Oneiric architecture in painting | Eamon O’Kane

Professor Eamon O’Kane at the Art Academy (KMD) is certainly busy on many fronts. After KMD recently published his coffee table-sized book Oneiric Nature, O’Kane has perpetually gone on juggling his artmaking and exhibitions with large-scale research projects and teaching.

Published: by Gard Andreas Frantzsen. Image above: Eamon O’Kane, E-1020 (Le Corbusier Mix 1). Oil on canvas. 100 x 100 cm, 2010. Updated:

Now after summer he is back in Bergen for a solo exhibition at the city’s newest contemporary art gallery – and to teach students and young artists a thing or two.

O’Kane’s research and artmaking have recently taken him to Fiji and Greenland, his international career means that he is somewhat a globetrotter, but he is unwavering with his artmaking, making sure he finds time for it, even whilst on summer holiday with his family, in the car, or wherever he may find himself. Involved in 17 exhibitions as an artist this year alone, with research projects and teaching coming in addition to that, it seems fair to assume that logistics also play a big part of O’Kane’s everyday life-manoeuvring.

On 11 August O’Kane’s solo show Fluid Spaces opens at Høyersten Contemporary, a gallery that only opened this spring in Bergen. The exhibition presents paintings inspired by research visits to mid-century modern buildings. O´Kane has been Professor of Visual Art since 2011 at the Art Academy, and is currently heading the subject area of painting. The book Oneiric Nature nevertheless showcases the range of media and materials he works with; installations, photography, film and animation, drawings, in addition to painting. The publication includes his own writings, but four internationally well-known scholars have prominently contributed to the publication; Margaret Iversen, Mikkel Bogh, Norman Brosterman and Ellen Mara De Wachter.

Louisiana Museum Lake
Oil on Canvas
200 x 150 cm
2018
 

Several of the authors of Oneiric Nature address O’Kane’srecurring interest in history and modernism – ranging from architecture, iconic objects and symbols. Often his works seem to be underscoring a relation of the human-made to nature; plants, trees, but also water, skies are juxtaposed with that which is human made. This especially holds true for his paintings that depict modernist architecture; here the buildings are seemingly always in dialogue with the surrounding nature, and the perspective taken by the artist accentuates this relationship.

Can you say something about how you see the relationship between modernism and nature?

– Since the enlightenment and then the industrial revolution, humankind has attempted to distance itself from nature, by aestheticizing, analysing, and categorizing it. The human–nature dualism, which was a product of Enlightenment thought and primarily responsible for the ecological crisis has led to the catastrophic consequences we are now witnessing, extreme climatic events which do not necessarily threaten nature as such but threaten human existence on this planet. Even the term Anthropocene is humancentric and suggests a human agency that can solve things on a global scale. The only hope would be returning to a type of global care practice which took inspiration from indigenous care practices, O’Kane says.

Gropius House with Red Maple Tree
Oil on canvas
200 x 200 cm
2009

 

In my paintings based on modernist architecture I am interested in exploring some of these issues through looking at desire and the fantasy of a perfect architectural space. Fantasies about where you want to live, what you want to do, are just fantasies, reality exists in the processes that attempt to make them happen, but due to exponential capitalism and consumer culture we are increasingly manipulated. The Modernist period in architecture and design was an interesting period in the respect that so many people attempted to achieve different types of utopias and quite often failed nobly in the process.

I often use colour to heighten certain emotional states in the paintings and to, in turn, point to seasonal changes and time passing. Rising sea levels, mixed up seasons, orange and red skies referring to forest fires and air pollution. I am attempting to create an architectural uncanny where the viewer is confronted by some of these questions. In my paintings, photographs, videos, and installations I am interested in setting a stage for something to happen.

Louisiana Museum in Snow
Oil on canvas
120 x 180 cm
2018

In your recent book published by KMD there is a rather wide and varied presentation of your oeuvre, could you say something about the process behind the book and the selection of works included?

– The book started out with the focus of providing an overview of my painting practice since the early 2000s. The idea was to take Isabelle Graw’s concept of ‘vitalistic fantasies’, focusing on the individual gesture and how that connects the viewer to the maker of the artwork. As I began working on the book and having discussions with the various contributors, I quickly found out that it wasn’t productive to only focus on my paintings as they are produced simultaneously with my other works and although the individual gesture isn’t always so obvious in some of the installations or lens-based works there are important juxtapositions to be made between the different media. The intention is for the book to give a good overview of the complexity of my practice over the last two decades, both in terms of concepts and processes.

Being both an artist and an academic, taking part in two worlds so to say, do you feel that the roles inform and complement each other? Or do they come at the expense of each other?  

– The roles of being an artist and an academic complement one another. The only thing that is in short supply is time, and it can be challenging to find time to make new artwork or research new projects. I am very disciplined about making my artwork as it is such an important part of who I am. As there is not enough time during the day or term time I make my artwork in the evenings, weekends, and summer holidays. Luckily my family are very supportive and used to me making artwork at home, quite often at the kitchen table, or in the train and car when we are travelling in the summer.
 
The process of teaching is very inspiring, and I love engaging with the students’ practices and trying to help them reflect, develop, and challenge. I have been teaching for 26 years and this has always been in parallel with working as an artist. The two complement one another as I can help young artists develop their art practice based on my own experience of working in the art world. It is a huge advantage to be a practicing artist as I am automatically keeping up to date with what is going on in the artworld both conceptually and professionally.
 
In terms of artistic and academic research, I am involved in a lot of UiB research projects and groups, and these take up a lot of my time and require a lot of administration. They also stimulate and inform my artistic practice and allow me to engage with topics and individuals that introduce me to new ways of thinking. I am Co-Principal Investigator on the NFR funded project Climate Narratives, and we are launching a new art and science hub in Greenland in the autumn, and I co-curated a major exhibition of art from Fiji and Greenland at KODE earlier this year. Another UiB project which has been very rewarding to be involved in is the Calendars project and have just written an essay on how my artwork relates to seasonality for a new book which will be published by De Gruyter this autumn, one of my paintings is being used for the front cover. I am currently working on another text for a special issue on seasonality of the Journal ‘Time and Society’ and I will be taking part in a group exhibition and seminar at the University Arboretum in September. I am also a participant in the Centre for Digital Narratives, a new centre of excellence at UiB and will be co-curating an exhibition about Artificial intelligence with Professor Scott Rettberg and Jill Miller (Professor at UC Berkeley) at the Worth Ryder Gallery in California. The NARP project Matter, Gesture, Soul, has also been a very inspiring project to participate in and we will be having a final workshop and seminar in the autumn. All of these projects influence, challenge and stimulate my artwork in many ways and also allow me to connect directly with societal challenges.

View of studio
Odense, Denmark
2018