I like to think that in the field of the visual universe, images exist of themselves and are waiting to be found. That is their purpose. Finding and revealing them is our purpose. Sometimes images find us, taking the form of sound, melody, words, invention, catalyst, cure. Seeing them manifested, reading them, sieving into what is helpful to you, believing or disbelieving them; is your purpose. In this way the image or the dream comes through.

To make monotypes, I roll a perspex plate with ink in order to cover it, to make the plate black. Then I begin to draw into this black, gently rubbing, scraping, wiping out light from the black, occasionally holding it up to the light of the studio window so that I can see what the image looks like. By wiping away ink, white appears in the black. This method is similar to ‘wiping out’ in oil painting using Turpentine and in charcoal drawing - where the eraser is used to draw light.

When I have finished drawing, in order to transfer the image from the plate to paper, I place the inked plate on the flat bed of an etching press, lay a sheet of paper over this, cover with a blanket, and slowly roll it through the etching press. The weight and pressure of the metal drum rolling over the blanket presses the plate into the paper leaving an impression [in reverse] of the inked plate. Now I lift the paper from the plate and can see my image. I leave the print to dry and I wipe the plate clean. As its name suggests, a Mono-type can only be one impression. One hand made print.

To find the next image, I begin again, rolling ink over the entire plate, making it black. Then I begin to draw light into it. I have no idea what I will draw before I begin, thoughts in images come to me as I work. It can be surprising what turns up. I love this surprise, the finding of an image in the dark.

Zillions of images are waiting to be found. Their number is overwhelming, uncountable, infinite. What makes their number even more astonishing is that finding them makes them reproduce! One image leads to another. Then another. There is no end.


© David Begley May 2016




Drawing for Breathe animation © David Begley

Talk for David Begley Wexford Arts Centre, Saturday August 1st 2015

I met David two weeks ago in his studio in the stables of the beautiful Newtownbarry House in Bunclody. I was struck by the idyllic place and the stillness all around. It was no surprise that I also found this stillness in his work. The place has an air of being of another time, of being suspended in time, a suspension of time that is also present in David’s work because - and I am talking about the animations - the animations have no beginning and no end. You enter or fall into the animated drawing - into a palimpsest moment - that picks up on something that has already happened, something that has gone before this moment. As evidenced in the mark making there is already a memory, a trace, a drawing of something made visible. With charcoal David creates this world of semi darkness, a twilight that holds the promise of an undefined world, a semi darkness from which comes the light. Shapes emerge, evolve, transmute, appear and disappear...there are human shapes, animal shapes, anthropomorphic forms, half man / half beast, unpredictable and continuously changing, not wanting or not able to be one or the other, unable to rest or stay, as one moment follows another hinged and pulled together by a minimal melancholic haunting soundtrack written and performed by the artist. We have no idea what the next moment might bring. David lets each drawing evolve intuitively by responding to the image in front of him, that tells him what to do next. Each drawing is a re-action to an earlier one. Each drawing progresses the residue of a foregoing thought, an emotion, a gesture and - like our actions or re-actions in life - they are a culmination, an accomplishment, a sum of all that went before. The things we arrive at in our lives, the present, is a result of where we have been, our past, a result of all the bygone moments filled with experiences and memories, pleasurable ones, painful ones, traumatic and healing ones. Each moment follows another, each imprint an evocation of the previous imprint. Each awareness obliterating the preceding one.

The time element of positioning drawing after drawing is typical of animation and makes us aware of us passing through time, or, of time passing through us. These are two different metaphors that help us think about how we experience time. Thinking about time in David’s animated work makes me think about the temporal periphery we are bound by in life. The time of our life is a continuity of experiences, one following another without a break, adding memory to memory, not only making our past larger as we age but also conserving it as an ever deeper growing reservoir that we dip into everyday. Our lives are signified by chunks or chapters of time; a before and after. Childhood, adolescence, school, college time, relationships, the death of loved ones...memory is a powerful influence and source material for artists.

And all the while that moments mount moments, experiences follow experiences - we are breathing. Breathing features prominently in each animated drawing. It appears as an ephemeral gesture, a form, a sound, breathing as a metaphor for life. Most of the time we take breathing as a given thing in the world, we breathe unconsciously, we are unaware doing it. It seems to happen somewhere in the background of our bodies. of our being, we seem to do it on automatic pilot. It is only when breathing becomes unusual that we become aware of it in all its nuances. Breathing is the prerequisite for life. The moment we are born, the very first breath we take is the sign that we are alive, and we exhale our last breath into life before crossing to the other side. I read somewhere that on average, an adult human being breathes in and out 12 times a minute. Multiply this with 24 hours and we realise that we take around 17,280 breaths in a day.

Each drawing is painstakingly made with charcoal that David makes himself. I asked him why is it important that you make your own charcoal? You know you can just go out and buy it. In fact you don't even have to go out anymore, you can buy it online. But for David the whole process of finding the wood and cooking it, is a wholesome and visceral activity that heightens the quality and meaning of the material with which he makes the drawings. It deepens the engagement with the work. Willow makes a different charcoal to Ivy that is different to charcoal made from driftwood. Each of these have subtle colour differences and we see this evidenced in the drawings. The importance for David to appreciate the journey of the charcoal before it becomes a drawing tool is to acknowledge that it too has a memory, a memory that informs the artist making the drawing....it too comes from somewhere thus connecting - it and us - across place and time. Everything has a memory and through a continuous energy field everything is connected and with it our memories, determining, conditioning and influencing our present world. A present world that is a site of endless and un-chartable becomings that makes becoming not a capacity inherited by life, an evolutionary outcome or consequence, no, becoming - the process of being, of being in the world - is the very principle of matter itself. The only certainty we know in life is uncertainty itself. We never know what the next moment will bring. And this is how we exit each animation; it unexpectedly stops, just as we were getting into it we are thrown out, out of our comfort zone at, what seems a random moment. Left. Deserted. Stranded. Longing for more.

Anita Groener, July 2015








I began making charcoal in 2012. I’ve found willow makes silver black in even tones. It erases easily, sits on the page, lifts with a feather. Ivy shrinks in the cooking, it’s bark scratches. Ivy char leans to blue and tends to be brittle, you have to be gentle with it. Vine is harder, sinewy, gives a sharper dark grey line, more difficult to rub out, it can tear the page. For tone, and drawing in general, I love the deep velvet warmth of driftwood. Its black is pitch, the handling softer, its stain fuses with the paper, the colour much richer and more variable than its dry land comparisons; perhaps this is the salt at work.

I love the process of finding, gathering, burning. Watching the flames, smelling the wood smoke, the notion of harvesting from the sea, the journey the timbers have been brought upon. Often I’ve found timber legs turned by man, churned by sea, made smooth. Blocks, knots and coiling shapes, exotics with heads and tails, images in themselves and stories in the making [from what tree, in what place, from how long ago has this stick come?]. Some so beautiful, it’s a shame to bake them.

Driftwood charcoal releases a scent of smoke and sea char when you draw with it. Depending on how long it’s cooked, the darker and softer the mark. Lesser baked sticks give brown blacks similar to raw umber. Because of it’s warmth, driftwood is compatible with an under-drawing of burnt cork. Preparing charcoals and other burnt mediums - cork, soot, bistre, matches, incense; led me to draw with smoke. Smoke drawings are fleeting, difficult to control. You must catch the drawing in the paper before the smoke disperses.

Making charcoal is heart warming. Whilst gathering sticks on the beach I hear the sea, I feel the wind, I make small finds and often record sounds. It is a time for wave-watching. To see the cycles. To breathe. When the charcoal is ready, I know where it has come from. The charcoal used in drawing the animation ‘BE’ was collected on Aberaeron Beach, Wales, in June 2014. At first it seemed there would be little booty, but when we slowed our eyes, we fell upon more and more treasures. Two cotton bags in minutes. And soon up to our elbows in the scrunch of pebbles and crash of breakers. The wonder of what would be made. The thrill of it. And the stories of the day. A seagull thieving chips. Blue ice sucked through a straw. Ice cream dribbled down bibs. A glass of cider and iechyd da. The talk of the last storm; how it entered bedrooms.

It is good to know your material, to bring this to the paper. The meditation begins. The action. Every artist has their ritual. The tip toe to the surface, the tea and the coffee, the stroking of cat or talking to dog, the sneaking up on pictures, the head scratch, the jazz, classical, or indie backdrop, and at last, the silence and space. The silence no matter what the noise. And then, the work. The paint state. The draw space. The time passing and work made.

© David Begley
See 'Breathe' charcoal animation by David Begley here



Drawing for the animation 'Be' [4min, 2015]
driftwood charcoal on Fabriano paper
© David Begley 2015



David Begley has built a reputation on his haunting and surreal charcoal drawings - one of which featured at the last RHA annual show. The eerily atmospheric animations in this show are generated from the ghosts of charcoal drawings past. An initial drawing is photographed and then slightly modified, photographed again and modified again. The animations are built from thousands of these minutely altered images. The artist has also composed moodily apposite sound tracks to accompany us on our visits to his dream worlds. The overall feeling of the show is sombre and elegiac - with more than a hint of the Gothic weirdness of Mervyn Peake. Metamorphosis is the only constant. The tender and idyllic is transformed into the sinister and apocalyptic. Certain themes recur: birth, death, and especially regeneration. In Breathe a storm-tossed sea turns into a woman who proceeds to breathe life into a variety of exotic forms. Images of moons and eggs abound betokening fecundity. The piece ends alarmingly with a wolf-like creature looming over the landscape. These works eschew narrative. They are playgrounds in which we can immerse ourselves in Rorschachian reveries.

© John P O'Sullivan / The Sunday Times

Published: CULTURE MAGAZINE, The Sunday Times, Irish Edition, March 20 2015,p29



Lost in finds
oil on board, 30 x 50cm
© David Begley 2012
Private collection



Dr Brenda Moore-McCann

"To name a thing is to suppress three-quarters of the poem’s enjoyment, which consists in the pleasure of gradually guessing; to suggest it, that is the dream."
(Stéphane Mallarmé)

Painting since antiquity has had a topsy-turvy history. Relegated to a secondary place after sculpture and architecture because it could not be measured, it was not until the development of Renaissance perspective that it gained stature as a medium for art. The invention of photography in the late 19th century however displaced the primary position it had achieved as a depicter of the natural world and propelled it in the direction of abstraction, emotion and ideas. This realignment continued, so that by the mid 20th century, painting was one of many genres of art alongside contemporary sculpture, installation, performance, photography, film and video. Nevertheless with its long distinguished history, painting still retains its appeal to the senses and the imagination. This is largely due to that history, but also to artists like Begley, who have continued to explore its potential.

In Begley’s art we are immediately thrust into multiple worlds of the real and the imaginary rendered through a palette of shimmering blues, yellows or gold bathed in intense light to more sombre browns, greens and blacks. These are paintings full of atmosphere and intrigue with vague outlines of dwellings, rocks, caves, ships, and sometimes allusive figures. The swirling washes of paint often make it difficult to distinguish foreground from background so that space too is blurred and mysterious. Indeed it is this very ambiguity that makes us pause and in so doing we begin to see more of the textures and assured use of paint that creates flickering unstable images. Yet at the same time they are unmistakably Begley’s. Whether in a large or small format they magisterially convey the instability of life itself but also hint at something beyond.

The recent body of work in the exhibition “Amke Tiem” (an anagram for ‘Make Time’?) addresses among other things, the current uneasy state of this country in terms of time, myth, fate and metamorphosis. “Wheel of Fortune” shown in “4 X 4” at the Olivier Cornet Gallery in June 2012 as well as “Lost in finds” in this current show are examples. While this exhibition marks a shift of emphasis in terms of formal values Begley’s signature sense of mystery and enquiry remain. Given the above theme, the tone of the show is sombre rendered in dark browns and blacks but the greatest shift is the central place given to the human form. Yet these forms, typically, as in “First of the Last Four Songs”, are ambiguous. Similarly, in “Maktub” (Arabic word for “it is written”) the stoney form above the open book seems to metamorphose into some kind of anthropomorphic being. The incongruous juxtaposition of the two forms appears to imply that even when fate has a determining role, there is always the possibility of change. The large “Sisyphus” on the other hand, seems to suggest that the current state of this country is one of an endeavour that is endless and futile; where hubris leaves nothing worth reflecting in the large mirror and shadowy forces lurk in the background. Yet given the overall theme of the exhibition, Begley’s vision is not without optimism, believing that nothing in life is ever static as all things including our “...thoughts, circumstances, beliefs, aspiration, our relationships” are in a constant state of change (Artist statement, June 2012).

After almost twenty years of commitment to a serious painting practice it is time to try and place Begley’s poetic imagery in an art historical context. His work, to this observer, most closely relates to the ideas and ideals of the late 19th century Symbolists. Their emphasis on a heightening of imaginative perception to engage the emotions, intellect and unconscious mind of the viewer, their insistence on suggestion rather than an explicit approach, and the creation of a mood are all ideals found in Begley’s art. Like them he is opposed to mere description of the natural world preferring to convey the mystery of that world and our role in it instead. The Symbolists also sought freedom from the imaginative constraints of linear time. The title of Begley’s exhibition would seem to echo this as well as the Symbolist embrace of chance to create multiple meanings and interpretations: the title came from a misspelling by the artist when typing notes on “Pursuing and trusting the ‘fortunate accident’ as part of the painting process.”

It is the open-ended nature of Begley’s art that gives it a suggestive power while providing an imaginative space for each viewer to engage with works that seduce the eye and delight the mind. These are paintings that take time to make and need time to contemplate. This is an artist who has something to say, expresses it with conviction and an impressive command of technique. His achievement is the ability to do so in a time-honoured medium but at the same time to extend the poetic possibilities of painting in ways that are relevant to the contemporary world.

Dr Brenda Moore-McCann is an art historian, critic and lecturer at Trinity College Dublin. She is the author of the book
'Brian O’Doherty/Patrick Ireland: Between Categories' (2009).
She is a member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA).

Text ©  Dr Brenda Moore-McCann 2012





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