EK Interview: Cian McLoughlin


Cian McLoughlin‘s work is uninhibited, it is pure expression.  His work looks like the inside of someone’s mind, their opinions and ideas imprinted on each piece. His interview is as thoughtful as his work, check it out:

Introduce yourself, where are you from and where are you going?

My name is Cian McLoughlin and I’m a painter from Dublin, Ireland.


Your work is so raw and emotive, what kind of mood are you in when you paint?  What do you do, whether chemical, physical, musical or otherwise, to accentuate your mood?  Do you have a ritual regarding your work?

The only conscious ritual I have is to go to the studio and work every day. For me, that’s central. If it could ever be said that I have made a breakthrough or taken the work in a stronger direction then that inspiration has always come out of the work itself. Work begets work.

Once I’m in the studio I try to keep any specific rituals or overly prescribed processes out of my work, to the extent that when I start each piece it sometimes feels like I’m learning to paint from scratch. That is not to say I don’t think about, obsess about even, the process of painting. I just don’t see it as an A to B to C sequence. I rarely use any underdrawing or gridding up and I often work from several sources at once so the process is deliberately open ended. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes podcasts, sometimes I work in silence. It’s very much dictated by the tempo of the painting I’m working on.

Cian McLoughlin

Do you enjoy ritual?  Making tea, rolling a j, playing music on vinyl, all of these can be incredibly ritualized activities, which can bring as great a degree of enjoyment as the actual end product.  Do you have any rituals that you enjoy?  What about them do you find so satisfying?

I can swing wildly between extremes of impatience and slow deliberation so I don’t know how to answer to ritual. I think these opposite tendencies fit well with my approach to painting. I work in quick bursts and then rework or scrape down and start again.

I feel that in observing a subject you can’t be equally attentive to everything and I try to reflect that in the way I work. A selective focus. This brings to mind one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in confronting an artwork. When I was 16 I saw the slave sculptures of Michelangelo in Florence for the first time. One in particular, the Atlas Slave, rooted me to the ground.

I was riveted for so many reasons. Each part of the sequence of work so clearly wrought into its surface. The marks of his tools (hammers, chisels, rasps, trepans) all visible. It’s like a frozen record of the decisions he made as he worked and even the order he made them in. The negative space, the silhouette it cuts. The blurring of figure and ground. Parts engaged and parts standing proud. Parts complete and parts untouched. Large blank sections and moments of acute observation. All coming together harmoniously in a final piece that stands hovering on the edge of representation. Mesmerizing.

I try to have these qualities in my mind as I work, hoping that they might rub off somehow. Over the years, I’ve had various ideas and theories that have changed and developed and in many cases been abandoned but the inspiration I get from this experience has been a constant.


What do you enjoy about broad strokes, about strong colors, raw, pure emotion?  Do you wear your emotions on your sleeve or are you reserved?  What colors do you find yourself attracted to?  Are you intrigued by color theory?  Do you utilize it at all in your work?

My palette has undergone a fairly substantial overhaul in the past 3 years. Before that, it was very earthy and muted. The first two new colours I introduced were Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Yellow. I felt like I had gotten up on a bucking bronco. Every colour family and every balance had to be worked out again – I’m still trying to figure them out to be honest. Cadmium yellow is a particularly seductive, if cruel, mistress but I’m enjoying getting to know her. Since then I’ve introduced many other colours from different brands but those two stick out in my memory.

As for mark making, I always aim for my work to live at two distances. The first with your nose against the canvas where the paint has an abstract, sensory quality and the second when viewed from a distance where the form and composition become more coherant. I think painting is the perfect medium to absorb these apparent oppositions of abstraction and figuration into a ‘prismatic whole’ to borrow a phrase from Frank Auerbach. If I could turn to him again, I have become slightly obsessed with a Robert Frost quote that I came to via Auerbach: ‘Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting’. This seems to me a mighty ambition for a painting too.



How has your study of architecture contributed to your art?  Are you currently working in architecture?  What was the most important lesson you learned during your time at university?

I was a very mediocre architecture student. I graduated in 2002 and started to paint full-time immediately so I’ve never practiced as an architect.  I often say that the Dublin city council should send me Christmas cards to thank me for not building anything to blight the landscape here. Despite being a below par student I did absorb some lessons though. The most important of which was, for me, the rigour required to bring something from concept through development to completion. Studying architecture is an excellent, if lengthy, boot camp for anybody intending to pursue life in a creative field.


‘Portraits I’ seems to be looser than either ‘Portraits II’ or ‘Portraits III’.  What did you learn, how did you challenge yourself and how did your approach mature between each of those three series?  Where do you take your subjects?  What is your emotional connection to an individual when you choose to paint them, and how does that change by the time you’ve finished your piece?

Every time I start a new body of work I try to find the best approach for the subject matter at hand. Take 2 very different projects from recent years:  ‘Import’ was an installation of 80 portraits of 80 people from 80 different countries. For that I felt a quieter approach was needed in terms of technique, palette, composition and materials. (see attached images). Whereas the current body of work, under the working title of ‘Tronies’, is a much looser affair in terms of mark making, colour and subject matter. I feel that in the final reckoning, despite these different approaches, the informing sensibility that underpins them both is still very much my own.


When painting portraits versus landscape, what is the difference in your emotion, you approach?  Which do you feel more connected to and why do you think that is?

I only paint subjects that I have a very strong reaction to but I couldn’t discriminate beyond that. I’ve never painted anyone I haven’t spent time with or a landscape that I haven’t experienced first hand. I hope that this immediacy shows in the work.


What’s next for you?  What are you currently working on?  What is your current obsession, whether art or otherwise?

I have work in an upcoming group show this October in the Molesworth gallery in Dublin. www.molesworthgallery.com. And in October, 2014 I’ll be having my first solo exhibition in New York in the J. Cacciola Gallery. www.jcacciolagallery.com. It’s safe to say I’ll be spending a disproportionate amount of my time in the studio for foreseeable future. If anyone wants to keep up to date on developments they can visit my website at www.cianmcloughlin.com

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