Thursday 13 December 2018


NEW WORK: #rambo

This is a project I’ve been attempting for a while. It’s taken inspiration from two separate incidents: one wild night in the Brazen Head in Dublin spent messing around with Facebook filters, and an old video piece by Al Pritchard featuring the climactic scene from First Blood delivered ‘en Español’.

Previous works have explored both emoji culture and online social media sharing, as well as re-appropriation of pop culture imagery. This project is something of a Dadaist approach to these different articles.

This work started off with a Facebook Messenger filter over a live video of First Blood. I made use of the ‘Medusa’ filter, with a head of snakes and a yellow forked tongue when the mouth opened. My initial thoughts were to have the work as a video piece, but after a few attempts, it became apparent that it was working better as still images. These stills were easier to edit, and using the post-processing of Facebook Messenger I ended up with some jpg files with filters, stickers, emoji, text and backgrounds.

When I describe these works on my website, I talk about the relationship between the film's core themes (depression, PTSD, and post-conflict mental health) and the blasé nature of millennial internet users approach to these issues. To those not overly familiar with the franchise, John J. Rambo is the typical gun-totting 1980/90’s macho man musclebound hero. The first film actually portrays him fairly different to this popularise image from the sequels, in that there is only one (!) death, and that it uses his mental health issues to explain his actions. It does this through horrific flashbacks from his experiences in a Vietnamese concentration camp, culminating in his eventual mental breakdown at the end of the film where he discusses in graphic detail how he and his squad were ambushed and mostly killed. I wanted this to feed into the work and be reinterpreted through the prism of self-deprecating internet subcultures such as r/meirl and suicide memes.

Friday 7 December 2018



I think I was living in Bath at the time, when Shane, an artist friend of mine, went to an exhibition opening with my brother. The exhibition was in a small gallery in rural Donegal, and I was familiar with it having been asked to play music there on a few occasions. The exhibiting artist was Neil Shawcross, a Lancashire native who had been living in Northern Ireland since the 1960s. Shane had the opportunity to speak with Mr Shawcross, who kindly offered a private tour of his new retrospective in The Ulster Museum. They arranged a date for the meeting, and Shane asked if I wanted to go up with him as I was to be back home that week.

So we both hopped on the Goldline 273 to Belfast and walked out from the Europa bus depot to meet Neil at the Ulster Museum. We picked up a bottle of Rioja on the way, to say thanks (Neil took great pleasure in informing us that the opening night of his exhibition had the most wine ever drank at the Ulster Museum and that they even had to go out for more when the supplies ran out). When we arrived Neil was great to chat with, we talked about art and the Tory Island painters as I had recently come back from a painting scholarship on the island. One of Neil’s friends and their daughter joined us, and we went off on the tour of the exhibition.

The show was a retrospect of his portraiture entitled 40 Years of Portrait Painting, with 34 life-sized oil on canvas pieces, displayed in chronological order. I was fascinated by his approach and the choices he made. I loved his use of pencil, charcoal and loosely applied oil paint to create these fantastic large-scale works. In one of the first in the series, he explained to us how he was experimenting with drawing a line along the bottom of the canvas to serve as the ground, his inspiration comes from observing how children paint pictures and also from outsider art (such as the previously mentioned Tory Island artists). I found this approach fascinating, and much of this has gone on to influence my own work in concept, technique and composition.

As we walked through the large rooms of the exhibition, a Primary School group was busy milling about. Each kid had a pencil and paper and was trying to recreate their favourite works for a class project. Neil walked up to one of the children, looked at their reproduction, and then signed it ‘Shawcross’. He then remarked ‘that's more like it now’. I doubt the child knew he was, but it was a genuinely nice gesture.

We finished up the tour and moved across the street to the William Conor Cafe, where I was completely astounded as to how many espresso shots Neil had in such short succession. Artist Clement McAleer joined us, offering myself and Shane up to attend a private view of his work in the Gordon Gallery in Derry. Before we parted, Neil offered to send us some books, which arrived a few weeks later, again, signed like he had done with the kids drawing.