Ian Cumberland's ACE Art

The skilled painter on receiving an Arts Council award and exhibiting at the Millennium Court Art Centre in 2015

When did you first take an interest in fine art?

I enjoyed drawing for as long as I can remember. It always made me pretty content but I had no knowledge of art history or fine art. My first contact with art was probably when I was around 13 through local nightclub flyers, which where images of mainly Dali paintings and some other surrealist painters.

I still had no idea who painted the images but I would collect them to put up on my wall and stick on school folders. Then A-level was probably when I first started thinking about pursuing art further.


You were awarded the John and Rachael Turner Award for most outstanding student in their field while you attended the University of Ulster. Was that the assurance you needed to pursue a full career in art?

Not really. It was nice to get the award but I had already decided that's what I wanted to do. I think you need to be quite determined to make a career from art. Even at art college I wasn't actually taught anything about how to paint.

I was taught how to make and prime canvases, which has been invaluable, how to draw from life, and how to think more about concepts. But to get good at painting you have to be determined enough to figure it out yourself.

How difficult has it been to sustain your career since graduating?

I've been pretty lucky. I've been able to make a decent living from my art but I've worked hard for it.

You've exhibited in London and elsewhere, and regularly feature in the annual Royal Ulster Academy exhibition at the Ulster Museum, but which of your exhibitions so far are you most proud of?

I'm not really that fond of any of my solo exhibitions to date, even though they were in London with a reputable galley. I found that, because it's with a commercial gallery, you end up doing stuff more to suit the gallery, and there's a lot of pressure, which means I've never really been fully happy with the standard or content of the paintings. I didn't even go to my last opening.

However, I have had certain highlights that I'm proud of, like winning third prize in the BP Portrait Award in 2011 or winning the Davy Portrait Award in 2010. I still like those paintings and they're both in public collections now.


What were your first thoughts when you learned about the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's Artist Career Enhancement Scheme?

When I first heard about the ACES award I thought it would be a good thing to apply for. The Arts Council have been very supportive of me since graduating, for which I'm grateful.

How do you plan to use the award to forward your practice?

I've really been hoping to focus on doing work purely for myself, to make art that I'm proud of and move more into public galleries, where it's more about the art than commerciality. I feel the ACES award will be a great help in doing so.

I was happy that I got the award, it allows me to focus on my own work, and less on commissions. I hope this will lead to more public shows and, hopefully one day, international museum exhibitions.

Are you excited to be paired with the Millennium Court Art Centre in Portadown as part of the scheme?

I'm working on a new body of work to be shown in MCAC at the beginning of 2015. I'm really excited about my project and the staff at MCAC are all really nice and helpful. They really are working with me for my best interests, and so I think it will be the prefect platform for my work at this stage in my career.

Visit Ian Cumberland's website for more information on the artist, and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland website for information on funding opportunities and more.