Taking a sidestep from his gentler subjects of dreamy, feminine creatures and spirit animals, Ruben Ireland transports us into a futuristic battlefield with androgynous archers and warrior women for his debut solo exhibition ‘Hyperdusk’. Over the past few years the British digital mixed media artist has carved out a distinctive rendered style that’s unmistakably his own. In ‘Hyperdusk’ his newest monochrome beings have an etherial, sci-fi like beauty and poise that is captivating and full of wonder. Interviewed by fellow Atomica artist Nick Sheehy, Ruben chats symbolism, mess, the natural development of his first solo exhibition and the cathartic processes of his work. ‘Hyperdusk’ opened at Atomica in June and is still available to view and purchase online HERE.
Interview by Nick Sheehy, an Australian artist currently living in London.
How did you prepare for Hyperdusk? Was there any particular shift in what you wanted to achieve in the artwork? Did you set yourself any rules? Anything you wanted to change or develop about your practice?
I wanted to stay true to the underlying principles of my earlier work, but I also felt like Hyperdusk should stand alone as an independent collection. This being my first solo show, my initial response was to create a single series, where each work would be part of the same stylistic principles and subject matter so that there would be a sense of consistency between the pieces. But a little way in I found this was really restricting my ideas, and I felt it would probably make for quite a monotonous collection. So I decided not to set any rules, and let the story of the show develop naturally. I think that if the work comes from a personal place and at a certain time, it has no choice but to follow a certain path. Now that they’re up I’m pleased with the cohesive variety, where there seems to be a single language, but with three or four slightly different dialects. As for making the work, I’ve found my core process now, which gives me the results I want, but it’s still a fairly open one and there’s always something to learn when I want to create something I haven’t tried before. In these works, there are more abstract elements than any previous work, which I’ve wanted explore for some time. Particularly the headdress in ‘Possily’ where I was trying to reflect something in her more natural and spiritual and transient.
Producing a large collection of work, especially for a singular exhibition is a long road with many potential detours. Now that the work is behind glass and fastened to the walls, is the end result what you thought it would be?
I really had no idea how it would turn out until the last few weeks preceding the exhibition. I’ve learned that solo shows are far more complicated than I anticipated, whatever you create has to be careful of any other piece you create, and they all have to be careful of each other as a collection, and even then it’s very hard to know what the collection will look like until you see everything on the walls. I was working on around twenty pieces over the last nine months, which very slowly became twelve and even more slowly became the eight that appear in Hyperdusk. I was surprised at which works I ended up with, but I think they were exactly right for what I wanted to say. Looking at them now, I can enjoy them and stand behind each one proudly.
The work seems to shift from mess to control. How important to you is the process of making the work? And what stage of the process do you feel most connection or get the most satisfaction?
My roots are in making a mess. During my studies I was always experimenting with spilled ink, scraped paint and a general carefree approach to my materials. Over time I started to enjoy cleaning up those messes with scalpels, careful pen work, and more precise brush strokes, which made for really interesting combinations, and gave birth to a conversation in my character as well as my work. I’d have to say both parts of the process are equally important; making a mess allows me to clean up, and cleaning gives me space to make a new mess. It reflects other areas of my work as well, I’m very interested in exploring dualities; everything has an opposite that it can’t live without.
You’ve previously explained your work as “moments leading up to an important personal event”. And indeed the characters look poised, readied with armour. Do you ever wish to explore the imminent experience itself? or the aftermath of the event?
I find it much more interesting to explore the build up. I’d rather leave the event up to the imagination of the viewer. I want to present a potential so that others can fill in the blanks. If I were to start depicting things as they happen, I would be solidifying their message and grounding the work too much in reality, where I’d rather it remained in the realm of possibilities. This is the beauty of symbolism, it lets the viewer play their role.
Your recent work seems to have moved into completely monochromatic territory, punctuated with flashes of glowing white. Does black or white hold any particular symbolic importance?
Many of my favourite artists are very colourful ones, and I keep meaning to create a very colourful collection myself one day. But I seem to be cursed by monochrome bug. A few of the pieces in Hyperdusk, including the title piece, began life with a lot of colour, with bright reds, pinks, blues and oranges. But over time I started to introduce very strong blacks. Then the colourful areas began shifting into brilliant whites, one by one, at which point I gave in and committed to complete monochromacy. I find that this pallet gives the work the impact I’m looking for, as well as the strength and power that the women portray. It also strips back the work, which ties in more accurately with the mood of the pieces.
Some of your previous work has featured beasts and scenery. But the work for Hyperdusk sees their presence reduced to parts of headdress, or ghosts in snaking shapes. Was this a conscious development in how you present your characters?
I often use animals as symbolic features to represent a characters emotional state or driving force, but whilst making Hyperdusk I hadn’t been feeling so clear or forceful in my personal life. I didn’t feel like I had anything guiding me and so I think this reflects in these works. These characters are forsaken and forced to make their own way. But I think that’s a positive thing, their headdresses represent a kind of decay and chaos, I feel like they’re perhaps closer to their clarity and cathartic experience than the women in my previous work.
I’ve always been interested in the idea that artists can only do their own work. Can we learn anything about you as a person or your situation over the last few months from looking at Hyperdusk?
All my work is very personal, and I put everything that’s happening to me into it. But Once I’ve finished a piece, I prefer to let it go and allow others to find themselves in it. I’m also often asked about the story behind my pieces, and if someone really cares I’ll explain what they mean to me, but I’d much rather ask what a work means to someone else, I think that’s much more important and interesting.
Now that Hyperdusk is up on the walls, what’s the next move for you?
I have a few ideas for personal works, and I’m currently working on a few book covers. I’ll also have work in a couple of upcoming group shows, but I can’t really reveal the details yet.
All work is available to purchase online HERE. Or to request a copy of the preview catalogue and for any enquiries about the exhibition please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
RUBEN IRELAND ‘HYPERDUSK’ DEBUT SOLO EXHIBITION
June – July 2015
Atomica Gallery, 7 Greens Court, London, W1F 0HQ
Read more about the exhibition HERE.