Shane O’Malley is among a leading group of contemporary artists who have emerged from Ireland’s vibrant graffiti subculture, to work in the mediums of paint, murals and art installations. Following on from the success of his talk at Galway Culture Night, we caught up with him and got him to answer some interview questions to get an idea of what he’s been up to in the mean time, and what projects lie in the pipelines.
When did you begin making art?
I suppose I’ve always had a creative side and was encouraged at an early age to practice drawing. I got hooked and it’s been a focus for most of my life.
How your education prepare you for life as an artist?
I studied visual communication at L.S.A.D. run by some good tutors, What I really took from it was how to conceptualise and communicate ideas.
Your artistic journey began with graffiti, how does that impact your current style?
Yes, so I first picked up a spray can around 2001 and it was my main outlet of expression for most of my 20’s. It’s had a huge impact really, I learned about colour through graffiti and my style is graphic, which comes from the 3D & fills in my pieces.
Can you tell us a little about your process, do you begin with a plan or do you go with the flow?
Usually I have an idea I want to communicate, then I create it and put it out into the world. So it starts with a rough sketch either on paper or on the computer, then I paint it onto canvas or on a wall. At times it’s freeing to start a piece without any end goal and see where it ends up, to explore pushing my boundaries….
Your creative practices have moved from the outdoors inside, do you have a studio space you use for creating and how does it differ from working outside in the elements?
Yes I have a studio in Galway City. I love it and it’s changed my process a lot, I’ve created a space where I can focus solely on art. Outside when I’m spray painting, each wall is a different canvas. Weather is a huge factor! It can be a bit grim painting this time of the year, it’s getting cold and Galway’s very wet, ha ha, so summers the best time to paint. I’m enjoying the warmth of the studio.
Do you keep to a schedule when creating?
No not really I suppose that’s a bit of a problem, something I’m trying to change. I tend to work towards deadlines which creates a lot of pressure, forces you to make decisions and sometimes the work suffers, so to freshen things up I’m trying to plan more, aiming to make my life easier, ha ha!
You share your work online and via social media, giving us a glimpse into your process and behind the scenes. What role does social media play, and how has it affected your career as an artist?
It’s a funny one! I use social media a lot, finding inspiration and I follow a lot of amazing people. I’ve built a following of friends and people who like my art, which in itself is amazing. It’s great to have a way to connect to people as I’m detached from the main hub in Dublin, living in the west of Ireland. On the flip side, I suppose, the question is ‘what do all those followers mean’ or ‘what is the purpose of all the likes’. It’s great to connect with people but at the same time I sell my art and do my projects, so the amount of followers doesn’t really matter.
You often use your artwork to start conversation about mental and emotional health. How important is it to you to use your creativity to raise awareness and normalise these important themes?
It’s a funny one. Ten years ago I couldn’t talk about how I felt and rarely had the balls to express my vulnerability. Life has taught me that talking is actually a great thing and finding that, after being honest, there is nowhere to go but to learn and to move forward. Art was a way to do this when words failed me, I worked under different aliases and it was easier to be honest when I hid behind them. Now it’s more enjoyable to speak from that place as myself. The reason I associate my art with mental health is that it’s been a huge part of my life. I feel I’ve something to add to the conversation, I want to connect with and hopefully inspire people to look past certain parts of their mind, to see and find a new awareness.
Red, Yellow and Blue – these colours continually appear in your work. What do these colours mean to you?
I started using primary colours because they have a nostalgic feel to them, they remind me of childhood . I’m also inspired by the Bauhaus, Albers & Kandinsky’s teachings in particular. Reading Kandinsky’s writings on colour he talks about Blue and Yellow as the “First antithesis” they have an “ex and concentric” movement. The blue moves away from you and the yellow comes closer to you. I like exploring tones of colour – light to dark and warm to cool, bringing yellow into reds and adding green into the blues. I was drawn to this strong contrast of colour as it’s like a visual conflict. That’s the starting point for a lot of my paintings. Basically visualising my mind, my inner conflicts – mental health, self doubt. Im restless, I’m pulled this way and that by my mind, I don’t always have an inner piece and strong colours speak to me.
When things get busy, what do you do to relax and stay focused?
For me it’s hanging out with my girlfriend watching a movie or documentary, chilling reading a book or meeting a friend for coffee, basically trying to switch off, get perspective and come back with a new energy.
What do you like most about being an artist?
I suppose its freedom for me. Art is my main purpose in life at the moment. I create work that speaks to me. The time spent in the studio and spray painting walls is my time, The challenge then comes where to place my art and making a living from what I create. If I’m being honest I often ask myself self doubting questions but I suppose they are from a place in my mind that is aware that this road, the one of being an artist can be unstable at times. Will I make enough money? Where’s the next job coming from? I’ve learned the hard way not to dwell on this for too long, just find solutions that easy those fears. Make progress, sleep. That’s life I suppose, ha ha.
You recently did some work with the Galway Community Circus. What does it mean to you to be able to involve the community in your creative process?
Working on workshops with young people teaches you a lot, It’s rewarding and can make you question your process and they teach you a lot about you. Usually at the start of a workshop there is a level of excitement but at the same time a nervousness. Seeing people transform during the process of expression and take ownership of their part in a large mural is amazing.
What advice do you have for others who are thinking of pursuing art as a career?
What I tell myself is study, be an artist of your time, work work work and find a healthy balance between your personal work and commercial work or whatever pays the bills
It seems creativity runs in the family. Do you think the people you surround yourself with influence your journey as an artist?
Yes, totally! I mean I learn a lot from books and by studying other artists but close friends teach me the most. I’m grateful to have creative friends like Finbar247, Dan Gardner, Dani Gill and friends from graffiti like “The TDA Klann” & RTM heads. My girlfriend, photographer Julia Dunin, has been huge, a very talented lady and great person to bounce ideas off.
You have an exhibition coming up, can you tell us a little more about it?
Yes I’m excited about this one, we are having a family exhibition of ceramics, art, & woodwork in the “Town Hall Theatre” & “Black Gate Cultural Centre” in Galway City. It will feature works by me, my dad Pat O’Malley a woodturner, my sister Vivien O’Malley a ceramicist and my uncle artist Mike O’Malley. We have talked about this for a long time so delighted to be making it a reality. If you are around in Galway do pop in, the show will open at 2.30 pm in the “Town Hall Theatre” on Saturday the 11th of Nov!
It has been a fantastic year for you as an artist, is there anything left on the list to achieve?
A year and half ago I was working as a graphic designer but I wasn’t happy so I left my job in April 2016 to focus on art. From then on It’s been really rewarding but also quite challenging. Ive achieved a lot of the goals I set out with and it’s been a year to build on for next year. For me the main focus at the moment is finding the balance really between personal projects, workshops and commercial jobs. Being in the studio as much as possible and enjoying the journey.
What should we look out for next?
I’m working on a few really cool projects, both personal and commercial so I’m excited to share them with you over the next few months. I can’t talk about it too much just yet, but follow along on Social Media and you’ll see them popping up really soon.
To see more of Shane’s artistic endeavours, you can follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. If you’d like to add a piece of Shane’s artwork to your collection, his Fine Art Prints are available to purchase directly from his Website. And of course, if you happen to find yourself in Galway on Saturday 11th November, be sure to drop by the Town Hall Theatre from 2:30pm onwards to see Shane’s vibrant work in person.