Ian Cumberland was born in Banbridge, Co. Down, in 1983. He studied painting at the University of Ulster, Belfast, graduating in 2006. At university the teachers who most influenced him were Mark Ainsworth and David Campbell, the latter having a strong interesting conceptual art which in turn greatly influenced Cumberland’s ideas of compositional development. On leaving the University of Ulster he was offered a place at Goldsmith College, London, but decided rather to paint full-time. Other artists who have influenced him are Lucian Freud and Stephen Conroy, although he borrows freely from those who he admires. His interests are firmly set in realism and he has never been drawn to abstraction. Although he has exhibited at the annual exhibitions of the Royal Ulster Academy, this is his first major exhibition. One of his paintings, acquired from his degree show at the University of Ulster, is in the collection of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. He lives and works in Ireland.
As a painter Cumberland’s main interest is with people and the (often absurd) things they do. Thus his pictures reflect situations in everyday life, attitudes and values expressed or implied and so on. In his own words, he is ‘always watching people’ and his observations shape his compositions. There is nothing judgemental in his work, but he indulges in what he calls ‘black comedy’ in terms of the general surrealism that is never far from his view. His early pictures, done around 2002-04, were much influenced by graphic design and the world of advertising as well as by images derived from the cinema, and traces of these influences can still be seen in the works included in this exhibition, all of which have been made this year, 2008. The mass media, too, increasingly influence his thinking.
The sense of drama that is central to Cumberland’s work is enhanced buy his use of a plain background in his pictures so that, whatever the imagery, people and things are always seen out of context. Shock, Horror, Gasp, with its obvious cinematic references, illustrates the point, as too does Only A Pawn In Their Game, a comment on contemporary life in which we are all manipulated by the forces of globalisation. In planning a composition Cumberland prevails upon friends to act as models; but once the scene is arranged he photographs it and then manipulates the imagery by computer to create the sense of drama which pervades almost all he does. The titles he gives to pictures are important to our reading of them. I Stand Corrected, for example, relates to domestic violence, while Accidents and Emergencies is a comment on rape. If Looks Could Kill (my manic and i) looks to the way he hopes his work will develop, each composition becoming more elaborate as he plays with and distorts layers of space which both recede and press forward unexpectedly.
In all his work Cumberland records with great skill differences in textures of materials and so on – this is especially noticeable in My Funny Valentine and Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right – and this dexterity he also hopes to develop in the future. Once decided upon, his compositions are set down precisely on the canvas with no trace of hesitation or alteration. The paint, too, is applied directly in an even film with little or no impasto and the colours remain clear and un-muddied. In spite of the fact that his pictures include likenesses of many of his friends, he doesn’t think of himself as a portraitist, although Hollye and Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime suggest that he might perhaps develop more in this direction.
Dr. S. B Kennedy
Formerly Head of Art, Ulster Museum
* Selectors Choice Award, Art Society of Ulster, 2006
* John & Rachael Turner Award, University of Ulster, 2006
* Phoenix Gas prize winner, 2005