings, for which he uses images randomly found on the Internet, embody all the ideas that have been hunting him over the years of diligent work in his studio located in an old piano factory: throwaway moments, everyday randomness, “in-between” spaces, places and situations. Enda saves facts from the lives of total strangers from being forgotten. By the paintings he makes them reappear in time with completely different consequences.
 “The process of painting from these images is slow and methodical, firstly dissecting the image into sections on paper and then working over periods of weeks or months to reconstruct the image section by section as a painting. Echoing and playing with the nature of digital image processing and compression algorithms, the painting process is highly analytical and methodical and yet filled with randomness and inviting of errors, misalignments and glitches.”
sm: I would describe your art as digital impressionism. Alike impressionists, you picture brief everyday moments and capture same dynamic range of light on the canvas. The use of pixels instead of dots is a brilliant modern reinterpretation.
eod: “Digital impressionism” is an interesting take on what I do and certainly there are very strong connections there, as you mentioned. As you see the paintings are built up in block-like sections, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle or, maybe more appropriately, a game of Tetris.
sm: How do you filter the photographs to single out the ones used for paintings?
eod: The filtering of images is an ongoing and continuingly evolving aspect of the work. I collect images that I find interesting online, most recently a lot of them are coming from Facebook. I am not looking for any one thing in particular and I like that there is a lot of chance and randomness in what I find, but I do have themes in mind, which guide my selection or at least offer a starting point. With the most recent paintings the main theme was of people photographing themselves and at the moment I am looking at wedding parties.
 From the selection I find online I narrow these down by printing the images that seem to offer some potential to be painted as regular sized photographs, this is purely based on my experience of what types of images seem to work best for the treatment of my process. Then these photos are pinned to two walls in my studio, which at this stage has been wall papered with hundreds of photos. And as I spend the days and weeks working beside and looking at these walls of images, I again narrow down my selection by pulling out images that I would like to work with. I tend to select them in groups of 2 or 3 rather than individually.
sm: At present you live in Berlin - it seems that Berlin has become the European mecca for young art. What is life for an artist like yourself there? What are your relations with galleries?
eod: I’ve been in Berlin 8 years now and yes it has over those years truly become a magnet for artists. The rent is cheap here and there are a lot of empty buildings which make great studios. My own studio is in an old piano factory which has been populated by about 30 artists for the past 15 years. The city is also full of museums and galleries (maybe too many) but also some really great artist run galleries and project spaces. I have been working with a gallery called Hunchentoot here for the past 3 years. In September I had my most recent solo show with them and they have also been very supportive of the exhibitions that I have curated outside the gallery. I’ve been involved in organising and curating about 3 or 4 group exhibitions in Berlin so far, the most recent one was in 2009 called “der Prozess”.
sm: One more reason to visit Berlin… And what made you move here? What were the beginnings? How did you balance artistic activities with your web-designing career?
eod: Good question, why did I move to Berlin. I ask myself that a lot. Actually it is very hard to answer that. I must admit that I knew very little of the then growing reputation of Berlin as a city full of artists and galleries. So I didn’t move here for the art world. I think at the time I naively expected Berlin to be a good place to find work in web and multi-media development and I knew very little about how bad the employment situation was in Berlin. So it was a very blind move in retrospect. When I came here I worked with one Internet marketing company for about 6 months and then worked freelance first as a web designer, some teaching of video editing and web design and then more on the programming side of web development. Finding a balance between that work and getting to the studio was not always easy but the balance shifted more towards making art after a few years and also the web work has informed my art work a lot and not only from the point of view of the images that I work with and the internet as a source but also the actual painting process, which plays with the idea of programming.
sm: How did you come across the piano factory?
eod: The piano factory is called the Atelierhaus Mengerzeile, which has about 25 artist studios and a quite nice gallery space called the Kunsthalle M3. I discovered the place about 5 years ago, when I went to an exhibition opening there, got talking to one of the artists who had a studio in the building and it turned out that there was a free space there at the time. I had been working in a small studio in an empty ground floor apartment of the building where I was living but I wanted to make bigger work so the space in Atelierhaus Mengerzeile came along at ideal moment for me.
sm: Some of your topics seem a bit peculiar. What draws you to wedding parties? What is the thought behind picturing queues, waiting rooms, subway stations…? Your older topics tended to be a bit political. Then you switched to anonymous individuals..?
eod: I don’t have any political intentions to my work and I don’t see any of the older topics that I chose to be more political than the newer ones but I can of course see how it could be read that way. The topics that I have worked with have been guided partly by following or tracking the things that people are photographing from their daily lives and attempting to make sense of the recurring themes or trends that I see within that chaos. So yes, I think there are some peculiar topics within that and maybe that is also guided by my own desire to paint things which have never been considered before as fodder for painting. Also I am very interested in the idea that because of the possibilities that digital photography offers people take more photos and are maybe less precious about what they choose to photograph so the result is a huge amount of unedited throwaway moments.
My interest in images from spaces such as subways, waiting rooms and queues could be broadly grouped under the idea of “in-between” spaces, places or situations. These are all places that people spend a vast amount of time in, very much part of our contemporary landscapes, but in these places people are always in a state of waiting. I find this very interesting and also that these are all communal spaces and public yet anonymous and cold. From what I have seen looking at photos online for the past few years it has become very common for people take photographs when in one of these “in-between” places, maybe just to pass the time, maybe to document the situation and share where they are going or what they are waiting for and I suppose it is due to having cameras in mobile phones.
sm: Your process of creation seems complex and labour intensive: it is interesting how you recreate the brief, passing moments into ones heavy with meaning. Now I look at them with a more physics-related frame of reference: timespace, relativity theory, elsewhere – reoccurrence of alike phenomena that have completely different consequences.
eod: Yes my process is very complex and labour intensive, what is quite interesting is that a friend of mine, a musician and composer, who visited my studio recently, described my process as a bit like the way jazz works, they create ridged structures and within them they improvise, which I suppose is what I am doing. Each of the sections that I work on in the paintings is completed in one go from start to finish and it is treated in isolation from the rest of the image, I try to divide the image into areas that can be dealt with just as abstract shape and colour so painting each section becomes almost like creating an abstract painting and within that it becomes about playing with the paint, indulging in the very material of paint and colour.
I am really interested in what you said about physics-related frame of reference, timespace and relativity theory. The idea of time is certainly an element in the way I work as these are painted over periods of time with no effort to conceal that, in fact the differences in the way I might paint one day to the next become exaggerated in a single image. The idea of “elsewhere” is great, what a great word, other places, other peoples’ lives. I’ll have to think more about that.
sm: Finally, what was your Shanghai affair this year? What are your observations on the art market in China?
eod: I had some work in an exhibition at the Expo in Shanghai in the Irish pavilion. It was a group exhibition presenting the work of about 20 contemporary Irish artists and was organised and curated by an Irish artist who lives in China and runs a gallery there. Over the past few years I have been part of 3 other exhibitions in China with this gallery but this was their most ambitious project to date.


December, 2010