Dialogue: Arts Co-Editor Liza Weber in Conversation with Artist Diarmuid Kelley
Wednesday 5th February: tube strike. The wind is blowing my second-hand hat from my head as I schlep along King’s Road. At least it’s not apocalyptic, Diarmuid would later say.
As well as an exceptional artist, Diarmuid Kelley is a discerning weatherman.
I buzz his studio. Scale five flights of stairs. There’s always a pint of milk chilling on the wrought iron chair outside, once painted white, now peeling to a Windsor & Newton cobalt turquoise.
Diarmuid is peeling pink masking tape from his studio floor, an impasto with years of dropped paint. I find the four pink points on the floor indicating where I am to sit, and position my chair.
I tell him I have a date on Friday. Then I break his favourite mug. Coffee spills on the red Persian rug.
He says, it’s only coffee.
I say it is symbolic.
You’ll break his heart. Can you just let your head fall slightly… Oh, do you want another coffee?
I’ll replace your mug, Diarmuid.
Yes, with one of those plastic tommeetippee ones.
Born in Stirling, Scotland, Diarmuid first lived in a cottage on an estate where his father was the groundskeeper. He has vague memories of the countryside –looking out over the heath waiting for my father to come home with a rabbit. Have you ever held a gun?
I don’t like them.
Guns or rabbits?
Guns. I don’t even like that sword over there very much. But it’s nice to paint.
Diarmuid studied Fine Art at Newcastle University. He graduated in 1995.
I then took a studio near the infamous Bigg Market for twenty pounds per week, before studying for my Masters at Chelsea College of Art and Design. Sitters were then only three pounds an hour, which reminds me, I owe you ten from last time.
Do you think you’ll ever return to Newcastle?
It would be hard. I am sad in a way about having ever had to move to London.
What did you bring with you to the South?
The window of the Wendy house. I picked it up from a lorry skip outside the college. I can never find anything in the skips in London. In Newcastle architectural salvage was not a big deal. People would throw away all sorts of interesting things. Umm. That chair. This chair.
What do you miss of the North?
Newcastle is at a distance from London so as to give you enough perspective. You don’t get caught up in the glamour of the art scene. Healthy really. You’re not all about previews and “I met Patrick Caulfield last night.”
BBC Radio 3 gabbles in the background.
I don’t like Rachmaninoff. Too Hollywood. OK, take a break. You’ve started to look human.
Your favourite actress?
Carole Lombard, a comedy actress in the thirties. See the film Nothing’s Sacred.
I stretch my legs. Check out the festering peaches.
The peaches are insane, Diarmuid.
At a certain point they stop festering. They just become dry matter. Like rocks.
Talking of rocks, I redecorated my room in the Lake District the slate grey of your studio, and that green, and that grey (pointing to the sofa and the floor respectively). I think I want to be you.
No, you have taste. If there is a colour scheme, it is classic.
I like that Diarmuid listens to BBC Radio 3 instead of Classic FM.
This man – I think it is Donald Macleod – has the nicest voice on Radio 3. I think they should all sound like him.
Just lift your chin slightly. A little bit more.
Little bit more.
Other than at OÄ er Waterman & Co, where would you like to see your work hanging?
There’s a space off Bond Street in Haunch of Venison Yard, which has parquet floor.
Gallery you most like to visit?
Kettle’s Yard, in Cambridge. In London, the Serpentine.
Your favourite young artist?
Photographer Jeff Wall.
He’s not young.
OK. I like the guy who paints his housing estate. He had a show at the South London Gallery. He uses Airfix kit paint (enamel paints that you buy in tiny pots). I used to use them as a model maker when I made planes as a small boy.
I’ve always seen you with a dog.
In the countryside, yes. An Irish wolfhound. They come and go. You don’t have to take them anywhere.
I like Whippets. They don’t do all that much.
In your student days where did you go to do not all that much?
We hung out at the Bookhouse, a sort of leftwing bookshop serving the best coffee and walnut cake.
Today I’m having lunch at the Stockpot. A café serving school dinners. I am building an artistic movement around the Stockpot. I know artists have to eat, but I don’t like that Sarah Lucas and Damien Hirst’s generation ate at St. John Restaurant.
I am going to do a bit of work on your mouth now. So…
BBC Radio 3 does the talking.
We should quit while we’re ahead. I’ve managed to keep more of the graininess. This is my new thing. George isn’t happy about it.
Why is George not happy?
George has been sitting for two years, and now he has to start again.
Diarmuid is, at times, painfully particular. This is what makes him an exceptional artist. And someone I feel privileged to call a fascinating friend.
He turns my portrait upside down in front of the gilt mirror and says,
Christian Bale looks like Josh Brolin’s dad in the mid-seventies.
Diarmuid, this time, I’m afraid you’ve lost me.
I later Google Josh Brolin’s dad. His name is James Brolin and he looks remarkably like Christian Bale.
/ INTERVIEWED BY LIZA WEBER / KCL / ARTS CO-EDITOR
DIARMUID KELLEY. ALL CATS ARE GREY
24 January – 28 February 2014
Offer Waterman & Co
11 Langton Street, London, SW10 OJL
Nearest tube: South Kensington /