Sam Le Bas brought up a slide that showed a piece of his work from 2007. “To be honest, it’s unbelievably bad,” the Dublin artist said, with good humour.
It was the result of emptying his very first can of spray paint and he was clueless what to do with it, he says.
It is Sunday afternoon at the Dean Hotel on Harcourt Street, where Le Bas is speaker number one in the first of a series of Sunday Edition talks, hosted by online gallery Iverna to raise the profile of contemporary Irish artists.
Organiser and well-known artist James Earley said the non-profit series — which will see events take place every couple of months for the coming year — is a platform to promote those whose art wouldn’t fit into older, established galleries.
In front of an audience of about 60, Le Bas showed slides that gave a sense of his evolution from wall murals around the city to studio work.
His pieces are often abstract collages that merge bright blocks of colour and images that he’s created in Photoshop. You might have seen his tag on the swipes of blues and oranges on a wall near Grand Canal Dock. Or near the Ha’penny Bridge. Or at the back of the Tivoli Theatre.
Le Bas goes right back to his schooldays to take us through his work.
“Looking back now, it’s a bit ropey,” he says. Or, simply, “it’s a piece of shit”.
But while he doesn’t like some of it now, it was through trying stuff out that he moved forward from classical to experimental, from realism to abstraction, he said. “It’s better to end up with a lot of crap than not doing it,” he says. “(…) If you keep trying, something will come of it.”
Le Bas uses Photoshop so much in his work, its almost a co-author, he says. He edits images with the software until they are on the edge of abstraction. When he paints, he merges the images he has created with impulsive painting.
He carefully and precisely copies the photos he’s designed and then scribbles over it freehand. This goes back and forth between the two styles until he’s happy with what’s in front of him. His pieces look like collages.
Computers have the potential to influence painting in ways your hands just wouldn’t, he says. He fixes what he doesn’t like. By the time the final product’s done, there’s a few variations underneath.
“It might be finished,” he says, tilting his head at one of the slides. “I’m not sure.”
These days, he works in the studio more than before, because it’s harder to go over and over paintings on the street.
Le Bas comes across as humble about his work, and he is honest about the labour and scraping by that comes with the trade.
He loved to paint as a kid, he says, but his parents discouraged him from studying art in college and he did architecture instead. He hated it though, and started to take his painting more seriously.
He struggled to get together the money to buy paint while in college and could only do as much as his supplies allowed. When he graduated in 2015, he couldn’t find a studio space for artists who use spray paint. So he set up shop in his aunt’s dimly lit garage. That was a dreary slide.
The second artist to speak on Sunday was Colm MacAthlaoich.
Humble too, he’s been around a bit longer than Le Bas and his work is softer, more pastel. (He shows one painting that he ruined by layering on more paint when he should have stopped.)
During his studies at the National College of Art and Design, MacAthlaoich got into printmaking, which he describes as just “fancy drawing”. He paints too.
“There’s something so fucking tasty about prints,” he said, as he invited everyone in the room to feel his prints after the talk.
His work doesn’t follow traditional ideas of printing or painting, it’s somewhere between fine art and design.
In the pages of his sketchbooks, he shows notes, quotes, and illustrations.
“I find the act of drawing and taking notes really slows you down,” he says. “Instead of flitting through life, it really makes you sit down and take it all in.”
One sketch shows an old woman on a phone. Another is a delicate pink tree. One even shows an idea for a portable shower that can fold out in a toilet cubicle. Some sketches inspire further larger works, prints and paintings.
“It’s how your brain works,” he says.
In 2003, MacAthlaoich painted in the window of Temple Bar Gallery as part of a project to demystify what an artist gets up to in the studio. “Fine art’s still a bit hoity,” he says.
He read up on the history of Temple Bar and learned about an explosion that led to Dublin’s city walls being leveled. Ever since, explosions and plinths of smoke recur in his work and landscapes.
MacAthlaoich has been in the game longer than Le Bas, and over the years has worked on several commissions, artists residencies, and exhibitions.
He has no qualms about doing pieces for big corporations, he says. “If I get paid to be an artist, I’m living the dream.”
The next Sunday Edition talk will take place in the first week of September. Tickets are €6.