Artist Interview: Ruben Ireland

July 01 2016

Cooper: Born in Amsterdam you currently reside in Worcester, England. How much longer will this be your home, is there a place you would rather live?

Ireland: I don’t imagine I’ll be here much longer. Since I left London I’ve been moving around quite a bit, first going back to my hometown, then a year in Cyprus and now here in Worcester and I still don’t feel like I’ve found the right place to settle. I really miss London in fact, I’m considering moving back towards the end of the year.

How would you describe the life of an artist living and working in London?

London is an interesting place for anyone to live but really hard to define. Each day is different, depending on your mood. I used to say it was the loneliest place on earth to live, as there’s a kind of social overload, with so many people crammed together, people are naturally less open to interaction. But having moved around a bit and getting a bit of time away, I don’t see it like that anymore. I think it’s just easier to settle for that perspective, but totally possible to break through it, with a little effort. It’s a great place to meet interested and like-minded people and you’re never far away from something fun to do.

It’s also made up of a really diverse range of settings, from industrial skylines to Renaissance architecture. I’d say working there as an illustrator or artist has it’s ups and downs. The endless amount of creatives trying to make their way there can make you feel quite lost as an individual, but this is probably healthy in the long run as it forces you to stand out. It’s also an endlessly inspirational experience. There’s definitely no room for the mundane in London.

How would you best describe who you are as an artist?

That’s a really tough thing to do. I think if I begin defining myself, I’ll be less open to moving forward with my work. so I’d rather look at my career as a work in progress.

Your work combines a variety of traditional techniques and digital processes, mostly in your signature black and white style. Would you mind elaborating on your interest in the veils and headpieces that adorn your predominantly female subjects?

I’m combining symbolic elements, which together describe an idea, mood, intention, place and/or time and the headdresses and veils are a part of that. For me, I’m particularly drawn to animal headdresses because they can talk about the inner workings of a person, whether cautious, fierce, stoic or anything in between, there’s usually an animal which seems to embody one of those dispositions perfectly.

Has being an artist affected your personal life?

It has yes. It’s definitely been tough trying to find a balance, but I’m lucky that the people close to me understand and support what I do. It’s unlike most other jobs where I clock off at the end of the day, so my personal life and professional life have become synonymous.

There’s also a really extreme duality in the lifestyle this profession creates, like right now I’m sitting in an apartment in San Francisco, enjoying a coffee and overlooking the city, but that wouldn’t have been possible unless I locked myself in my studio for several months getting work ready to show. I wouldn’t change any of it though.

What is the best thing or realization that you took away from your time at University? If you could go back in time would you re-enroll?

I might re-enroll if I could go back in time, but with hindsight I wouldn’t take it as seriously as I did. I think if I’d have enjoyed it more, I would have gotten more out of it. In the end, the stress of trying to make good work for the teachers meant I made pretty bad work. That’s something I’ve learned whilst working professionally - that you have to really enjoy the work, otherwise there’ll be nothing special about it.

When did you decide to pursue art as a profession? What might you be doing if you weren’t making art?

I’ve wanted to be an artist for as long as I remember. I think the realization that it was a career came after I started making the work, because money is really a secondary factor to being creative, it’s definitely not something people get into art for. So I really don’t know what I would be doing if I weren’t making art.

How has your work changed over the years? Are you making the art that you want to make, and is it true to the underlying values that it reflects?

I’ve become far more detail oriented in my work, where a few years ago I didn’t care as much about the quality of my lines, now I work in a magnified state, on larger images and make everything clean and sharp. But this is more to make sure the work prints well and stands up to close scrutiny.

In terms of my aesthetic and subject matter, there’s been a slow change, which I enjoy, rather than sudden shifts in style and subject matter. I feel like I’ve been working with the same ideology since the beginning, but finding new areas within that world to explore as I go on. It’s definitely the work I want to make.

You’ve worked on a number of album sleeves, including your Father David’s most recent album A Twist Of Time which was dedicated to your Mother. What is your relationship with music as it relates to art making?

Listening to music and making art go hand in hand. It helps me to get into a good flow, so I listen to a lot ofSynkro, Seekae, CFCF and Djrum lately whilst I need to focus. But I love anything and need music playing almost constantly in my studio to keep me happy. I’m really enjoying Keaton Henson at the moment as well. He’s a great storyteller.

Would you describe your personality as methodical or spontaneous? How is this reflected in your work process?

Actually I think I’m a mix of both, which is why I have this duality in my work of messy and random textures alongside very clean digital work. I always start my work very wildly and without restraints and then spend the rest of the time cleaning up my mess and organizing everything carefully.

Any mediums you’d like to explore that you haven’t already?

I recently took a ceramics evening class where I live, which I enjoyed immensely. I didn’t make anything particularly interesting, but I learnt a lot about the medium and definitely want to see what I could do with it given more time. I’d really like to translate some of my existing work into sculpture form, I think that could be really exciting.

Tell us about Out of Body, the upcoming group exhibition that you curated and will be contributing to?  Any other current or future projects you are involved in that you would like to share with us?

Out of Body is made up of 14 artists, including myself, with a very broad theme of ‘the human/nature relationship’, which I suggested could be interpreted very broadly by the artists. It was my first curation and I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but I knew if I chose artists I really enjoy, the show was bound to turn out great.

From the finished works I’ve seen so far, I’m over the moon and really excited to start hanging the works this week. In the future, I hope I get another opportunity to curate a show, because there’s a long list of artists I admire and wish I could have asked for Out of Body, but unfortunately had no space for.

I’m also going to be working on my first solo show opening next year at Atomica Gallery in London . But until then, I’ll be focussing on a few more personal works to add to my portfolio, as it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything and I’m eager to work more specifically with some of the new products released this year.

Interview by Justin Cooper © 2014