Artist in Profile: Charles Hulgraine

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Situated on the Shelbourne Road is Charles Hulgraine’s Ballsbridge Gallery, a contemporary arts space that opened in 2013. Hulgraine is a very easy and open interview subject, happy to share the fruits of a lifetime love affair with the arts. He is a painter, print maker, draughtsman and collagist.

A Ballsbridge resident since childhood, he attended school on Haddington Road. For most of his career, he worked as an architect, having graduated from DIT. He also holds a qualification in Art and Design from the National College of Art and Design Ireland.

“I decided to become a full time artist about three years ago,” he explains, “but I always loved painting and have always painted. Being an architect meant I would always have to draw anyway.” The influence of his former profession is evident in his work. Charles paints landscapes and landmarks with considerable compositional rigour but also in the spirit of play and emotional evocation: his pictures have a deliberate haziness to them, an impressionistic quality, as though a momentary glimpse or misperception of a scene has been frozen for the viewer’s contemplation, warts and all.

“For me, drawing is the basis of all art. Drawing is less au fait with the contemporary arts world, but it has to be the basis, really. You can develop the idea from there.”

We wanted to know why he works in so many different artistic media? “Well, as I say, I always start with the drawing but then I may want to follow the idea and that might require taking it into a different medium. I might decide an idea would work best in oils. Lately I’ve been working a lot in pastels; I’m finding myself very comfortable there. I’ve taken inspiration from Degas; he was great for working in pastels. He’s regarded as a painter, but they’re drawings really, I think.”

This leads us onto the inevitable discussion of artistic influences, something every artist is asked, or expects to be asked, and is maybe the reason some of them stop doing press interviews. Charles is forthcoming however. “In the late sixties, ’69 or ’68 I think, I went to the ROSC exhibition, which was one of the first major exhibitions of modern international art in Ireland, and that was a real landmark for me. Before that, Ireland was maybe more insular, or so it seemed to me, so it was a big thing to see what was going on elsewhere in the world. I remember that was the first time I saw the work of people like Sidney Nolan, the Australian artist. It changed things for me, that exhibition.”

In discussing influences further, Charles explains that he is very inspired by contemporary music. “I love the Chemical Brothers and Arcade Fire. I take ideas from lyrics and the poetry of them. I also am chief co-ordinator at the James Joyce Centre in Sandycove, so Joyce and Beckett, their words are a source of ideas. I like David Bowie a lot too. A woman in the gallery recently spotted one of my paintings and knew it was a Bowie song, from his most recent album. ‘You should tell him’ she said to me. It turns out she knows him, and advised me to reach out, that he would probably appreciate the work,” A mind boggling prospect for any fan!

Does Hulgraine sit around waiting for the muse to descend or is he busy and organised? “I draw or paint something every day. Because of my former job, I’m organised, I’m a planner.”

Charles also tells us that he hopes at some stage to introduce other artists’ work to the gallery. “Setting the gallery up was a big task. It’s no simple thing to frame and hang 40 paintings, believe it or not. I do intend to diversify though.”

Pictured: Charles stands next to his painting titled Ringsend.

By Rúairí Conneely

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