What Lies Beneath: Push and Pull by Tom McLean

It‘s far from pretty but artist Tom McLean enjoys work that is sometimes unsettling.

In this self-portrait, “I question the subject‘s state of mind without giving too much away”. Those blue eyes staring, the retro glasses, the plastic circle stud earring have impact. That hand-to-mouth gesture adds angst, tension. Or is he using his nail, no dental floss to hand?

Now 24, McLean has done a self-portrait every year since he was 16.

“I‘m not one for selfies, never was, so it seemed an interesting way to document points in my life. The older I became, the more introspective the work, they have acted like landmarks, track progress.”

McLean‘s interest in figurative art stems from his love of comics and novels while growing up in Stradbally, Co Laois. Graduating from CCAM/GMIT, he set up a studio in Galway city where he‘s been since. A love of visual storytelling meant he painted friends and family in the spaces they inhabited, “charged narratives”.

College was academic, and preferring “the practical side of things and getting my hands dirty”, McLean benefited from a recently completed RHA course that focused on the technical.

The result? An interest in abstract and the fierce energy of this work Push and Pull.

“Most, 60pc, is painted with a palette knife, an approach I‘ve adopted this last year. I began with a brush, lost interest, felt I was playing it safe and took out the knife.”

Being an artist is “only as strange and lonely as you want it to be. Studio time is demanding, I make sure to get out.”

Artists Kent Williams and Phil Hale inspire. This ‘Mc the Knife‘ knows we‘re “bombarded with visual images” but believes the portrait genre will endure because of “the care and consideration that go into creating it”.

Honesty and stillness are key: “to capture the essence, a sitter‘s emotion, a mood”. Push and Pull took him three four-hour sittings. It‘s honest, for sure, with a stillness that could be at the heart of a storm?

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McLean has two works in this year‘s RHA Annual Show, portraits of himself and his brother. Push and Pull is on show at the K Fest, June 1-4, Killorglin‘s art, music, film, dance and poetry performance extravaganza.

instagram: tommclean art, Tom McClean Artist

Sunday Independent