Interview with Patrick Colhoun as he brings ‘Solitary’ his contemporary sculpture show to London
An exhibition of contemporary sculpture and mixed media from Patrick Colhoun has opened at the Ben Oakley Gallery. The final part of Colhoun’s series of three solo exhibitions which the artist has undertaken during 2015 it follows on from shows in Belfast and Dublin earlier in the year.
For the Ben Oakley gallery it also represents a change of direction as the space is mainly given over to sculpture and installation. The shabby-sheek interior has found itself transformed as Colhoun has taken over the gallery with his mainly ceramic based art which also makes use of corian, a substance most often found in kitchen worktops.
Born in 1968 at the start of the troubles in Northern Ireland, Colhoun has created a show which mixes the various stages of his life together. From childhood, to tragedy, to rebirth his work is deep in symbolism which is unique to the artist, but once explained, accessible to all.
The most striking piece for me, a subuteo figurine with a paramilitary helmet. It was a popular game back in the day, I played it myself many times. A normal game set against the backdrop of the troubles which for a child growing up in Belfast at the time must have been just the way it was. Reflecting on the time Colhoun said “I think growing up in the troubles instilled a feeling of resilience, and also fostered a slightly twisted, perverse sense of black humour that sometimes comes out in my work.”
“In childhood in Northern Ireland, our lives were inextricably linked to the troubles in some shape or form. The act of combining these things visually by putting a sinister balaclava on the childhood top, I found amusing and slightly perverse at the same time.” Another piece in the show, a video of a burning car also follows the same theme “burning cars were pretty normal in those days” he tells me.
Much of his early work centered around dark subjects such as death, decay, containment and aggression with a desire to make unsavoury subjects into attractive physical forms. First exhibiting in 2009 it was a difficult time personally with the death of his father coinciding with redundancy from a long established career in construction marketing.
“These were events that heavily influenced my early work. There was a darkness about my work as I found it was a kind of outlet, in terms of subject matter, material or even the title of the work. I was working predominantly working with black clay and introducing other materials not necessarily associated with ceramics such as hosiery, latex, neon and piercings.”
This show doesn’t come across as dark at all however, sculptures which before would have been colourless have now been given a bright coating making them less threatening. Works which he has exhibited before have been reborn in a different light. Ceramic gimp masks have been turned bright orange, a series of men’s skulls held together with hosiery have been turned yellow.
The change he tells me was inspired by the most unlikely object and occurred on holiday in Florida in 2014. “I saw these little brightly coloured water hydrants everywhere. It dawned on me that these hydrants, as water dispensers were life-saving and life enhancing.” These hydrants were the catalyst for the introduction of bright colour into his work. It also gave him the ability to look back fondly on childhood memories something he told me that he had not been able to do until that point.
“A lot of the exhibition is about my relationship with my late father” explains Patrick. “He worked for the civil service but in his spare time made very fine furniture. He built a wendy house in the garden for my sister’s sixth birthday. It was photographed by a friend and ended up in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper.”
That wendy house has now been recreated in the exhibition. Inside are sculptures and drawings by his own daughter. On the gable end, a suite of CCTV cameras, replicas of other larger ones elsewhere in the show but which, according to Patrick “were inspired by the feeling of being ‘looked after’ or ‘watched over’ when you lose someone close.” Again the symbology becomes clear as Patrick explains that “the use of scale in the cameras and the house is my way of suggesting ‘growing up’.”
A self-taught artist Colhoun had no formal art education or training but had experience of helping his father in the workshop making fine furniture. He only got into art after learning that he couldn’t play rugby anymore. “I looked for a long time for something to take the place of the satisfaction that I got from that sport” he tells me. Being made redundant following a 20 year career in construction marketing also gave him the impetus to start devoting more time to his practice.
This is a very personal show. “Solitary was about me” he tells me. “As an artist having the ability and the confidence to put on a solo exhibition of my work.” Not content with one show, he chose to put on three having felt a real need to challenge and push himself and meaning that the exhibition itself would have to react to three different spaces in three different locations. As each show happened and work sold in each exhibition, so new work had to be made to replace that and hence each exhibition developed with an individual identity.
For Patrick, the very fact that the exhibition itself ‘grew up’ as it journeyed through the three stages, was the strongest analogy. It was in effect says Patrick “me growing up”.