Artist Interview: Stephen Tiernan

It is my great pleasure to introduce readers to Australian portrait artist, Stephen Tiernan. His portraits are beautifully rendered with expressive brushstrokes and exquisite palettes; however, Tiernan goes beyond that. He successfully manages to capture the emotions of his models, breathing an extraordinary life-like quality into his portraits, giving us  – the viewer – a deeper insight into his subjects. These are more than beautiful faces on canvas, these are real people with real emotions that speak to us from Tiernan’s easel. What follows is an interview with the artist as we learn more about his process and practice, his philosophy and dreams.

Who are you and what do you do?

For my day job I am a Detective Senior Sergeant in the Queensland Police Service. I have been a police officer for 26 years with the majority of my service in plain clothes. I have worked in regional detective offices as well as specific taskforces and squads including organised crime taskforces and the Homicide Squad. Once I leave the office though I don my artist hat and paint. I get inspiration from all I see. I like to paint the human face or figure and never get tired of this genre.

Why do you do what you do?

I paint and draw as I have a constant burning desire to create. I have had this since my school days and all through school I was encouraged by my teachers to become an artist or work in a related field. I disregarded all of their advice and joined the army. After 4 years in the army I joined the police.

How do you work?

When I paint or draw I tend to work very fast and in an expressionist style however I am finding that as my technique improves I am having to slow myself down. I love working from life when doing portraits or figurative work however this is not always possible so I use photographs as reference material.

What’s your background?

I was born in Scotland and moved to Australia with my family when I was 2. I am a married man who recently turned 47 years old. My wife and I have 5 children (4 boys and a girl). I started to concentrate in my art late in life so I am making up for lost ground and spend all my free time making art. I have wonderful support from my wife who also works full time as a lawyer.

What’s integral to the work of an artist?

Passion, desire and an inspiration to create are integral but I also believe support is necessary.

What role does the artist have in society?

The role of an artist in society is crucial. When we look back in history it is the artist and the artworks of society that are remembered and treasured.

What has been a seminal experience?

The birth of my children and the desire to paint and capture them in a unique and special way that only art can do.

Stephen Tiernan 'Looking for Identity' 2015 - oil on linen 50.9cm X 61cm (20"X 24")
Stephen Tiernan ‘Looking for Identity’ 2015 – oil on linen 50.9cm X 61cm (20″X 24″)

Explain what you do in 100 words

I am always thinking of ideas for my artwork so I carry a journal and either write them down in that or make notes in my phone. Once I have an idea I will start doing some preparatory drawings to see what the results look like. I will then look for material and if necessary take photographs. When I commence one of my paintings I will initially use the photograph as a reference to lay down the proportions. Once I start I will put the photo away and develop the painting that way and allow the painting to guide me.

How has your practice change over time

I am yet to have developed what I would call a ‘signature style’ however I see improvement in my work all of the time. I would say the biggest change in my practice is I am working a lot slower and methodical. The statement attributed to Degas, “Painting is easy when you don’t know how but very hard when you do” is certainly coming true in my case.

What art do you most identify with?

All forms of painting. I love expressionist artworks. I love to see how others interpret and translate what they see. I have great admiration for the artist that can produce a hyper realist image but it is the expressionist works that make my heart beat faster.

What work do you most enjoying doing?

I never tire of doing portraiture. When I paint a portrait it is like I am removing a mask and I am seeing something for the first time. Those little micro expressions we experience whenever we communicate with someone can say so much and I like to somehow try and capture that.

What themes do you pursue?

As I used to box both in the amateurs and as a professional I love to paint these images and try create that atmosphere of battle. To depict the grace and beauty of the human form in peek physical condition.

What’s your favourite art work?

I have too many favourite artworks of other artists however in relation to my work I painted a portrait of my daughter in oils and I was experimenting with different techniques to create various textures and I caught something that was her so I left the painting as it was and now it hangs on my bedroom wall.

Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?

My family life has inspired me the most and the strong desire I have to continue to improve and reward the faith and support they continue to give me in pursuing my art career.

Why art?

I takes me to another place. I see good in the world when I create rather than the dysfunction and chaos I witness in my ‘dayjob’.

What is an artistic outlook on life?

To see the beauty in all around you. Being able to notice colours and form when before these things were invisible to you.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

The amazement and shock people display when they find out you are an artist and the work they are viewing is yours.

Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?

I can imagine the life of a full-time artist is lonely however as my life is very busy the quiet period when I get to create art become a sanctuary.

What do you dislike about the art world?

The lack of real opportunity for struggling and talented artists.

What do you dislike about your work?

I have pieces of work I have created that I dislike as they have not turned out the way I wanted but I do not have any specific area about my work that I dislike.

What do you like about your work?

The fact that I was able to create it from a thought and turn it into something tangible.

Stephen Tiernan 'After the Fight' 2015 - oil on canvas 50cm X 77cm (19.6" X 30.3")
Stephen Tiernan ‘After the Fight’ 2015 – oil on canvas 50cm X 77cm (19.6″ X 30.3″)

Should art be funded?

Absolutely. The benefits are immense.

What role does arts funding have?

Community arts programs should take priority in a lot of areas to encourage engagement throughout the population. Artist residencies throughout government environments and major corporations. Surround society in creativity and watch it grow and develop.

What research to you do?

I am currently studying a Bachelor of Fine Art so I do a lot of artist research.

What is your dream project?

I would love to put together a body of work for an exhibition that tours around Australia and overseas.

Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.

Malcolm Liepke, Michael Carson and Lucian Freud

Favourite or most inspirational place

Home here on the Gold Coast

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

You can sleep with a black eye but you cannot sleep with a resentment. Do not take things personally.

Professionally, what’s your goal?

To be a full-time artist

What wouldn’t you do without?

My wife and kids.

Stephen Tiernan. ‘Queenslander’ 2015 – oil on canvas 60cm X 60cm (24″ X 24″)

To see more of Stephen Tiernan’s wonderful art be sure to visit his Facebook Page.

This blog post also addresses the WP Daily Blog’s topic of the day: Quote Me

2 Comments on “Artist Interview: Stephen Tiernan

  1. Pingback: Awesomesauce Award – Anndelize: Artist, Illustrator

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