Ian Cumberland
interview / liz rice mccray

This month we had the pleasure of interviewing Ian Cumberland, Irish-born painter. Cumberland paints large-scale, surreal, photo-realistic paintings about the society around him. We caught up with Cumberland to talk a bit about his art, inspiration and creative process. Enjoy the interview.

One element of your paintings that affects me greatly is your recurring themes influenced by everyday life, contemporary society and real people. Will you tell us about your portraits and the subjects?
I make images about the society I see around me. I feel there is emptiness in society, a consumerist alienation where authentic social life has been replaced with its representation leaving little beneath. My paintings aren’t real portraits as I construct sets and pose the models. I’m creating the illusion of normality, they’re very ordinary, but starkly lit making them almost a heightened normality that tips into something more alarming. Most people I know struggle with the daily grind of life. Many have jobs they dislike, only to buy a load of stuff that we’re made to believe will bring some kind of happiness. So there is a focus on the individual in the midst of an on going drama as if something is about to happen or has happened because I feel people are never too far away from breaking point. I feel social media has accelerated this. What was supposed to connect us has in many ways disconnected us.

What is the process you use to conceptualize a piece, refine it, “test” it, etcetera, so you do not get part way through a painting and discover, “This is not working”?
Basically I’ll come up with an idea and then try to turn it into an image. I’ll construct a set/background, include pr

ops, clothes, etc. and then arrange for a model to pose how I want and then photograph it. So in many ways, how I work is in the manner of film, theater and fashion. As I paint from photographs I tend to know exactly how the image will look before I get into the painting stage, so if the image doesn’t end up working it wont become a painting.

What are some of your consistent influences?
I get influences from all around but there is definitely a feeling I like. Whether it’s music I listen to, films I watch, art, books or news, I’m always drawn to a certain feeling which is the best way I can describe it. The same with my own work, it has a certain feeling to it, it’s not intentional or trying to replicate something, I guess it’s more just a reflection of myself.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an artist?

When and why did you really start taking your art seriously?
I began to take art seriously when I realized I could make a living out of it. I used to paint a lot of commissions and the business-side consumed me to the point where I didn’t enjoy it. Now I try to focus on making things I want to do, that has some meaning to it. I try to enjoy it now and not take it as seriously because it is just art at the end of the day.

Where can our readers check out more of your art?
My website, www.iancumberland.com.

Last question, if you were not an artist, what do you think you would be with all that life experience?
I’d be a nomad.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions; it was a pleasure interviewing you.