11 Questions with Aidan Clifford, artist

Aidan is a self-taught artist working in London. He takes inspiration from the variety and expressiveness of the human face – but above all he simply enjoys using paint.

What are you listening to/reading/watching at the moment?

I recently finished Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow County. The Snow Country is in western Honshu, sandwiched between the mountains and the sea in Japan, and so is smothered by snow during winter. It’s a wrenching book which uses economic language to evoke brutal landscapes and hopeless, complex relationships.

Part of the reason I picked it up was to prepare for my first time visiting Japan and it’s proved suitable. The way it flits between place and time frames communicates the feeling of travelling and moving through the lives of others.

I’m in the middle of Thousand Cranes by the same writer.

Describe your life in 3 sentences:

I crave messy canvases and mountainsides. I was always laughing as a child. I’ve yet to stop.

What's the biggest challenge you've overcome?

I’ve struggled with writing and numeracy. In my second year of primary school, we used to complete ‘Day Diaries’ where we had a page of an A5 book to fill with news from the previous day. I found writing to be so laborious that I would only get three sentences in by the time the bell went off. My teacher took my parents aside and explained, concluding that, ‘We don’t usually give up on children this early, but…’

It turns out I’m dyslexic. After getting the right help, and turning over my weekends to exercises, it became manageable. But that’s when I first fell in love with drawing. I could easily fill my ‘Day Dairy’ with pictures!

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given? 

Mum would say, “Shy bairns get nowt!”, meaning that you need to get involved and work with confidence to get what you want. We spend a lot of life auditioning and this advice has come to mind whenever I’m uncertain of putting myself forward. These words helped me into and through university, jobs, acting parts and more.


What do you consider your biggest failure?

I don’t do enough to maintain friendships, especially when they’re long-distance. I’ve just spent Christmas in my hometown. The past couple of weeks have been full of merriment, Star Wars and walks in the Wiltshire countryside. It’s so easy to fall back in with old school friends that these relationships have a false sense of permanence. There are already people I miss from my time at university, trucking in South America and singing with a band. I should be more conscious of neglecting the people I care about.

What do you consider your biggest success?

It’s a work in progress, but I have successfully kept pushing my drawing and painting on, even if it has had to co-exist with work, education and the other phases of my life. The images I am forcing into existence today have a direct lineage to the dream creatures and landscapes I scribbled out, sitting on the playground steps. I’m largely self-taught, so when someone wants to put one of my canvases in their room or asks for a portrait it is a validation of my intuition, interests and study.

Who or what inspires you?

Painting is an obsession. I will look at it in a galleries, in books, in documentaries and online. Even the substance itself is inspirational. The sensuousness and risk of manipulating paint on canvas is thrilling.

I don’t exclude any reference materials. In the past I’ve lifted from archive photos, fashion catalogues, newspapers, celebrity magazines, pamphlets on yoga, mugshots and medical textbooks.

I’ve always got a sketchbook on my person. Whenever I’m feeling directionless I take myself to a public place – pubs, bus stops, tube lines, shopping centres – and pick out passers-by to sketch.

 What would you do with your last day on Earth - (logistics no object)?

Wake early in a cabin on the most handsome and quiet island of the Stockholm Archipelago. I’d pack lunch, a towel, watercolours and a book for a day of island hopping, swimming and hiking. Spending a day in the baking sun, clean air and cool water would remind me of everything to miss about being a bundle of sensations walking the earth. This would be a fine place to share a beer and a sandwich with close friends.

As the afternoon heat dissipates, it’s time to fly to Houston, Texas – in a blink of an eye. Here, I’ll make my only visit to the Rothko Chapel. It was designed as a space of meditation and to house fourteen mostly black paintings by Mark Rothko. Tragically, Rothko didn’t see the completed chapel or its celebration as a major achievement of modern art. The fact of his suicide has made many viewers read his paintings as comments on mortality. For me, Rothko gives a relieving sense of stillness and eternity which creates an atmosphere of introspection. The visit would satisfy my early religiosity, faith in art and need for reflection at this critical hour.

Beyond that, a home-cooked meal with my family is the only end I can see to this last day.

Who are your dream dinner party guests?

Last week I saw Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. An unexpected Owen Wilson slips through time to 1920s Paris. Here he meets Hemingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald, Dali and others.

For my dreamlike party, I would employ a similar mechanic to meet my artistic heroes: the School of London of the 1960 and 70s. In a time when minimal abstraction and conceptual art were the dominant modes, the School of London made rebellious figurative paintings.

The dinner party would be sure to be rowdy with Freud, Bacon, Auerbach, Kossoff, Hockney and others around the same table. Although they vary greatly in style and subjects, I deeply admire the forcefulness of their painting. The darkness and debauchery of this Soho set is, for better or worse, my Paris.

What's number one on your bucket list?

I want to be able to take pride in a body of work that exhibits continuous learning.

Tell us one thing that might surprise us:

I turned my teenage summers over to restoring cathedrals. Those ventures produced some of the strangest, most rewarding encounters of my young life.

Contact Aidan here

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Pinterest