Aidan Myers is a contemporary fine artist specialising in both figurative and abstract oil painting. Within a few short years of graduating, he has made a distinct mark on Cardiff’s contemporary art scene, exhibiting his large scale paintings in many solo and group shows across South Wales and beyond. Underpinned by non-linear, almost compulsive energies, Aidan’s dynamic yet immersive compositions are driven by the unrestricted flow of his inner feelings, moods, emotions and sensations ‒ a harmonious visual meditation charged with potency, exuberance and openness. We caught up with him at his creative space within The Sustainable Studio and had a chat about his recent 3-month artist residency experience in Goa, his love affair with paint and colour, his artistic influences and upcoming projects.
For people who are not yet familiar with your work, who is Aidan Myers?
I am a visual artist living and working in Cardiff, Wales. I work at a space within The Sustainable Studio in Cardiff Bay. My work is mostly based between painting and drawing often focused more towards large-scale, abstracted compositions influenced by ideas and studies of the human figure and landscape. Images are constructed through a range of painterly processes and are situated on the cusp of figuration, as the compositions have tendencies to allude towards structures or elements of the human form. Many of the painting compositions come from drawing studies mostly as a starting point for the paint processes to deviate from. A considerable part of my painting process concerns energy, experiences and feeling rather than specific or linear subjects. The approaches and methods of working will vary from piece to piece; there are no set rules or formulas to creating the paintings.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
Learning to cycle without stabilisers! Lake District sometime in the 90’s. I remember the day like it was yesterday, cycling in loops around the area where my family were staying, then being called back for ‘tea’, but being far more obsessed with my newfound skill instead. Cycling is something that I have enjoyed and loved ever since so I think that moment sits closely with me. It is always my first mode of transport around the city each day.
What about your first memory of art?
I remember growing up in my parent’s house in the Midlands, there was always a large print edition of Salvador Dali’s painting: ‘The Metamorphosis of Narcissus’ (1937). It proved to be quite an influential piece that I ended up studying in lots more details years later. It was also in this house that my mother decorated all of the rooms with wall murals. I hadn’t really thought about how influential this actually was until now; my room was a space station looking out across the galaxy to the planets and stars whilst my sister had animals from Noah’s arc across the wall – quite a creative space to grow up in.
How did you get into art? What are the milestones of your journey?
Initially it must have been from seeing my mother’s sketches and drawings that she made during her teenage years into her early 20’s. She made pencil drawings of vinyl album covers and drawings of women wearing vibrant, extravagant, designer outfits. Seeing these from early points in my life certainly opened my creative curiosity. The many inspirational teachers at school and college really helped me along my journey. The art teachers throughout my education were some of the most consistently energetic and enthusiastic people, which really helped my confidence and enabled me to pursue this creative life. I remember being very happy in the art classrooms at secondary school; I was mostly making drawings throughout these school years. This led to a deeper interest with drawing in college where I took up observational portrait drawing classes one evening a week alongside my art courses. I also did both life-drawing sessions each week during my art foundation year, which founded my fascination with figure drawing. The tutors and technicians at college/foundation were particularly inspirational and very supportive of my love for paint. I remember the tutors organising a London trip to see the Francis Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain in 2008. This was my first experience of Bacon’s work in the flesh, which was just incredible. I was completely blown away by it.
Why abstract? What is the magic for you of abstract painting?
The abstracted processes in the studio can be really energetic for one. I am drawn to the different surfaces, textures, colours and forms that can unfold, arise and develop at any time during the processes of painting. Anywhere from an intended gesture, a mistake to a significant moment of instinct can lead to exciting, powerful and visually engaging results. I am not particularly impressed by work that needs a written text beside it in the gallery; I think that any texts are an addition to the work, an added bonus rather than a requirement for the work to exist. I have been to many shows where the text is almost more important than the image itself, which generally speaking has not really interested me. It is the visual impact that is most important for me; those striking moments of immediacy that draw you in closer to investigate the surfaces, the intrinsic details – this is what excites me within art and with painting more specifically. Going back to the Bacon show, I think of those precious moments seeing his work for the first time; being visually struck and energised by those paintings; those feelings, experiences, memories. I didn’t need a blurb to explain any of it.
How would you define the connecting thread or underlying ethos that ties together your work?
The connecting thread is the non-linear. I think that many of my works are often linked by non-linear energies. Whether this is through the thought processes that I undergo whilst making the paintings or through the reactions, responses or personal reflection of the works that come after the creative processes have taken place. Associations and feelings about specific works change, develop or adapt over time; new elements or connections may arise at any stage, sometimes even years after the paintings are completed. Although many of my recent works made during my recent series, Encounters, were much more linear in terms of being based around specific subject matters, I still feel that they were driven by inner feelings, emotions and sensations reflecting upon my experiences.
What do you want the viewers to take away from your work?
It is important for the viewer to reflect upon their own feelings, emotions and sensations in relation to the painted image rather than following specific, structured concepts or stories. It is sometimes the case where artworks give away everything all in one go or they exist only for the ephemeral moment. I am more interested in creating works that are visually striking and impacting in their immediacy; yet paintings that unfold and reveal more over time as the viewer investigates the surfaces, layers, colours and forms more in depth.
Tell us about your recent experience as an artist in residence in Goa, India. What was your goal for this residency and how has this experience influenced your art practice?
I was super fortunate to have the unique opportunity to travel out to Goa in India to make paintings for 3 months at the Aamir Art House artist residency program. I saw this as a chance to see brand new environments, places, cultures and ways of living; it was completely absorbing as everything was completely different to anything that I had ever experienced before. To embrace this was a huge challenge and a very exciting journey for me. There are many moments that are completely ingrained within me now. Throughout the residency I was able to shift my headspace entirely to only creating work and not essentially having to worry about the ‘normal’ everyday life back at home. I was able to work intuitively on studies of specific, linear subjects, objects and scenes that interested me; a more directed approach to painting in comparison to past work. Older paintings tended to undergo long and varied creative processes. This was a break, a change in direction and approach. I ended up making a series of small-scale paintings and drawings in response to the most immediate experiences and chance encounters. These small studies are essentially first hand observations and are the basis of the work I am producing now in my Cardiff studio. The residency came at a very important time following my last solo show, Labyrinth, at The Sustainable Studio in May 2018. The 3-month residency was a completely refreshing period; a new beginning in some ways; for the most part it allowed me to depart from the work that I made up to the point of the Labyrinth series (which consisted of around 30 paintings) and begin pursuing other curiosities for subjects to work from. I began by reducing my studio setup down to a basic selection of brushes, paints and pencils and only really working on paper.
Where do you find inspiration, and what motivates you to keep going?
Firstly my inspiration comes from seeing paintings in real life; looking at paintings online or in books is okay, but is never the same as the real thing. When I visit a show with some real striking works, this really motivates me to get back to the studio and get painting! Secondly travelling, exploring and visiting places of interest is quite a crucial aspect and probably the most important element to my practice. These life experiences and observations are truthful, unique moments for me to work from. Being able to escape the standard day-to-day routines brings ideas to the surface. I often find myself completely captivated by varying things in different cities or countries that I visit. These experiences may not be visible in a visually recognisable, literal sense within the work, but the energies, moods, feelings are completely embedded within the paintings.
What’s the most memorable moment you’ve had related to your art?
I think that it has to be the recent India residency. It felt like such a once in a lifetime chance to work away from home and it also came after a point of working hard in developing my practice for a number of years. I think it proved to me just how committed I am to my practice in that I literally left everything and everyone behind to go for this. Through having such a unique and amazing opportunity, it was reassuring to know that my hard work and my complete life investment into creating artwork does in fact get noticed; it certainly gives me the confidence to know that I am doing the right thing.
What metaphor would best describe how you feel when you paint?
I guess it varies from time to time depending on mood. When I am in ‘paint mode’ I can find myself to be completely engrossed and transfixed by the work in front of me, whether it is
down to the colours, textures or visual resemblances unfolding. Being in this ‘paint mode’ is in one sense like stepping into another world, another realm where possibilities are endless. There is something very captivating and satisfying about making those marks and moving the colours around.
You are live and work in Cardiff. How does the city influence you creatively and how would you describe its art scene?
I have worked in Cardiff since moving here to study a degree in Fine Art in 2011. Firstly my experience of University at Cardiff School of Art & Design at Howard Gardens was a truly amazing and a super memorable time of my life. I loved the large, bright studio space, the atmosphere throughout the art school building and creative people that thrived there. I felt that those years were very important times for building the connections and communities that led to me staying in Cardiff. Within a few months of graduating I was working at the new Cardiff School of Art & Design Llandaff campus on a graduate program called the INC space. The University played a vital role in supporting my practice and becoming a full time freelance artist, particularly through this program. During this time I was very fortunate to have developed an important relationship with Zoë Gingell and Josh Leeson, the co-directors of Cardiff M.A.D.E gallery in Roath; I was lucky to be a part of some amazing group shows at the gallery before achieving my first gallery solo show, Manoeuvred Matter, at M.A.D.E back in 2016. This exhibition was the first formal, public, solo presentation of my work, which was vital at that point in time. It led to me discovering my keen interests of philosophy within art. The concepts and ideas of the ‘human condition’ are particular key areas that I continue to explore within my practice.
I have seen lots of changes in the creative communities in Cardiff both good and bad. I think the city has incredible amounts of potential for visual arts given the quantity of vacant spaces and visual artists working in the city. In recent years there have been a lot of cuts to important art funds and closures of very significant arts spaces/venues and studios for numerous reasons, mostly as a result of council/private re-developments. This is often quite sad and disheartening to see. Even with all this, there is huge drive and lots of enthusiasm within the creative communities working in Cardiff to keep going. At the end of 2018 I moved into a new studio space at The Sustainable Studio in Cardiff Bay. I met Sarah Valentin and Julia Harris who founded The Sustainable Studio along with Lydia Meehan and Emina Redzepovic who all worked with me in the build up towards and during my exhibition, Labyrinth. This was held at the rather impressive events space within the studio building. During my visits to the space I was very welcomed by a number of studio members and lovely team who run the spaces, this felt like a place that I really wanted to be working in, so I moved into a space here shortly after returning from India in 2018. This studio setup is truly something special and of huge significance to Cardiff’s art and creative scene especially with the 50 or so independent creative businesses operating from here. I really have a lot of admiration for the determination and hard work of Julia and Sarah in providing studio spaces here and I am both grateful and fortunate to be working within a buzzing creative group here in Cardiff.
Who are your favourite contemporary artists?
Throughout the creation of work for the Labyrinth series, I looked a lot at the paintings of Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie. Having first seen his work in Venice 2015, I travelled to Berlin in January 2018 to see two Adrian Ghenie solo shows at Galerie Judin and Galerie Plan B. I spent 5 days with my partner going to both shows each day to examine the surfaces, details and layers of the paintings – each series was very bold, powerful, impacting and commanded lots of attention. After returning to Wales, I produced what I felt were two of my most significant paintings within the Labyrinth series as a direct result of seeing the Ghenie paintings just before. Ghenie is relatively young and someone who is very obviously deeply committed to painting and I think this influences my determination and drive, so his books are often opened regularly.
Jenny Saville is also a contemporary painter of interest. In September 2018, I was lucky enough to travel with my partner to see her retrospective in Edinburgh, which was truly amazing, particularly in respect of the sheer scale of her paintings, Fulcrum (1998-99) being around 9.5 x 16 ft. This show was also quite special in the fact that many artworks are in private collections and are not usually shown often to the public.
Where can we see your works this year?
On 30th March 2019 I will be part of the launch of Blackwater Gallery in Cardiff Bay, a new arts venue bringing a number of interesting emerging and recognised artists of different disciplines from all over the world to Cardiff. I am quite excited to be a part of this brand new venture, which will bring together a core range of my paintings and some new works made throughout my years of working in Wales.
What is it of importance to you at the moment and how do you emulate it through your current work?
I am always trying to improve my methods and approaches and trying not to be too formulaic. It can be easy to fall into a repetitive rhythm of producing the same or similar work, without actually challenging your practice or developing at all. So this is always a focus for me. Keeping a sketchbook – this has been something that I haven’t properly done since Art school until I went to India, where I produced a number of sketches and drawing studies. I think that it is a habit that can easily fall out of an artist’s practice. I guess that many artists don’t see the need for sketchbook drawing, however I find that it really helps the paint process, so I am beginning the process of keeping a small sketchbook of ideas going alongside my main studio work. Returning to paintings: portraits and figures – another interest that has come back to me over the past year or so. I have found myself developing more interests towards painting the figure and working on portraits again, perhaps due to the 100’s of life drawing studies in the studio.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future? How do you see yourself evolving as an artist?
You never know what is around the corner or what opportunity is lurking, so I am mostly quite open minded to be honest. I don’t really ever tend to make future plans or think about where ‘I will see myself in 10 years’ because it doesn’t really mean anything… Having said that, I feel really determined to keep pushing my practice as much as possible, through the really fun and tough moments. I guess that my priority overall is to only work for myself; I really don’t want to give up my practice to work elsewhere so it’s important to me to continue pressing ahead and working hard. I also hope to continue working on a large-scale piece; painting big resonates so much with me so I hope that this leads perhaps towards bigger exhibitions at some stage. I have thought quite a bit about possibly heading back to University one day, I think that my practice would really benefit from a 2 year MFA course to really step up my critical thinking and approaches to painting.
Thank you, Aidan for your time and great company.