For the love of art
PEOPLE: JAMES WILKINSON
For twenty years two gay Irish artists have been blazing a trail in the modern art world with their own unique brand of pop art and photography. Q&C spoke to Adrian+Shane at their studio in rural Louth to learn how mixing work with the personal can produce extraordinary results.
Adrian+Shane are two artists based in Ireland who have been working together as one since the late 90s. Since their first exhibition in 1999, they have successfully exhibited in Ireland and internationally, showcasing their striking pop art and self-portraiture which addresses the common themes of family and sexuality – often loaded with fresh and well-targeted social commentary.
Their creative work has appeared in numerous publications worldwide, and the duo have now made time for a chat with Queen and Country magazine.
Tell us a little about your background and how you both came to work together?
We met when Shane was at the Glasgow school of art in the late 90s. He was home for Christmas (in Drogheda, Ireland) and we were introduced at an ABBA-esque night, on the dance floor, while Gimme Gimme Gimme (a man after midnight) was playing. On Valentines weekend I visited him in Glasgow. One night after a lot of vodka we started sketching in a pad and swapping it back and forth, taking turns adding what we wanted to the paper. We didn’t really speak about what we were doing. It really just happened organically. Over those few days we created 10 artworks. (These pieces have never been exhibited or shown anywhere.) And that is how it all began.
Is your art your only line of work?
It is now. We went full time about 4 years ago. It’s not easy. But it’s nice to be your own boss and spend your days being creative.
What are the integral qualities to approaching your artwork?
Discipline - turning up every day to the studio. Fun - we wouldn’t do it if we weren’t enjoying it. Stress - sometimes life gets in the way and you miss deadlines or leave things to the last minute.
What motivates you both and your interests in art?
Trying to understand people, life and ourselves. Especially at the moment with all that’s happening in the world. It’s crazy and overwhelming. I think art is a good way to process what is going on around you. It takes all the mess out of your head and lets you breathe again.
How has your practice changed over time?
When we started 20 years ago it was purely for fun. We just wanted to get our work out there. Then people started to take an interest in our work and we got asked to exhibit and create commissioned pieces. Now it’s a business as well. We have bills to pay so there’s a commercial aspect to it.
In terms of the creation of the art and techniques it changes all the time. Our first pieces were very spontaneous and organic. So you’d never know what you’d finish with. Now things are more planned and deliberate.
Your art seems to focus on references such as family and sexuality. How do you choose and why?
We suppose it’s issues that affect us and our lives. In Ireland we had the marriage equality referendum in 2016. That was both a great and horrible time. As gay men we felt like we were really being judged by society and dictated to. On a daily basis we listened to debate after debate on radio and television, where members of the Catholic Church and other organisations would angrily state why gay people shouldn’t get married claiming our relations and “lifestyles” weren’t “normal”. Thankfully, there was a happy ending to all of this and Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of equal marriage. Issues like this are very important to us and it’s important to reference them in our work.
Your work has been heavily influenced by Pop art, putting me in mind of works created by the legendary Andy Warhol. Is this deliberate or is there a different reason all together?
Yes totally deliberate! We couldn’t make pop art inspired work and not reference Warhol. He’s such an inspiration. He was incredibly bold and daring with his work. He also used different mediums (Screen printing, photography, film) and didn’t follow rules.
Is there anywhere we can see your work at the moment?
Ono Arte galleria in Bologna has some of our work for sale. And we’re planning to exhibit in Dublin and London next year.
Who is your greatest inspiration and why?
Such a long list. Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Tracy Emin, Grayson Perry, Cindy Sherman, Madonna, Tom Ford, Oprah. We’re attracted to creative individuals with ambition and determination.
I sense a similarity between your work and the famous Gilbert and George’s. Have you wanted to include these references on purposes in your artwork, and how influenced have you been by them and why?
Aesthetically our work is very different to Gilbert and George’s. They use images of themselves in their artwork and sometimes we do to, so there is a similarity. And they’re also a gay male art duo. We’ve been compared to them before and it’s flattering. We’re fans and have been to some of their shows.
Queen and Country magazine launched its Men in the Wild Campaign last year, which aims to continue the conversation about men’s mental health, and find solutions to improve it. Some say the artistic life is a lonely one, while others extol the therapeutic benefits of creating art. What do you do to ensure you both maintain good mental health?
Mediate, read, go to the gym. Take walks on the beach. Holidays! Making art can be tough on your ego and self-esteem; wondering if our art is any good or are we talented? But also like we said before, art helps empty your head of those thoughts. Takes you out of yourself.
What do you think about the art world?
We’re not really in it that much. Any dealings we have with other artists or galleries are usually positive. We feel like we live in an Adrian+Shane bubble most of the time.
What do you dislike about the art world?
Major galleries and dealers manipulate and dictate who is the next up-and-coming star. It’s purely for commercial purposes rather than because someone’s work is actually good or not. But that’s probably like any business, music, fashion, film.
Other than your art what do you do for fun?
Travel. We love getting a break away from the studio. We try to get away as much as possible. It’s always inspiring and we come back with ideas. Watching documentaries. Reading.
We just built a new house next to our studio in the Louth countryside. So over the last few months we’ve been working on that nonstop.
Who has been your most memorable client and why?
We did some pieces for the Amy Winehouse Foundation, the project was sponsored by Converse. They asked us to make a piece for the show using a pair of Converse All Stars trainers. So we made a sacred heart using the soles of the runners. It had hair holding the heart together to represent Amy’s iconic hair style. And last year we did a commission for Dr Martens for their Dublin store. We were on holidays at the time. So we were out at night in a restaurant sketching ideas and sending them back and forth throughout the holiday.
What’s your dream project and why?
We’d love to have a show at the Saatchi Gallery. Anytime we are in London we go there. It’s one of our favourite galleries.
We’d also love to do an Adrian+Shane book. A really nice hard-back coffee table book.
How do you find being in a long-term relationship while also working together 24/7. Any challenges or disagreements, and how do you overcome them?
We love working together. It’s great to have someone with you to inspire and support you. There are definitely challenges. And we certainly don’t always agree with each other. The best way to overcome them and move forward is to sit down and talk it through. It’s not always fun and games but the rewards are great. It’s worth it in the end.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
Last year a very good friend died. We were FaceTiming him about an exhibition we were working on for a gallery in Barcelona. And one of the last things he said was “just do one thing at a time”. The show got cancelled because the gallery closed down. And over the last year our lives have changed. Life moves on. We’ve moved out of our apartment of 13 years. We built a house.
And when it all seems too much or really overwhelming we hear Dacio saying “just do one thing at a time”.
See Adrian+Shane’s work at: www.adrianandshane.com/
Follow them on Instagram at: @adrianandshane