R.M Kavanagh
interview / liz rice mccray

R.M Kavanagh, a.k.a. Rasher, has been observing the willing infiltration of technology that occupies our daily lives and puts the family life under the microscope revolving around a glass table. “Perceptual Space” explores the realm of digital culture, as we explore the world where streaming and social media hypnotize ourselves with our personal black mirror. It’s the first “visual cocaine” for families, sold over-the-counter at a store near you. As children and parents post, share, comment, swipe, scroll and zoom, it’s all become the norm, stored in the cloud above.

Is it not a fact that we all have become social media dealers, feeding each other’s habit by creating an endless supply of visual stimulation? By the time you have finished your coffee, you will have exposed yourself to multiple emotions as a result of viewing murder, genocide, suicide bombers, natural disasters, fluffy cats, dogs in costumes, car crashes, near-death incidents, sexy videos, etcetera. Are we desensitizing ourselves to life and becoming numb? And what are the unforeseen dangers and consequences for this pocket device? The answers are blurred but, “life is what happens when you’re busy on your device watching other people live.”

I’m always curious where people are at the time that we interview them; will you describe where you are right now? This way everyone reading along can imagine the setting.
The sun is shining, it’s early morning and I’m sitting on a hand-painted wooden red chair, listening to Fionn Regan’s new album (The Meetings of the Waters) on a veranda outside my timber-built studio. I’m surrounded by jasmine, bamboo and ferns in my back garden, all of which resides in a small seaside town in Wicklow, Ireland.

Wow, that sounds beautiful and your answer is why I repeadly ask that question. Now that we have a visual, will you please introduce yourself to our reader, a little synopsis if you will?
I’m 40 years of age, married to a beautiful swiss-army wife (my nickname for her) with three beautiful children. I have been painting since my early teens and exhibiting for just over 20 years. I’ve had numerous solo shows including one in the Chateau Marmont LA, back in 2006 and have taken part in several group shows in New York, London, Edinburgh and Dublin.

It appears your interest and inclination toward painting started at a young age. How did you get started in painting?
I spent the first nine years in a council estate (rough neighborhood) in Wicklow, Ireland, then moved to a more pleasant estate but kept the same friends. We got involved in substance abuse at the age of 13 and I got caught. As result of that I was grounded for three months as my mother feared the worst. There was a drug epidemic in my area, brothers of my friends were dying of heroin overdoses. During my three-month detention, I picked up my art materials from school and I haven’t stopped since. When I stumbled across a Salvador Dali documentary, that was it, I was hooked.

When reading about you I came across what you said about our digital culture, “The first visual cocaine for families sold over-the-counter at a store near you.” We must all agree that in the last decade it’s had drug-like effects on people, instead of people talking around the dinner table everyone is looking at their phones around the dinner table. It’s pretty disturbing and we all get sucked into it. Your new body of work explores the realm of digital culture. Will you tell us about your new work?
My new body of work explores the technical revolution and our obsession with our little devices that have evolved into these incredible pieces of technology that hold the same amount of power as the first rocket to be sent to the moon (it’s hard to bend your head around). We are techno-evolving at an alarming rate that our minds can’t even keep up with it and it has no signs of slowing. It’s a freight train with no brakes!

This is a big question. In our lifetime technology has exploded, it’s overwhelming: the Internet, social networks, tween sexting… thank goodness I didn’t have all of that as a kid. What are your thoughts on the effects of technology, the positives, the negatives and the long-term effects?
Apps are being developed with no regulations. One example is the Blue Whale that was developed in Russia where it sends you a list of dares. It starts off innocent, like touching your nose with your tongue, but ends with suicide. It preys on the weak and there have been a number of deaths linked to this Blue Whale app. Another, called Simi, also in the wrong hands has negative repercussions such as sexting and online bullying. Children measure their popularity and worth by how many followers or likes and friends they have; it’s all about the numbers. When I was younger I had to ask a girl on a date by finding the courage to walk over to her and either get a happy result or walk away with my tail between my legs. But this helped me deal with rejection or I felt a sense of euphoria if she’d said yes. Now, everybody is a stud on Tinder or Grinder, swipe left, get a match and success or if no match, keep going until you get one.

When I grew up we talked about what bands in our area had got signed or a footballer who got trails for a team in England, these kids had talent. Now children set up their own YouTube channels and film themselves getting a haircut or doing a bottle flip and now they’re famous! We are becoming narcissist nations with everything recorded. What you post will always be there like a billboard at the end of the street for all to see and it can come back to haunt you at any time. Would you drive your child into any city in the world let them out and drive off? That’s exactly what you’re doing when you hand your child a tablet or a phone. They can wander down any dark alley not knowing the dangers. Stumble across porn, watch beheadings by Islamic militants, enter chat rooms with fake profiles of dirty old men disguised as a 15-year-old boy luring a teenage girl on a date. I’m glad that there were no phones when I was a teenager. Technology and alcohol are not a good recipe as everything is snapchatted, filmed, instagrammed, facebooked, tweeted and stored in the cloud above. When you apply for a job later in life your potential employer will check your social media to see if you’re reckless or a suitable for candidate for that position. I think it’s just my generation that feel that they have one foot in the old world and one in the new. The long-term effects in years to come will be a mixture of organic humans and cyborgs – part human, part machine. We are already putting chips in animals and humans. It’s not going to stop there. The future is terrifying and exciting at the same time. I won’t be here to see where it will end up. I could give more examples as I’m only scratching the surface but I think you get my drift!

I didn’t explore the positives in this show as I didn’t want to dilute my meaning as I wanted to get this vision across. We all know how amazing and fascinating this new technical revolution is as it brings people together (via skype, facetime etc.), we find out first hand when atrocities happen… or is it propaganda? “Fake News.” As John Lennon said, “You can start a revolution from your bed…” but now you can start a revolution from your phone.

What effect do you hope your art will have viewers?
I hope people will hold a mirror up to their lives and make a conscious decision that if at dinner with friends don’t insult people by answering your phone in their company or looking at social media. People are investing their time in your company, respect it. We all have a case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Be careful wherever you go, someone has a camera on you, everything in moderation. Ask yourself this: does it make our lives easier or do we have to work harder to pay for all this new technical equipment: washing machines, smart TVs, fridges, cars, computers…? Everything we have invented in the last 10 years has a circuit board installed in it. We have created a consumer God that feeds off time, your time, and you have to work more to earn more to keep us all on the hamster wheel. When you buy something, you pay with your time, not money. The more stuff you buy the less time you have with your loved ones. So buy what you need not what you want. Time is more valuable than money, sospend your time wisely.

One element of your painting that affects me greatly is your use of light. How do you create that play of light in your mind?
The play of light is very important in my work, as it can create the atmosphere dark and moody or bright and enlightening… Shapes and shadows can make a painting more striking, powerful and dramatic. It takes a long process of shading and glazing to capture the right feeling.

Two truths and one lie about you, please.
First truth, I never went to art collage; and second truth, I’m a paintaholic. Lie, I have a shot of white spirits (Turpintine) every morning before I start work.

Ok very last question, where can people check out more of your art?
My website, www.rmkavanagh.ie, Instagram, @rm_kavanagh, Facebook, R.M Kavanagh and Twitter, @rmkavana_artist.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions we really enjoyed interviewing you.