Mark Connolly | Constructing narratives | A Artist Portrait

We introduce the London based Irish contemporary artist Mark Connolly who creates paintings that tie to mythology, growing from fantasy, fusing the imagined and observed, creating something resembling new worlds.

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Studio Portrait by Marcin Nowak

Mark Connolly | Fusing the imagined and observed, creating something resembling new worlds. 

We are thrilled to introduce you to the contemporary Irish artist, curator, set designer, founder and director of Paint talk the remarkable Mark Connolly!

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Portrait of a Leopard | 2020 | Oil on canvas | 150x100cm 
Hiii Dominique, Munchies Art Club, and readers of!!
Hi Mark, thank you for accepting our invitation! 

Can you please introduce yourselves to our viewers and tell us a bit about the main theme behind the work you shared with us.

Thanks for having me, My name is Mark Connolly. I am a painter, curator of sorts and set designer based in London.  

I am the founder and director of Paint Talk, @paint_talk on Instagram- a curatorial platform created in 2020, which seeks to offer support, exposure and opportunities for painters, I have been keeping my involvement pretty discrete, but it's been a fairly open secret that I run PT, the cats outta the bag now. 

It's a tremendous source of pleasure to put on shows which are important to me, spotlighting painters I think are exceptional and making important work.

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Tuscan Drive | 2021 | Oil on canvas | 250x190cm

Paint Talk has delivered two digital open calls (With Love, I + II), three group shows (The First Swing Of The Bat, Knocking It Out Of The Park, Dream Baby Dream), and a solo show (James Lincoln, You Have To Laugh) in the last year and a half.  

Paint Talk is also involved in setting up a new art prize (£10,000 and a solo show in East London) which has just launched, you can find out more about it at Boisdale art.

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Studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

About my work, there are several threads running through it, I am interested in constructing narratives and the spaces which they inhabit. 

I am interested in creating works with ties to the mythological, works which grow from fantasy, and works which reflect the world around me. 

These three avenues cross over, merge and at times drive in conflicting directions. 

The common and recurrent characteristics are often the world being imagined or fictive. 

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St Michael | 2020 | Oil and wax on linen | 210x170cm

I am constantly chasing paintings which fuse the imagined and observed, hopefully creating something resembling a new world. 

Conflict and escape are two constant considerations, whether literal or alluded to. 

Often the creatures present are anthropomorphic, we tend to see ourselves in nature, allowing these boundaries to blur seeks a space centred around broader questions of human nature. 

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Chimera | Oil on canvas | 250x190cm

The real and unreal are intended to wrestle, much like in our day to day, disinformation, polarisation, political division occupy my mind and shape the world I seek to give face to. 

I find ancient tales, myths, narratives, religious texts, folklore, cinema, literature and music all equally inform the direction the paintings move in.

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Studio portrait | Image courtesy of the artist

You are from Ireland, I have never been there, but it's definitely on my bucket list of to dos. What is your first recollection of your attraction for the arts? Anyone else artistically inclined in your family? 

I am from Ireland, I spent a huge chunk of my childhood roaming through Glenariffe Forest in the Glens of Antrim, and swimming in Cushendun on the North Coast. 

I spent last Christmas with my family on the west coast of Ireland, in Donegal. 

My initial attraction to the arts was gradual and steady, quite like most children's probably, but a more conscious attraction came quite late visiting America at sixteen and visiting SFMOMA, seeing Andy Warhol, Alice Neel, Rothko, Frida Kahlo, Richard Diebenkorn, James Rosenquist, Franz Kline kind of blew my head off, and I remember being desperate to get back to school to paint.

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A drink in Blackfriars | Oil on canvas | 250x190cm

There is definitely energy building back home, I love visiting the MAC in Belfast and the National Gallery in Dublin, where there is an exquisite Paolo Uccello. 

I actually do want to do something Paint Talk related in Ireland, maybe a group show, or set up a gallery and studio complex, both long term plans.

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Studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

My mum is exceptionally creative, she has a real flow with design. 

My siblings are creative, my sister and brother both have natural ability in the performing arts. 

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Tiger assaulting bull | Oil on canvas | 250x190cm

Throughout Secondary School I was fortunate to have an exceptional group of art teachers, Mrs Gallagher, Mr Jordan and Mrs O'Dornan. 

They motivated me from a young age to take making seriously. 

I had an assignment with collage in year 8 which made me realise how infinite making can feel, I was probably hooked then.

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Hanuman fighting Sarusa | Oil on collaged canvas | 120x90cm

When I look at your CV I see that you studied art in Belgium at the Sint-Lucas Beeldende Kunst Ghent, in Edinburgh College of Art and at the Royal Drawing School in Londion, can you tell us a bit about these experiences?

In Edinburgh I met a tremendous group of artists, partied a little too hard, spent a lot of time in Banshee Labyrinth, Opium and Sneaky Petes, the school had insane studios, the best light imaginable.

I worked very hard, and fell in love with Hopper and George Bellows, I painted the city at night, a right of passage of sorts for a certain kind of romantic painter.

I always remember my tutor Liz Adamson coming in for a tutorial, finding the studio full of empty cider bottles, and me sleeping in my overalls under the table, and Liz telling me, I think you should have been painting in the seventies Mark.

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Image courtesy the artist

Belgium was a great place for that kind of painter, someone who was quite happy to paint and go to indulge in an endless selection of exquisite beverages, a lot of the students and tutors were smoking constantly, I arrived and thought, this is exactly where I am meant to be, how lucky!

The drawing school was a much more focused period, a lot less messing around, I always describe the drawing year as becoming a submarine for fifteen months, in your mind you really move along the ocean floor, lighting a little way ahead, alone often, trying to navigate directions out of a lot of exceptional instruction, it's difficult to work out what information is going to take your work furthest.

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Studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

I did an Erasmus Exchange as part of my BA in Edinburgh,  which was very formative. 

Exchanges were encouraged and one of the key draws to studying in Edinburgh. 

Being a part of a different painting studio, observing different approaches to painting and discourse had an immediate impact. 

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Portrait of a lion tailed Macaque during a studio move in St James Park

In Belgium there was a much more open relationship to painting materials, the studio was in the Bijloke, an old maternity hospital, I remember one artist working with green pigments in the kitchen, everything was coated, the air a green haze, terre verte, emerald, viridian, cobalt all seemingly stuck in the air, it was a health and safety inspectors worst nightmare. 

Great paintings though, even if the artist had very little care for their lungs.

I also got to visit the Atelier of Koen Van Den Broek, a painter whose work I had long been a fan of, still to this day one of the best studio visits.

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Current studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

Moving to Belgium shook things up. 

I met a lot of amazing painters in Belgium. 

Painting is much more prominent in Belgium, the heritage has deep roots and that definitely has presence in galleries, museums and schools. 

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Portrait of a Crocodile | 2020 | Oil on canvas | 150x100cm

There was a lot of talk about painting being dead on my BA, that wasn't mentioned in Belgium, it was more than living for sure. 

The museums alone were worth the move, The National Gallery, Brussels, Magritte Museum, SMAK Ghent,  Bozar had a retrospective of Neo Rauch whilst I was there which was pretty overwhelming, endless vast surreal worlds.

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Battle under a blood moon | 2020 | Oil and wax on linen | 340x210cm

Edinburgh, Ghent and London have contributed to my practice in different ways. 

Edinburgh helped me find my feet, experiment, work hard and lay foundations. 

Ghent expanded my vision and ambitions, forging relationships and ideas which still keep giving. 

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Studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

The Drawing School offered a whole year of teaching, a studio, access to amazing tutors and peers, a painting trip to Tuscany, the Drawing School helped me deconstruct my ideals within the work, pulling down all past conceptions, finding a new way of responding to the world, without that year I doubt my work would have grown as drastically.

When I Google your name, it says artist and set designer. What kind of set design do you do? Sounds very interesting to me as I picture one of your paintings as a backdrop! 

I make collaborative sets and murals with Alice Macdonald, we met at the Royal Drawing School and collaboration was nurtured there. 

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Alice MacDonald and Mark Connolly |  Image courtesy of the artist

Our first joint project came out of necessity, Alice started a couple of giant projects, a painted room in Bow Arts, and a huge painted shop, she needed assistance which I offered, then I got excited about the next project, so I got involved, and now we have made quite a few sets, often big paintings, mdf cut outs, little paintings on canvas hung on top of the backdrops, we once made a set with dozens of cardboard televisions. 

We have a very good collaborative vision now, we often design sets for This Is The Deep, @thisisthedeep

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Hellmouth | Oil on canvas | 250x190cm

What happened during the first intense quarantines, did you work more? Do you think the pandemic left a mark on your work? 

First Lockdown was spent with Alice, and her family in the countryside, we painted everyday, did a lot of housework, painted doors, window frames, a lot of gardening. 

I think having a big chunk of time to paint helped generate momentum in the studio, a lot of things started coming together in this time for sure.

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Studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

I watched your video interview|Chat on lazy with the artists Ralf Kokke & Heidi Ukkonen in 2020. There you talk about the artists that inspire you and that you love going to the Museum on a Friday to enjoy the masters. Is that still the case? Which are your favorite art spaces and artists now? 

Ha! Sweet, that was a joy meeting Ralf and Heidi for the first time, great painters and both hilarious. 

The National Gallery is still my favourite place in London, I try to visit as often as possible. 

Some exciting galleries in London: Project Native Informant, Tramps, The Sunday Painter, Stuart Shave, Castor, and my friend Ned Armstrong, has just opened a gallery, Loveday. 

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Studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

Favourite artists right now, ooph so so many. 

My all time favourites include but are not limited to: Nicole Eisenman, Joachim Nordstrom, Kati Heck, Rinus Van De Velde, Chris Ofili. Older favourites, Piero Della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, Delacroix, Gericault, Caravaggio, Bosch, Roger Van Der Weyden, Felix Valotton, James Ensor. 

Contemporaries whose work I am a huge fan of include, Alice Macdonald, Sarah Pickstone, Holly Mills, Joana Galego, Vilte Fuller, James Lincoln, Ralf Kokke, Heidi Ukkonen, Hannah Tilson, Ranald Macdonald, Sophie Lourdes Knight, Ethan Caflisch, honestly so so many more. 

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Octopus | 2020 | Oil and pastel on hand made khadi paper | 40x30cm

Where do you work? You told me you were moving, how have you settled into your new studio? 

The new studio is a treat, right by Angel Tube Station, great neighbours, its full of great makers, there is even a cat and dog that chase each other around all day. 

Come by anytime! 

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Studio portrait | Image courtesy of the artist

Do you have any rituals when you work?

Rituals shift and change, in warmer months, cycling to and fro is a must. 

Swimming almost everyday was a big one before I moved studio. 

I'm currently on deadline, once deadlines set in, most habits go out the window, no procrastination or breaks, just albums on back to back and loads of coffee. 

After the deadline passes I hope to start swimming again most days and start working on a lot of smaller paintings. 

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Studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

Do you listen to music in your studio? What are the top 5 songs on your playlist if you look at it right now? 

I could happily listen to NTS all day, or travel the globe with Radio Garden, five tracks that are

Manhatten, Cat Power

Funeral, Slowthai and James Blake

Slow Learner, Viagra Boys

Hold my liquor, Kanye West

The best is yet to come, This is the Deep

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The view from Marchmont | 2021 | Oil on canvas | 250x190cm
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I saw on Instagram that the above painting now in blue tones, was once red as in the right picture. Is this part of a process or a change of mind? 

Both process and a change of mind, it was initially conceived as a red room, this was greatly shaped by frescoes in Palazzo Massimo, the anchor of the painting was it being a crimson room, maybe also Lynchian nod as I spent a lot of the time referred to rewatching Twin Peaks, but as the painting came into being, it's anchor became an obstacle, the inversion felt inevitable and totally unplanned. 

The mood and atmosphere demanded the blues, who am I to get in the way of what the painting needs. 

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Portrait of a shark | 2021 | Oil on canvas | 250x190cm 

When you work, do you need to be alone or do you prefer working with others? 

I enjoy working alongside others, out of deadlines I can talk more whilst working, on deadline, headphones are in and I'm completely preoccupied with the work.

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Studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

How important is Instagram for you as an artist?

Social media opens up the world, it can be the most useful tool imaginable, I think the pros outweigh the cons. 

Obviously it's impact on our attention span needs to be a constant consideration and we need to reflect on its impact on our values, it shouldn't really have impact on what you say or make, only bringing it out into the world when you are certain you want the world to be aware of what you are doing. 

I think it works best for making friends with artists you love the work of. 

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Studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

Any projects you are working on for 2022 you would like to share? 

Firstly I have a group show opening in Denmark imminently with Galerie Wolfsen, @galeriewolfsen curated by @rasmuspeterfischer - I am showing some works at The Amber Room, @theamberroomart curated by @rosiemreed next month. 

I have a solo show of new work in Los Angeles in early 2023 at @simchowitzgallery courtesy of Stefan Simchowitz. 

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The end is near | 2021 | Diptych, oil and collage on canvas | 38x50cm

Paint Talk is collaborating with Boisdale of Bishopsgate to deliver an art prize, The Waverton Art Prize which is now open for submissions, its an international open call, shortlisted artists will be in an exhibition in East London and one artist will win £10,000 to support their practice and develop new work for a solo show. 

Paint Talk will be delivering a series of solo shows over the coming months which have yet to be announced! 

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Studio view | Image courtesy of the artist

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A huge thank you to Mark for taking the time to share with us and our viewers his story and his remarkable work!