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Kieran Flynn A journey into abstraction

Abstract painter takes us on a colourful ride through cityscapes and optical illusions.

Following a successful solo show at Gage Gallery in Neepsend, Sheffield-based abstract painter and Kelham Island Arts Collective member Kieran Flynn chatted to us about curating Jungles, the creative freedom that abstraction brings, and his future plans.

Hi Kieran. Nice to meet you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what it’s like to be part of the Kelham Island Arts Collective?

I grew up in the Peak District but live in Sheffield. I have a degree in ceramic art and a masters in acting, but nowadays I’m an abstract painter. Away from art I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan, a bit of a gym rat and an avid listener of Test Match Special.

Kelham Island Arts Collective is great. We have a wide range of different types of artists. Everyone is mega supportive and always happy to share time and knowledge. It’s great working in a big shared space as there’s always someone to bounce ideas off, or have a game of pool with if you need a break.

City Streets

City Streets

Bus Stop

Bus Stop

Cityscape No7

Cityscape No.7

What is it that drew you towards abstraction as your chosen form of artistic expression?

From a visual point of view, whenever I go to galleries the abstract paintings are always the ones that grab my attention most because they leave the painting’s relationship with the viewer totally open. You can make whatever you want of it, unlike a more literal painting which is telling you what it is and sometimes how to feel about the thing portrayed.

From a process perspective, I love not knowing where a painting is going when I start. I tend to do two types of paintings - totally abstract ones, and abstract/stylised cityscapes. I like my cityscapes to feel like a hazy memory or an idea of a place. Being too literal would kill that feeling. If I was painting a still life, for example, whilst there could still be a lot of freedom within that, personally I would find it too constricting, as the finished painting would have already been predetermined, to a degree, by whatever was in the still life.

With my abstract pieces, I play with optical illusions. Parts of the canvas seem to be raised and warped, others far away and blurred. They almost move under your gaze. I use colour and scale to create perspective and depth. They look different depending on where you’re looking at them from. When painting abstract paintings, you’re playing with a totally different set of rules to regular painting and it’s just loads more fun.

High rise No2

High Rise No.2

Greenbelt

Greenbelt

Shitsvile

Shitsville

Gage Gallery in Neepsend played host to your recent exhibition, Jungles. Can you tell us about the process of creating the pieces for this solo show?

The exhibition is a culmination of a year of mucking about with spray paint and stencils. Where other stencil artists know what they want to create and cut the stencil accordingly, I work the other way around. I have a large collection of simple stencils of different shapes, sizes and patterns. I use those same stencils to build different compositions. I often scrape runny paint over the top with a wallpaper scraper and then sand it back. This creates sections that look old and tired, while other parts I leave crisp and bright.

I like my paintings to be full of contrasts of colour and texture, light and dark. They’re a sort of interpretation of the cities and urban environments I take my inspiration from.

Greenbelt Closeup

Greenbelt (close up)

Blizzard

Blizzard

Blizzard closeup 2

Blizzard (close up)

The history of abstract art is rich and colourful. Which artists and works have you found most inspirational?

The art I like isn’t limited to abstract, so a few of my favourite artists in no particular order are: Gerhard Richter, Dave Kinsey, Peter Doig, Florence Blanchard, Banksy, Francis Bacon, Barbara Hepworth, Hans Coper and Keith Haring.

I should use this opportunity to mention some artists from Kelham Island Arts Collective as well. There are lots of good ones here, but I’ll give a special mention to Kay Bainbridge. She does really bright and lively abstract stuff. Julian Wright does amazing abstract landscapes full of colour and energy. Katherine Maher does these super cool abstracts with loads of texture and layers. She’s also an advocate of the wallpaper scraper. And finally, Joel Wilde paints massive bold abstracts all done with a palette knife. They’re all worth a follow on Instagram.

Kelham Weir

Kelham Weir

Kieran Olwen at Jungles

Kieran & Olwen at Jungles

Hubba Bubba

Hubba Bubba

What’s on the horizon for you in the coming months?

I'm very fortunate that the people from The Art Social on Snig Hill came to see Jungles and really liked it, so the exhibition is moving there next. It opens on 24 September for four weeks.

Other than that I’m working on an exhibition with my friend Jo from Skai Prints which will be opening in late October. Jo recreates landscapes out of paper. His stuff is really clean, crisp and precise. Very different from mine. I went to his studio and he even had a carpet. My studio is covered in spray paint and looks like a bomb went off, so it will be interesting to see what we create together.

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