So I was out walking my dog one day.
She's dead now.
But when I was out walking, I had this one moment.
Time stood still.
And a bunch of things about Boundary came to me at once.
One of those things was that the artwork of my friend JR would make an awesome beer label.
So. 19 months and 20 paintings later, meet JR...
Hi John, tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm 29, grew up in Belfast in a big family of 3 brothers and 2 sisters, which was a lot of fun. I married my lovely wife, Anna, a year ago; she moved over from Minnesota and we live happily in Belfast.
And what's your favourite beer?
My go-to beers are strong, hoppy IPAs but one of my absolute favourites is Madrugada Obscura from Jolly Pumpkin. I first had it in their pub in Ann Arbor and I'd never tasted anything like it. At the moment, I'm working on a label for Boundary's Sour Stout- it's incredible [MD #spoileralert]
And art, tell us about your journey as an artist?
I finished my degree in Fine Art in 2009 then moved to London for a year where I had a painting studio in an old Church. I came back to Belfast and set up studio in my Granny's garage where my largest painting was a sensational 8' x 4'- not bad for a crumbling little building with no heat- my Granny's constant supply of cups of tea must have helped. In 2012 I decided it was time to push forward in my Art, so I joined the Master of Fine Art course at University of Ulster and studied there for two years. When I graduated, I won the Platform Art graduate award and had a great studio at Platform Arts, where I continued to develop work from my Masters'. In 2015, I started working with Boundary on paintings for the launch and as soon as the doors opened, I moved into my new studio in the Brewery. Three weeks ago, I left my day job and have been in the studio full time ever since- the journey continues!
And how has your art/technique/influence changed over that time?
Since childhood, I've always been drawn to the Landscape. I remember mashing oil pastel into textured paper because I wanted it to 'feel' like the scene, not just look like it. During my Degree, my painting developed and I started to learn about the connections between emotion and abstract colour and form. I found my love for Plein Air painting in the local forest or the closest coastline, where I would drag my painting gear and capture the colours and forms that I saw. In my final Degree show, I exhibited paintings that contained strong references to Mountain, Forest, and Ocean Landscapes, while also pushing into the abstract. I continued to maintain this back and forth between a connection to a lived experience and abstract development. When I started the Masters Degree I wanted to pursue new directions in my work. I created installations, using lighting and smoke machines, to create spaces that acted in a similar way to paintings- allowing the viewer to become immersed in light. During my studies, I was able to contextualise my practice by bringing together influences from Romanticism (themes of Man's place in nature), Impressionism (a focus on accurate depiction of changing light), Abstract Expression (the idea that colour and gesture in abstract painting can get at something emotional or even spiritual), and Light Art, which uses light itself as a medium to immerse the viewer. Right now, my work always starts with painting trips into the Landscape and then develops in various ways back in the studio.
How/where do you see Boundary fitting into your portfolio?
I see my Boundary work as a collaboration with Matthew, the brewer. He makes his beer with certain characteristics and qualities to which I respond in the paintings- sometimes, it's the other way around. The Boundary paintings are a unique project and there is a flow of ideas back and forth between them and my main work.
How is it having a Studio in a brewery?
I Love it. Sometimes, as artists, we can get caught up in too much thinking and find it hard to start making art. I love being surrounded by a buzz of industry, the working day, and creative people doing something they love-it's an environment I find easy to be productive in. Of course, when the latest beer needs to be tasted for the next painting, that's not bad either.
Give us an insight into the process of how you come up with a paining for a Boundary beer?
Matthew and I taste the beer and talk about the character of it- the flavours and the history of that particular type of beer. I then think of it in terms of landscape- where is this beer located? What's the weather? What's the time of day? What are the main colours? I also think about the type of personality the beer has- is it aggressive and loud? Smooth and quiet? Once I have an idea in mind, I start painting and see what develops. In my normal work, I use the landscape as a starting point and work from there. Similarly, in the Boundary paintings, I use tasting the beer as a starting point which develops into something quite abstract- but contains all the qualities of the original experience.
Which is your favourite Boundary piece, and why?
My Favourite Boundary piece is Push and Pull because it's the perfect balance between the art and the beer. It's an IPA series that brings forward different hops in each brew, creating subtle taste changes, which gives the brewer room to experiment. 'Push and Pull' is a theory of abstract art developed by the artist Hans Hofmann. It challenged the traditional way of thinking about perspective by using pure colour to create depth, with colours overlapping each other so that one would push backward while the other would pull forward. The painting is based on this idea.
Is it true that you paint all your paintings upside down?
Yes. At some point I'll turn it upside down, just to get an idea of the overall balance of the painting and see what's needed. Then, I'll paint for a bit before turning it back around-it gives me a fresh perspective and keeps it from getting boring. Also, I copied it from Matthew, who brews upside down.
Keep your eyes open for the dates of my next show sometime in November. Cheers!