In the Studio with David Lunney

In the studio with multidisciplinary artist David Lunney, whose artistic practice involves the undertaking of protracted art processes. We met with David to tell us more about growing up in Dublin, the message behind his works, and unexpected sources of inspiration.

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

When I was about 15 or 16.

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?

I am from Dublin in Ireland. I had a very happy childhood growing up on the south side of the city in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains, a hilly forested area with an understated natural beauty. This area has always been a source of inspiration for my practice.

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work? Was there a pivotal moment when you felt you were on the right track?

When I was a teenager I had a great facility for drawing, this meant that I naturally became interested in art. I decided to pursue this interest in art college after leaving school. In art college I slowly realised that pursuing an open-ended studio practice would be the most satisfying career for me.

I was fortunate to undertake a student exchange in RISD, Providence, Rhode Island. This 6 month period affirmed a lot for me in terms of my identity as an artist and planted seeds that would be formal to my practice to this day.

I was very fortunate to meet and fall in love with another contemporary artist who is now my wife. Partnering with someone who is intimately aware of the upsides and downsides of a career as an artist is a great support.

What’s the message of your work?  Where do they come from? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

My work is process driven. The making of any given work might involve sculpture, location scouting, photography, Photoshop, drawing, painting, carpentry and weaving. When a finished work is presented to a viewer I want them to consider, What am I looking at? How is that done? In deducing the processes of the work the viewer unpacks the themes and subjects within.

Who/what are your greatest influences? 

I worked as a commercial and fine art picture framer for 6 years, familiarity with the tools and materials as been a boon to my practice. I have applied new and innovative framing techniques to existing tropes within my practice. This has resulted in a hyper-detailed idiosyncratic style of which I am very proud. 

I currently work as an art technician in a museum. The museum is housed in beautiful townhouse from 1763 and much of the collection is 100 years old or more. This job has fostered in me a great appreciation for the decorative arts. I am very interested in how traditional techniques and motifs can be applied in a contemporary art context.

An unexpected source of inspiration?

In no particular order I love; Georgian architecture, haberdashery, reflective things, Christmas decorations, ribbons and strings, gilt picture frames, Sitka spruce plantations, Celtic patterns, Photoshop, charity shops, medieval manuscripts, colouring pencils and landscape art.

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

I want people to have a rich and original viewing experience when they see my work. As I mentioned above, when confronted with my work I’d like my audience to try and deduce some of the processes involved in it’s making. This deductive reasoning sets up a dialog between the work and viewer. In an exhibition setting I often use the installation to leave clues and pointers for the viewer.

How has your art evolved? Do you experiment? 

With every new artwork, exhibition or project I undertake I am always trying to increase the level of visual complexity in the work. I am always mindful to keep trying new materials and experimenting with familiar ones. As I look back over my work I can trace a direct lineage through the years as my work has never had a complete upheaval or tonal shift.

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

For me the catalyst for a new work is often a new material or a new application of a familiar one. In Fáinne on 3rock Mountain, the initial source of inspiration was an idea I had had to draw using hot glue from a gun. If you have ever used this material you will know that it is quite tricky to use, it spits and spurts lumpy glue in an irregular pattern. I decided to draw a Celtic ring pattern (Fáinne in Irish means ring) on frosted glass and then spray-paint it with reflective bronze paint. Although there are many other elements to the work this central feature was it’s inception.

Something in the future you hope to explore?

As I mentioned above I have recently started working as a technician in a museum. In this role I am up close with very ornate gilt (gold leafed) frames every day. How these decorations were made and applied is very interesting to me. I hope to make my own gilt mouldings using contemporary materials soon.

Describe your work in three words: 

Complex, Irish, fun

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

All sorts of things: music, Audiobooks, podcasts. I like a broad range of musical genres but particularly folk rock, traditional Irish music and electronic. I like listening to dull historical non-fiction when drawing complex imagery.

What is your favourite read? 

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.

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

Nothing that springs to mind, I don’t think my head really works that way.

What makes you laugh 🙂

I like overly complicated puns and jokes. 

What makes you nervous?

Thoughts of my 2 year old son getting hurt.

Is there anything you wish you were asked more often?

In depth questions about my sculptural techniques.

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

I’ve recently started making asymetrical picture frames.

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

I want to try gold leafing (gilding) on handmade picture frames. It’s a tricky, time-consuming process so I’m waiting til I can dedicate a few weeks to researching it.

Do you have any superstitions?

Not really. I have a tendency to notice and remember numbers (phone numbers, licence plates etc) and notice freaky patterns and recurring numbers which sometimes seem very uncanny.

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

Option 2, certainly!

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

I look out the window and up to the mountains near my home. They look subtly different in every moment.

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

I have a two year old boy who is a great source of joy. I play traditional Irish and classical music on the mandolin. I am about to start renovating a house built in 1911.

What is your relationship with social media?

I am on Instagram and enjoy posting but don’t cruise the app too much. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter much. I haven’t tried any others. I think the best bits of life happen when your phone is in your pocket.