In a boat, 36.5″ x 45.5″, acrylic on panel, 2014
The swing after fragonard, 31.5″ x 23.5″, acrylic on canvas, 2014
Stanley Kubrick once said there’s something inherently optimistic about ghost stories because they show us the possibility of an afterlife. You could apply the same thinking to Genieve Figgis’ paintings, as haunting as they are beautiful and full of hallucina- tory integrity.
BP How was it that you were discovered in America?
GF I didn’t really have an audience for my paintings so I began sharing my work on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I guess some artists feel uneasy about posting images online, but I didn’t see any harm in it.
BP And then Richard Prince saw some of your tweets?
GF I was new to Twitter and I followed Richard Prince one night and then he followed me back. I was thrilled as I have admired his work for many years. He asked if he could purchase “Lady with a Bird.” It was very encouraging.
BP Speaking in terms of your formal education, you’re relatively new in your career.
GF All through my kids’ schooling, I was at college. I went back in 2010 for my master’s degree from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. I had my own studio space away from home which was crucial to me. I’d never had that freedom before.
BP Tell me about the painting, “Eileen’s Song,” from your recent exhibition at Half Gallery?
GF I wanted to do a portrait of my grandmother. We only came across her playing the piano when she was eighty-seven years old in a nursing home and it just blew me away… all these funny songs. I never knew she could play. Her expression in that painting really captures her personality. BP You sent me a link today to this dilapidated castle for sale outside Dublin. Is that what some of your estate house paintings are about? An escapist fantasy?
GF It is a fantasy, but I think it’s just the way I paint them which makes it seem like they’re falling apart. I like the idea of living in a castle and stepping into another time in history.
Brown house, 15.7″ x 19.6″, acrylic on canvas, 2014
A social portrait, 39.3″ x 23.6″, acrylic on canvas, 2014
BP Do you think of the figures in your paintings as being ghosts?
GF Well, death is in the background of everything, isn’t it? You’re always thinking I’m two seconds away from dying. I don’t set out to make scary paintings and I think people get the humor more than anything.
BP Who are some painters in history that you admire?
GF I love all the court painters: Velázquez and Goya and Holbein.
BP Those are the darker ones though. I mean, you just did your version of a famous Fragonard which is about as fluffy as it gets.
GF I was looking at some Fragonard paintings in The Frick Collection yesterday and it’s kind of where you want to live. You want to skip through those paintings.
BP Except your paintings feel more ominous.
GF Growing up in Ireland – being ruled by the Catholic Church – you always felt that you were being watched, and this was before the time of CCTV. It was a strange feeling, encouraging my rebelliousness, and somehow that comes out in the work, too.
BP Do you believe in the afterlife?
GF The night before my aunt died there were three knocks on the window downstairs. When I heard that, I knew someone was going to die the next day. I’m a little superstitious, but that doesn’t mean I’m religious. I’m not religious at all. I’m obsessed with history. And I like to speak positively about Ireland because I live there. And it’s lovely.