Carl Hickey, a Dublin-born painter, specialises in finding the beauty in everyday events, whether it’s a Garda arresting someone or a man holding flowers waiting for his partner—something always catches his eye. Chloe Moore spoke with Carl about the key influences that shaped his art, his distinct artistic style, and some exciting projects on the horizon.

Carl Hickey, a 25-year-old full-time artist, specialises in painting while also incorporating video and written notes to capture his surroundings. Growing up in inner city Dublin, Carl moved to Clondalkin, Bawnogue in 2002, where he lived until a few months ago before relocating to Barcelona at the start of this year. He graduated from NCAD in 2022 with a degree in Fine Art and received a Residency Award at The Dean Art Studios, located just off South William Street in Dublin City. During his residency, Carl worked on two solo shows: “In-Between Stops” at Liberty Ink and “Everything and Nothing” at Atelier Now.

Irish artists are fearless in their exploration of complex and sometimes contentious topics, pushing the boundaries of traditional art forms and embracing new media and innovative techniques. This generation of artists is committed to reflecting the rapidly changing social and political landscape of modern Ireland, addressing the country’s unique challenges and triumphs. By doing so, they create works that are not only relevant to their own society but also contribute to broader global conversations. Through their art, these young creators are reshaping Ireland’s cultural identity, ensuring it remains vibrant, dynamic, and responsive to the evolving world around it. 

Carl’s unique approach blends traditional painting techniques with modern storytelling, incorporating video and written notes to provide a deeper context for his pieces. By focusing on the seemingly unremarkable aspects of daily life, Carl elevates them into extraordinary visual narratives, inviting viewers to see the world through his perceptive and imaginative lens. His art not only preserves but also redefines the cultural fabric of modern Ireland, making him a significant and innovative force in the contemporary art scene.

We spoke with Carl about his inspirations, emigrating from Dublin, future projects and more.

In what ways does your artwork reflect Irish culture?

To be honest, I’ve always been fascinated with the day-to-day ordinary things, and have loved the places I grew up in Ireland, so when I picked up art nearly a decade ago, it was only right that the culture that surrounded me and amused me for the many years before would bleed through in all aspects, rather than be writing or painting.

How do you integrate traditional Irish influences into your contemporary artistic practices?

I think the best way I found to do that was when I started writing more often. Appreciating the ongoings and situations of the average day and putting them in a different context. As well as that the paintings speak for themselves, whether I try to or not they will always be Irish-influenced.

Can you recount any experiences or stories from Irish culture that have significantly shaped your artistic path?

Definitely standing on the bins for my Ma. When I did my first solo gallery show in Atelier Now; “Everything and Nothing”, the main idea of it was growth in character but it steamed from a piece I wrote about feeling guilty for not standing on the bins for my Ma when I was skagged one day. Later on, I was able to capture my neighbours doing the same thing, which I then painted and titled “Until My Legs Are Dying Dead”

Who are your biggest artistic influences?

Edward Hopper, Dryden Goodwin, and Kendrick Lamar are some of the names but I’m mostly influenced by the people around me as shown in my work. A lot of my friends work on poems, clothes, music, and graffiti. We all influence each other I’d like to think

Can you share a bit about your background and how you got started as an artist?

I grew up in inner city Dublin for the first few years and then moved to Clondalkin, I went to school there until it was time to go to college. I was doing graffiti at the time but wasn’t doing art in school so when it came to cao I really had no plans. Luckily things feel sort of on my lap and I fell in love with art. I really was looking at doing my PLC as a gap year at first, something to do to just pass the time. I honestly still don’t know what would have happened if it didn’t work out the way it did.

What is your usual process for beginning a new piece of artwork?

Most of the time it comes from a video, sometimes I’ll record something and get so excited about the idea of what the painting can become that I’ll go and do it straight away, sometimes I’ll flick through the camera roll and find something special I didn’t notice at first from a while ago and then take it to canvas. I’ll sketch loosely and get going at it.

What materials and techniques do you prefer to use, and why?

Mostly oil. It feels closer to life but distant at the same time depending on how the paint is applied. After my first time using oil I never really went back to just acrylic. I might use acrylic under the oil but even that’s rare at times.

In what ways has your artistic style changed and developed over the years?

It definitely became more personal. Although it always has been over the years It became closer and closer to home, from childhood memories to adult occurrences, the work I created specifically last year was the closest to my heart.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your artistic journey so far?

Staying focused I suppose and believing in the work I make. I find it hard to sit on work, I’d rather get it done and put it out there, so I’m working harder at that side of it. The writing side of it and the academic parts of it were difficult during college. Specifically, the thesis was difficult but I know 90% of art students would feel the same.

How do you stay motivated and inspired, especially during difficult times?

Pfft, I don’t know haha. Sometimes even if I’m not I’ll still paint although it can show in the work. I read a quote somewhere that to be successful as a writer you must write every day whether you like it or not for good or bad. I’ll always be ticking away at ideas, notes or paintings for the rest of my life, I can’t stop that part of my brain now.

What role has the Irish art community played in your development as an artist?

Well since graduation a lot. I’ve been in several group shows but as I said up there my first big opportunity came from Maser(shout out to him) who asked me to do a solo show last March in the gallery he founded Atelier Now in Dublin City. forever grateful for that. 

What do you believe is the role of art in society, especially in modern-day Ireland?

It’s important, it allows people to think, even if it’s bad. Art demonstrates our strengths and weaknesses. It allows us to look at things in a different context giving newfound appreciation to maybe something that was overlooked before. From music to paintings Irish art seems to be on the up and up.

What do you hope viewers take away from your work?

Whatever they feel like. I always love it when someone gets a good laugh or nostalgia for a painting though, or when someone abroad goes crazy about something that I painted that reminds them of home, it’s a nice feeling alright that something I’ve created can do that.

Where do you see your art taking you in the next five to ten years?

God only knows. I really really want to get working in New York, I feel like that’s the endgame for me. I guess I’m going to keep working until I get there, so let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Are there any upcoming projects or exhibitions you’re particularly excited about?

At the moment as I’m working and researching in Barcelona I’ve only applied for open calls of group shows with that being said there are a few other things that aren’t set in stone but I’m excited about so we’ll have to wait and see. I’ll be painting at Electric Picnic too so I look forward to returning for the week to Ireland.

Photo Credits: Johnny Mallin

For enquiries click here, Carl is available for commissions over the summer months.

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