In the studio with Aoibhin Maguire

In the studio with Irish artist Aoibhin Maguire, whose works explore the overlap between adulthood and innocence. We met with Aoibhin to tell us more about growing up in Belfast, her ideal conditions for creating work, and the best piece of advice she's ever received.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

I have always been drawn to the healing properties of colour and have a love for texture and getting messy with paint. I stayed late in the art classroom during school and over lunch and art was always my favourite subject. Whenever I felt overwhelmed growing up I would paint, write or draw. I began to see myself as an artist upon completing my undergraduate degree in Fine Art, however choosing to study art was never a hard decision. I was involved in the arts from a young age. I attended arts and craft clubs as a child, played the fiddle and was an Irish Dancer. My favourite bit of being an artist is definitely the bit where I’m actually making the art and I love doing long late nights in the studio.

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? 

I am from Belfast, Northern Ireland, a very nostalgic place in my opinion. I grew up in Belfast, leaving when I was 18 to move to Lancaster, North England to do my Fine Art BA. Belfast, despite what you sometimes hear on the news, is an amazing place to grow up with extremely friendly, down to earth people. There is a culture in Northern Ireland of using humour, often dark humour to make difficult subject matter easier to talk about and this often comes into play in my work. As a nostalgic person, there have been times in my life when I have found it hard to return to Belfast and these thoughts and memories often work their way into my paintings, reflecting on meaningful, pivotal places which I no longer frequent.

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work? 

Being a practising artist was never really a decision, it has always just felt right. Of course it is an extremely difficult career, especially living in London but it is so important to me to paint as much as I can. I began painting from about 4 years old, making (abstract) paintings of sunsets and trees again and again. I think moving to London to do my Painting MA was a pivotal moment. The art scene in Belfast is so much smaller than in London and I had never been in such a strong art community before. I had to throw myself into the deep end and learn alot about how things work here and fast. I loved being surrounded by so many talented artists with amazing work ethics every day – it was truly inspiring.

What’s the message of your work? Where do they come from?

I am interested in emotion, place, home, storytelling, diaries, chaos and daydreaming and I contrast my complex subject matter with my use of bright colour. I often describe my paintings as stories of disorder, or maybe just a different type of order. They are a dance between love and anger, fear and ecstasy, anxiety and bliss. A push and pull between hope and desperation, a constant conflict on canvas. I am an overthinker and in my paintings I reflect on the inner doubts we all can have as we navigate through our day to day lives. Although these worries may sometimes make us feel inadequate and we do not always vocalise them, in reality they are a universal element of the human experience. I often view my works as mindscapes or the painted version of a diary or journal entry. I channel my emotions through my paintings, making sense of things, reflecting on things. I combine raw thoughts with my vibrant imagination, creating hybrid worlds dreamed up from the real and the fictitious. I think my paintings will always be colourful, colour, throughout everything, has always been my constant.

Who are your greatest influences?

Rose Wiley, Daisy Paris, Catherine Bernhardt, Lynda Benglis, Francis Bacon, André Butzer, Sam Keogh and Andi Fischer.

An unexpected source of inspiration? 

Interestingly, I am often inspired by people who are not in the arts, or even that interested in fine art. I think this is because I didn’t grow up around artists or have a circle of artist friends until I moved to England. Although I really love the art world, it can be intense and sometimes I crave a sense of normality (or normality for me anyway). I get a lot of inspiration from conversations with family and friends back home.

What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? 

I love when people see something relatable in my work. My work is often about my racing mind and I think this is something many people can relate to, especially in such a fast paced city like London. My paintings are of thoughts and feelings that can be difficult to put into words, even to those closest to you and I would love to normalise this a bit more, or even create a bridge where people can think ‘it’s not just me’ and feel a bit more seen. People have told me they can relate to my work and it makes me feel closer to them, despite not having to speak about our thoughts we have a mutual understanding which can be beautiful. Although I have the audience in mind in this sense, ultimately I paint what I want to paint because I have to make the marks which feel instinctively right to me.


What events in your life have mobilised change in your practice?

Moving to England and having studio spaces really helped push my practice forward. At university I was able to move off the canvas and experiment with more 3D painting, writing and projection. I love to experiment and get messy! Since graduating, I have made work on both small and large scales. I had my first solo show in February in a small space in Belfast and it was a super helpful challenge to translate my style to smaller canvases than usual. I have also become more fearless in showing my writings, or incorporating bits of the text or scribbling my thoughts into my paintings.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

One of my most important rules for myself is, when the work is nearing completion, to turn the canvas around for a few weeks or days if possible before either finishing it or deciding it is done. It is so important to give myself space from my work before deciding if something is finished or not. I take pride in all the small finishing details such as hand sewing a border with colourful embroidery thread. In terms of ideal conditions, I always put my phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode in the studio as I have to be free of distractions, especially the screen and I normally need a good podcast going too. My favourite studio days are when I don’t have anywhere to be later on or anything else I need to do other than paint – these are the best conditions for me to get in the zone and be happiest while painting.

Tell us about the inspiration behind one of your works?

My painting Focus Becomes Scrambled and Overlap Begins was inspired by a poem I wrote last year called To Make It All Worthwhile The poem is as follows:

I want to paint

Thought out things

With moments of silence

Allowed to breathe

But my brain doesn’t stop

Until forced

By the hero

At night.

I care about one thing

Now it’s thunder and doom.

Focus becomes scrambled

And then overlap begins.

I’m not like you,

Who do I run to the sea with?

Then comes the obsession

Emptiness is not allowed

I try to hold back

But the gaps need filled


Ana is in my ear

They shield us from the wondering

But I haven’t done all the things you have?

2 hours isn’t the same as 16…

For a fleeting minute

I am going to accomplish 

something massive.

Am I compensating?

So what do you talk about?

Because we just look and say ‘oh’.

Then I realise

Quite frankly

That it would be impossible.

Impossible to do it all

Even though I need to.

To make it all worthwhile.

This poem can apply to both the process of painting as well as everyday life. I write alot and these writings inform my paintings but I don’t often show them, however with this poem I wanted it to be seen.

Something in the future you hope to explore?

I want to always be able to give myself the time to make art. In the future I hope to be able to give myself more resources to go bigger with my work. I want to keep painting and getting better and better each day. In the future I would love to be able to stretch canvas over really, really big stretcher frames and see how far I can push this in terms of scale! I am very interested in materiality and love finding new mediums and materials to experiment with and coming up with new painting techniques so this is something I would like to push in the future.

Describe your work in three words

Colourful, Emotional, Mindscapes.

What do you listen to while you work? Is music important to your art? 

Mostly podcasts actually! I listen to all sorts of podcasts but my favourite art related ones are Talk Art and The Great Women Artists. However it is also important to me to have moments of complete silence with my work.

What is your favorite read?

On The Road by Jack Kerouac. I first read this book when I was a teenager and I find it interesting how my interpretation of the book and what I take from it personally has changed a lot since growing up.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received (any quotes or mantras you particularly connect with)?  

  1. Just because someone uses bigger words, doesn’t mean they always have lots to say (one of my amazing art tutors said this to me after I came to him worried that my ‘art vocabulary’ wasn’t ‘fancy enough’).
  2. Don’t tell people what to think, allow the work to draw them in and let them decide for themselves. (more advice from a great art tutor).
  3. Art is a great tool for those who are shy, to paint what they may not be able to say. (my art teacher in school when I was choosing art for one of my GCSE subjects).

What makes you laugh:

Art memes.

What makes you nervous?

Slow drying oil mediums.

Is there anything you wish you were asked more often

I’d love to be asked about my painting techniques more often – I really really love paint and am a big nerd for different painting tricks. It is one of my favourite things to talk about and I love hearing other artists’ tips and tricks too. The physicality of paint and the healing effects it has on me really intertwine with the themes running through my work.

Is there anything you’ve recently tried for the first time?

Since graduating I have often been working on canvas off the stretcher and hand sewing my borders with colourful embroidery thread. The slow process of sewing is quite a mindful one and contrasts with my fast paced painting process.

Is there anything you’ve been hesitant to try in the past but you’d like to this year?

I’d like to start using some more unconventional things as paint brushes such as mops, large house brushes, towels, or taping wooden stretcher bars to my brush handles to extend them.

Do you have any superstitions? 

Don’t walk under a ladder and no opened umbrellas inside – the usual ones haha

Would you rather know what the future holds or be surprised?

 Surprised!!! Definitely.

What place in your everyday environment do you go to for inspiration?

My journals, the bus and my random scribbles on post-it notes (and the studio and galleries of course). Living in London is great because I can be surrounded by art within 30 minutes if I crave it.

What are some things you’re most passionate about outside of your practice?

Food, travelling, meeting new people and trying new things and in the past Irish Dancing – my team won the world championships 6 times back in the day however painting has always been the bigger passion.

What is your relationship with social media? 

I actually really love Instagram! I’ve had the same account since I was 16 and have some very supportive and lovely followers. I stay off other apps like TikTok, my art instagram is enough for me! However the physicality of painting is so important to me as it is dedicated time off the screen – it’s all about balance.