RISING STAR: Ian Cumberland

Photo-realist painter who resisted the lure of London to ply his trade in Belfast. Click Play Video for an online exhibition

Ian Cumberland is a 25-year old painter from Banbridge. He has exhibited in London and was offered a place at Goldsmith's, University of London, which he turned down in order to study in Belfast. Cumberland is currently setting up a studio space in Platform Arts, Queen's Street. His work can be viewed and purchased from Canvas Gallery.

'The Infinite Sadness'When did you start painting?
I didn't start painting until my A-levels, and only decided to become an artist after I left school and went to the Belfast Insitute of Further and Higher Education, where I realised that painting was a career option. I received a first in fine and applied arts in 2006 from the University of Ulster in Belfast. 

After that a man got in touch with me wanting to be my agent. He had seen one of my paintings that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland had bought and put me in touch with Tony Pontone who owns the Albemarle Gallery in London. So I decided just to give working full-time as an artist a go.

How would you describe your style?
My art is mostly figurative and concerned with human relationships. The main thing about my work is the composition. I’m interested in space as well as people and how they work off each other. My early works have lots of unused space in them, whereas now I’m thinking about making them a bit more mad - still about people, but having a lot more stuff going on.  

A lot of my work is based around things that I find funny or quirky. But I want to take away the slapstick element. I was talking to a critic in London who said that my work is like the type of thing you’d see in a newspaper: you’d laugh at it, turn the page and forget about it, which is kind of harsh, but it’s true. It’s a pretty accurate description. Now I think I want to take a bit of a u-turn.

You've exhibited work in London's Albemarle Gallery. How did it go?
I'm really lucky to have had a solo show there as its a long established, extremely reputable gallery in the 'Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil'West End, and I'm about ten years younger than most other people exhibiting there. 

The exhibition went well. I sold some paintings and got the best prices for my paintings to date, the most expensive going for £10,500. Obviously there's a lot of percentages that come out of that and a lot of hidden costs, so its not as impressive as it sounds, but it's still really good to be getting that kind of wall price. 

The figures in your work are uncannily life-like. Where do you find your subjects?
I've got good friends who are always willing to let me take photographs of them. 

In the past emerging artists from Northern Ireland would have set up shop elsewhere, in cities like London or New York, but you've chosen to live and work in Belfast. What factors have influenced you to stay at home?
It’s cheaper to live in Belfast. I’d love to live in London, but without money you can’t really enjoy it. I go to work, I paint and I go home. If I was living in London I’d be doing the same thing, but it would cost more. If your stuff’s in the right place at the right time, you don’t need really need to network in London. 

I’ve sold enough to get by, everything I’ve done really. But the recession is affecting everyone. If you’ve got a big name, things might be different. People are less likely to buy unless they’re positive it’s a sure investment. I’m not selling as much as I did before, but the percentages I get are a lot better here. I've got some paintings in Belfast which have been selling well in Canvas Gallery (Stranmillis), even given the current economic climate. 

'1 and 2'What are your plans for the future?
There are plans for another solo show in London in 18 months. I have recently decided to take control of my own affairs and no longer have an agent, but I'm excited to see how things go as the gallery is keen to work with me in the future. I have a few pieces in Canvas for a group show coming up on March 26 and will be working with Colour Rain Gallery in Templepatrick as well as trying to get some work in Dublin.

I'm kind of at a bit of a cross roads with my work and feel I need to re-focus myself on certain elements within it, so I'm thinking about doing a postgraduate MFA in Belfast. It seems like the ideal time - whilst things are moving a bit slower economically - but also I want to continue with what I'm doing, selling art and trying to keep establishing myself.

Lee Henry