Deep connection to The Model

Michael Wann in his studio.

“I feel a deep connection to The Model and its doings for as long as I have been making drawings…”

The Art of Drawing with Michael Wann returns next month and I had the chance to sit down with Michael and discuss his class, his own art, his influences and his relationship with The Model.

EF: Describe The Art of Drawing

MW: The Art of Drawing is a six-week course running at The Model Sligo, which aims to introduce basic drawing skills to both beginners and people who have experience with drawing. The beginners course introduces participants to basic observational skills, including contour drawing, blind contour drawing and positive and negative space, and proceeds into a more sophisticated knowledge of the uses of charcoal. It covers the basic principles of still life, portraiture, and compositional landscape. The class aims to encourage participants to enjoy the act of observing and drawing in an easy going and informal atmosphere, and instructs on how our brains interpret all the visual stimuli that surround us. The advanced class was originally structured to enable people who had completed the beginner course to pursue further exploration and interest in drawing. It has developed however into a vibrant and free flowing ‘drawing session’, where participants pursue their own interests within drawing, feeding off each other as much as on the one-on-one teaching and mentoring that I provide. This is a most exciting thing to see unfold, where people find their own love of drawing, and use the full afternoon to pursue, develop and explore their interests (mainly in landscape and portraiture) in a relaxed and open atmosphere without the formal constraints of a strictly structured class environment.

EF: What is your connection with The Model?

MW: My Diploma show in 1992 was hosted by The Model Arts Centre, as it was then, and following that I was invited to exhibit in a group show alongside artists I had long admired, such as Sean McSweeney, Barrie Cooke, Alice Maher, Patrick Hall, amongst others. I taught a drawing class here from 1996 to 1998, and when I returned to Sligo I.T. as a mature student in 2003 to get my Bachelor in Fine Art, our final show was again hosted by the newly refurbished Model Niland. I’ve been resident in Studio5 here at the Model Sligo since 2009.
I CAN say I feel a deep connection to the Model and its doings for as long as I have been making drawings.

EF: Where have you exhibited?

MW: My work has been accepted at the Royal Hibernian Academy’s Annual Exhibition since 2003. And in 2006, I was awarded the AXA Insurance Drawing Prize, again at the RHA. In 2010 one of my large-scale drawings was selected by Hughie O’Donoghue for the Tom Caldwell Drawing Award and the innugural Rowel Friers Trophy at the Royal Ulster Academy’s Annual Exhibition. I have had solo shows at Sligo Art Gallery, Linenhall Arts Centre, The Ashford Gallery at the RHA, Draiocht, Dublin, The Model, Sligo, The Cross Gallery, Dublin and Solstice Arts Centre, Navan. I regularly show in group shows with the Catherine Hammond Gallery, West Cork, Greenacres, Wexford, The Mullan Gallery, Belfast and the Hamilton Gallery, Sligo.

EF: When is your next exhibition, and where?

MW: I am involved in a group exhibition for the Yeats 150 year celebration, which is being exhibited here in Sligo at the Hamilton Gallery and then travels to Madrid. And as mentioned my work can be seen at various galleries in a group context around the country. I recently showed a series of large-scale works on paper at the Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, and am currently further developing that series in studio. The artist’s lot is a fine balance between the making of work in studio and finding the time to promote that work and to apply to galleries and institutes to have it exhibited.

EF: What inspires your work?

MW: My work is almost entirely drawing-based and is driven by a fascination with themes of landscape, geography, time, memory and personal history. Using landscape as metaphor, the work engages with notions of weather and time, of a landscape in a state of flux, and of how memory of ‘place’ informs the mark-making process. I make large-scale charcoal drawings of landscapes that aim to engage with a personal dialogue of an incomplete or unreliable memory, as well as more intimate small-scale studies of the dereliction of habitation.
There is an immediacy to drawing that cannot be found in most forms of painting. Within the chosen medium of charcoal and wash there exists a wide and versatile imperfection of process, providing a vast monochrome palette of made marks, as well as the erasure of those same marks. It is in the smudge and drip and simple dirt of the medium that there exists both vital and flawed elements of mark-making, where the spontaneous and accidental become of equal importance to that of the rational and intentional. Process here can be interpreted as a meditative search for where these varying marks converge in the making of a landscape. In recent years I have become interested in portraiture, and completed a series of 24 self portraits entitled ‘Self-Assembly’, which was exhibited at The Model Sligo in April of 2014.

EF: How does this reflect on your workshops?

MW: I’m not all that sure, except to say that I teach in a very informal manner, encouraging people to find out for themselves the simple joy of drawing. It is gratifying to witness people developing their own keen interest in, say, landscape; in watching and teaching and pushing gently I’m often reminded of my own obsession with drawing. And further, I often find myself returning to my studio directly after a class and looking at my own work and seeing or questioning where it might improve. In watching students experiment with drawing, watching them excavate all the varying facets of it, I am sometimes reminded of techniques that I’ve forgotten or simply stopped using.
So it seems that while the workshops are providing an opportunity for people to learn and experience the act of charcoal mark-making, they also inform or vaguely re-invigorate my own work in some vital kind of way.

EF: How has the Model influenced your art?

MW: I’m vaguely wary of that word ‘influence’. But I can say, particularly since moving into Studio5 in 2009, that working alongside other artists and curators (not to mention the staff here) has enriched and inspired my experience of making work. For years I worked in relative isolation from my home in north Sligo, and developed an unhealthy feeling of being marginalised in my work. In working within The Model’s structure, it is easier and natural to communicate and exchange ideas with other artists both nationally and internationally.

I’ve had the opportunity on three separate occasions to showcase new work here at the Model, and this fact alone has certainly driven me to ‘up my game’ in the making of new work. And ‘The Art of Drawing’ being included in The Model’s Education programme is an immensely gratifying and pleasing thing to experience.

There is a wide and diverse progamme of contemporary exhibition and installation here at The Model Sligo, as well as the ongoing display of the Niland Collection. It’s a strange and inspiring notion in the knowledge that I can go downstairs whenever it pleases me, and within moments find myself immersed in the bright turmoil of a Jack Yeats painting or the odd calm of a Paul Henry. Or further, and more challengingly, find myself baffled and grappling to comprehend some inexplicable contemporary installation. It brings new thought and new weather to my own studio experience, and seems vital and enriching.

The Art of Drawing with Michael Wann begins again on Tuesday 03 February. To book a place in the workshop email