In 2021 Daniel MacCarthy is the Sidney Nolan Trust’s Resident Artist

The Resident Artist scheme is a new pilot that seeks to provide an artist with an extended period of support and development through subsidised studio space and the support of the Trust and staff.

In contrast to the short-term artist residences that we offer, the Resident Artist scheme is designed so that artists become more fully integrated with the work of the Trust and that both the artist and organisation benefits from this relationship.

Dan has already brought his extensive experience as a gallery/art technician to the Trust, supporting the development of our gallery space and future printmaking ambitions, as well as offering and debating ideas for our site and creative programmes. We anticipate that the pilot will culminate in an exhibition of Dan’s work at The Rodd in 2022.

Read a full interview with Dan below

Resident Artist Interview: Dan MacCarthy 

After a decade in London, the arrival of his baby son along with the pandemic brought about his return to Presteigne, close to where he grew up.  The Trust's Creative Producer Antony Mottershead spoke to Dan at his Rodd studio about his work and aspirations for the rest of the year. 

AM: Dan, tell us a bit about your background and the art that you make.

DM:  As you mentioned in your introduction I grew up not far from here, on the other side of the border in Herefordshire. I feel very connected to this landscape and increasingly it has become a starting point in my work. Usually indirectly, as a backdrop, or a memory. My father is a painter and from a long line of artists on the French side of our family so you might say painting is in the blood. It's a background that has both helped and challenged me as I have tried to forge my own path as a painter. I drew a lot from an early age, but took a different route after college, choosing to study History at the University of Sussex. This period of academic study increasingly seems to reappear in the work; informing subject matter and perhaps claiming its rightful place as a useful formative influence rather than as a regret of not having studied art at undergraduate. 

AM:  You have studied at the Royal Drawing School and most recently at the alternative Painting School - Turps Banana. How have these very different platforms influenced your practice?

DM:  The RDS was very timely for me. It was 2009, I was living in a warehouse in Hackney full of confident post-grad artists and I was full of self-doubt and uncertainty, tentatively pursuing my ambition to be a painter. I was disturbed by the overwhelmingly conceptual scene around me but determined to be 'relevant' whatever that means. Although now I would say my paintings are quite conceptual, or at least allegorical, back then I needed to return to basics and learn to paint. There was still a surprisingly hostile attitude to observational art in the major art schools, and the drawing school offered a safe haven in which to study under some great tutors and put aside the trickier question of what to paint!  Turps which was only founded in 2012 came to my attention just as I was about to leave London after nearly 10 years. I had been slowly but surely finding my way as an artist in the intervening period and only at the point of having moved back to Wales did I feel I'd found the right course at a time when I was ready to be surrounded by other painters. So back I went, onto a friend's narrow boat, and in between making my way up the canals from Limehouse to Hackney, I spent most days and not a few nights of the proceeding 6 months at the Turps Studios in Bermondsey. It proved to be short but sweet, thanks to the combined forces of the pandemic and the arrival of my son, but it fueled some rapid changes in my work and gave me great momentum.

AM:  Explain briefly how you came to be Resident Artist at the Sidney Nolan Trust.

DM:  In 2019 having recently moved to nearby Presteigne and before I returned to London to take up my place at Turps I had offered my services as an art technician to the SNT. This led to my making a proposal to renovate the gallery at the Rodd. This conversation recommenced during the first lockdown as the funding was now available for the job. You then suggested giving me studio space alongside the work, a proposition I was delighted to accept, having been previously working in my flat. The unusual pause in the SNTs normal activities afforded by successive lockdowns has been fortuitous in that it has enabled me to divide my time between constructing gallery walls and working in the studio. I was delighted when this evolved into my being the first recipient of the new year-long resident artist scheme.

AM:  What are you currently working on?

DM:  Unusually for me I currently have several large commissions I am just beginning work on. One for a large painting to go in a flat in London, and the other for 5 large works for a major international hotel group, who are constructing a new hotel in central London. (I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say more!) I am very glad to have the studio here to begin work on these as I'm not sure I could have managed in my flat..

Alongside that, I am finishing off works that I began towards my final months at turps, including a series of paintings depicting floods. This as a subject appeals to me as I have a great love of painting water and reflections, and the floods we have had in the area in recent years have given me plenty of imagery to work with. Also as I mentioned earlier, it recalls my study in history as an undergraduate in which I focused for my dissertation on the environment and human activity. I am interested in the capacity of a painting to gradually reveal itself, first as a bucolic scene; is this a lake? Then it's a scene where something has gone wrong; is this a flooded landscape? Then there is a sense of our connectedness, the cause and effect; is that a car floating in the distance, are we implicated in this event...?

Some of these works are destined for my first solo show in Milan, which was due to open in March of last year at the Galera San Soda. The show is finally due to go ahead in the Autumn of this year. 

AM:  Is there an artist or style that is currently influencing your work?

DM:  My turps mentor Anne Ryan introduced me to the work of Charles Burchfield. He was a sort of 20th-century American Blake in some ways and something of a painter's painter is not as well known as he should be. His oeuvre mostly consists of watercolours which really pop with this visionary almost hallucinogenic quality whilst also being quite folky. They feel really fresh as a way of approaching landscape painting, something which I'm interested in. Also, I'm a big fan of contemporary painter Nick Goss.  And then there are the old faves that are always in my head Munch, Ensor, Vuillard... I could go on.

AM:  Tell us about the most interesting or memorable artwork or project you have been involved with.

DM:  I used to be really into painting murals until I realised I wasn't very good at securing commissions. I did a large flyover next to the tramway in Croydon in around 2015. The last big one I did was during a trip to Lebanon. I was staying with a friend in Beirut and managed to land a mural job in the amazing city of Aley that looks down on Beirut from Mount Lebanon. I was given an ancient-looking cherry picker operated by two wonderful refugees from Aleppo, and an enormous concrete flyover to paint something on. Unfortunately, I only had a few days in which to paint, but the joy of being able to make huge gestural marks, rolling out great abstract shapes on the hot concrete wall, which would only make sense once I descended and walked across the road, and being brought cold drinks and delicious things to eat by the locals on a dusty back street looking down on Beirut and the sea is something I'll never forget. 

AM:  What are your aspirations whilst you are working at the Trust?

DM:  Having spent much of lockdown constructing large gallery walls at the Trust, my hope going forward is to make some large paintings and to see them on these walls. There is something very satisfying about that thought. I think making the walls has given me time and the appetite to make some ambitious paintings. It's a bit like stretching a canvas; a mechanical process that creates the potential for another kind of process, one less mechanical, and less easy to understand. Inspiration is hard to approach directly, so it's these mechanical processes that help us to creep up on that process and hopefully attain a state of flow for a short while. Does that make any sense!? My other big aspiration is to be shown how to use the amazing lithography facilities at The Rodd by David Ferry and then to produce a run of prints.

 Photos: Antony Mottershead & Joe Hedges