Interview with Pascal Ungerer.

Pascal Ungerer is a visual artist from and currently based in Cork. He completed his B.A. in Fine Art in Crawford College of Art and Design, and completed his Masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University London. He primarily works with paint and has a background with lens based media. He recently completed a residency with Uillinn, West Cork Arts Center in 2020 and is a member of Backwater Artists Studios.

Specters of an Invisible Sun, 2020, 100x 100 cm, oil on linen.

I have a long standing interest in depictions and explorations of peripheral, liminal and obsolete spaces and your current series of work drew me in because of my own interest in these topics. I have only been able to view your current work through the online sphere, but the misty, vague countryside, punctuated by sharp telephone poles, of your paintings such as Crossed Wires II creates a feeling of the liminal, of a familiar space and at the same time unreachable.  How do you feel about the concept of psycho-geography, and what draws you to the non-place topic?

Just before I started my BA in Fine Art at CCAD in 2012 I worked on a photography project documenting ghost estates throughout Ireland. Many of those estates were situated on the margins of urban development in a sort of ‘edgeland’ environment at the intersection of the urban and the rural. Since then I have been fascinated by these urban hinterlands. I find that these kinds of peripheral landscapes are constantly changing between abandonment, development and habitation so it is very much a transient topography. I think these ephemeral landscapes or ‘non-places’ have definitely had an influence on my current work. I suppose when I go out taking photographs it is a kind of psycho-geography in way, though I have been doing this for many years long before I studied fine art or was familiar with the term ‘psycho- geography’.

Your practice has moved from photography, as I remember from your degree show with C.C.A.D., Edge of Place 2016, of lightbox’s holding grids of photographs depicting physical boundaries and social borders, to your current series of oil paintings. I understand during your MFA in Goldsmiths you also worked with found film. Is there something about oil painting in particular that helps explore your concerns more deeply, that it has the ability to depict fictional spaces, or do you think it was just a natural progression with your work?

I do have a background in lens based media and I still take a lot of photographs, particularly for research or documenting different places and landscapes and these images often become the source material for my work. In terms of painting, I’ve actually painted on and off since I was a kid but it is really only in the last 3 years that my practice has shifted towards painting full time.

I think that one of the main things about painting that differs from lens based media is your visceral connection to the work, it can be very instinctive in a way that just isn’t really possible with photography and video and that is what excites me about the medium because you have that physical connection and interaction between you and the canvas. What I also really like about painting is the ability to create an illusion of reality, a sort of fictional world that can be spontaneous and reactionary.

There seems to be more spaces of non-place due to Covid-19, with the closure of spaces, buildings, and outdoor areas that would normally be inhabited daily with people. I found these environments interesting during the first lockdown, where even roundabouts became wild and overrun. These spaces have a sudden lack of function and identity, with the easy encroachment of nature into the urban landscape. Has the current environment of a pandemic influenced your work, or given current or past work a new understanding?

I don’t think the pandemic has influenced my work directly because I was already working in this subject area and I would probably still be producing the same kind of imagery even if Covid never happened. Perhaps it is serendipitous in a way though because the subjects I deal with in my work are now a bit more
relevant since the pandemic and people can relate to it a bit more. There are also a lot of conversations internationally now about re-wilding places and I think that also fits into this narrative of uninhabited places or landscapes that are abandoned and left to grow and develop organically.

I understand your current series began at a residency in Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre. Was there a challenge in creating work in a rural setting, after having created work previously focused on urban settings? Has this residency created challenges or changes in your research process?

Yes, but I think that was a natural consequence of moving back to Cork from London and responding to my immediate environment. As an artist when your work shifts into a new subject area or terrain there are always challenges with that. For me it was an evolution of sorts, I didn’t want my new work to be completely alien or disjointed from my previous paintings. This is often the case with a lot of my work, because the various projects or series’ I do feed into each other conceptually.

Having an intense period of engagement with my work when I did the residency at the Uillinn in 2020 probably expedited this shift in my work. For me, many of the rural landscapes I depict in my current series of paintings relate to some of the abandoned urban landscapes of dereliction in my previous work through there sense of otherness and peripherality.

How/has your background as a commercial/press photographer influenced your current practice?

I think, in terms of being organised and trying to be as professional as possible. In art, as in any creative industry, you have to constantly push your work, make new contacts, develop ideas and collaborations. I am always developing new professional contacts through out Europe. Working in commercial photography in the past has helped me with many of these skills. I don’t think there is much creative cross over between commercial photography and fine art though.

Having lived and studied abroad, what is your opinion on the cork art scene? What are your opinions/observations of the positive and negatives of this smaller art community?

I am always surprised by how many talented artists there are throughout Cork. It is a place that seems to draw a lot of creative people to it — particularly West Cork. I think it is a shame how few exhibition venues there are here though. Losing the Doswell Gallery and the Catherine Hammond Gallery in West Cork in recent years is a real shame. I think I read somewhere recently that Munster was the second richest region in the EU after Luxembourg yet I don’t know of any high end commercial gallery in this part of Ireland which seems really strange.

The lack of a studio space has always been an issue for artists who have not had the ability or access before, do you feel there is a difference currently with studios closed, with this type of limit to studio spaces? And more personally has it been a challenge to continue working, with the stopping and starting of your residency opportunities this and last year? (I just know backwater was closed for some time this and last year, but I’m not sure if your residency with Uillinn was interrupted/cut short)

My Residency in the Uillinn was interrupted by the first lockdown but I was able to resume my work there last summer. I’ve had the same issue with Backwater and its really frustrating. That said, I have managed to continue painting at home throughout the various lockdowns, I just work on a slightly smaller scale when at home. I think you have to be able to adapt to the situation you’re in and make the best of it, that said I do miss my studio in Backwater and can’t wait to get back there.

Your work explores a sense of place, borders, political and social boundaries. I understand you have influences in literature, such as Victor Hugo, JG Ballard and in film with Tarkovsky, that deal with these topics. How have these different forms of expressions influenced you, like transforming a written experience into visual expression?

I read a lot, fiction and non-fiction, and this often feeds into my work. In terms of writers that have influenced my work, I read a lot of nature writers like Richard Mabbey and Robert McFarlane. I am currently reading ‘Stones of Aran’ by Tim Robinson who sadly passed away last year. In contemporary fiction I read a lot of J.G. Ballard, Cormac McCarthy and Paul Auster. Other academics or writers I like are Jean Baudrillard, W.G. Sebald and Ian Sinclair.

My work never responds directly to something I have read, but I think when you read a lot about a subject or different subjects that are interrelated this feeds into your work albeit sometimes on a subconscious level. It also helps you understand your area of interest and allows you to articulate that within your work. I think reading is so important when it comes to visual art and it has definitely helped me develop my work on many different levels.

Images curtsey of artist.

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