• ArtW

In Conversation with Fion Gunn

Fion Gunn shares the value she places on ideas over medium and takes us on a vivid journey from Venice to Shanghai.


To hear the audio version of the interview click here.


Marjorie Martay–


It's wonderful to be talking today to Fion Gunn a London-based visual artists with an international multi-media practice. She graduated from the Crawford College of Art and Design in Ireland, and did post graduate work at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts Supérieure de Nancy, France. She has been awarded Artist Residencies at RedGate Programme Beijing, the Baltic Art center in Poland and the Tate Exchange in Liverpool. Fion, how are you doing in London with the coronavirus now– it must be very difficult?


Fion Gunn–


To be perfectly honest, I really can't complain. I know that might sound strange, but my life has not changed very much. I'm blessed that I've got a studio on the top floor of my home, so there hasn't been any difficulty getting to the studio. We've got lots of very supportive neighbors. To be honest, I spend my days much as I always spend my days– doing a lot of artworks and making lots of applications for funding. I think what has changed of course, is that all the projects that I had hoped to do this year were cancelled. I basically have not earned a bean since last August. That's just how it is, but I'm healthy and I'm well and I'm making a lot of work.


Marjorie Martay–


Well, I think having your studio in your home is obviously very helpful. That's great to be so connected like that, but I believe that once all this is over, you're going to have amazing success. So we just have to go on from here.


Fion Gunn–

Right. I'm really glad to hear that– somebody has to be confident!


Marjorie Martay–

Well, I always find optimism is the way to go, especially during this period.


Fion Gunn–

You're right, there's no point otherwise.


Marjorie Martay–

I've talked to so many people and they feel like they've been victimized. They've just been having really a difficult time, which is understandable. We're dealing with isolation, but I think it's important for all of us to try to overcome that and move forward. Without having that in your mind, I think many of us, not you or me, but there are many other people who have become paralyzed... And that is not helpful in this situation.


Fion Gunn–

But, I think we're blessed if we're creative. People who are creative at a time like this have a real advantage because there isn't a moment of the day that I'm bored. There's always something to do or always something I'm interested in. I speak to quite a lot of my artist friends on FaceTime or Skype, and we all feel like that... That we're heads down just making the best of the situation and spending lots of time creating and thinking creatively.

In May 2020, Fion had a micro exhibition entitled "One Day at a Time" outside her home


Marjorie Martay–

Yes, I think that's so true. I know that in my case starting this blog "Women: We Create" to get exceptional women like yourself to be part of it. It has spurred me on. It's a great way to connect with artists, and it's been very helpful for the artists...but it's also been very helpful for me to have great conversations with people like you. So I feel very good about that!


Fion Gunn–

Yes, I'm so sorry that you're not closer to London right now, but never mind!


Marjorie Martay–

Well, if things get better, I am going to try to spend some time in London. Maybe for a month, two months, who knows, but definitely that's on my list for the next year.


Fion Gunn–

Excellent. Well, my door is open as you know.


Marjorie Martay–

Oh, thanks dear. So you mentioned how this is impacting your work in terms of exhibitions that have been cancelled or what's in the future, but let's talk about the particular work "Port" and its tale of globalism, which I think is beautiful by the way.


Fion Gunn–

Thank you. I'm really gripped by it. It's only a working title. I do have a much fancier title, but I don't want to give it a name until it's been born. It's a big artwork. I've also been very practical in designing it because doing it in separate panels means it can be dismantled and transported very easily. I always like to think about transportation when I'm making work, because I like the discipline of the practicality that's imposed.

So "Port" is looking at five cities that have various different kinds of significances for me in my life, but are also very pivotal cities in terms of looking at how global trade, exchange and travel have developed over centuries.

 Age of Exploration: Messages (2020), Fion Gunn, canvas, acrylic, collage, 90x60cm

Marjorie Martay–

Why did you choose Cork, Alexandria, Venice, Dubai and Shanghai specifically?


Fion Gunn–


Blatantly Cork because I was born and brought up there. Actually our family lived in the center of town, which was like really old, smelly and dilapidated. The family had a sort of a rundown antique business probably closer to junk and bric-a-brac, but my great grandfather on my maternal side, he was the boat builder. He died about 10 years before I was born, but his legacy remained. The model boat that he made and named after my mother was always in the house and I was gripped by his story because he's somebody who spent his life traveling to and fro from Cork to New York. His whole adult life he used to spend six months building boats on the banks of the river that runs through it. Then he would sail steerage to New York and work on Broadway building sets. I always thought what a great enterprising guy he was. Little did I know that as time went by, obviously the sea is very important because we grew up near the sea and went a lot. But I didn't realize I would be quite so obsessed with boats and vessels as I got older. But I am, I can see it myself. I am actually really obsessed with them.


Marjorie Martay–


There's something very strong about genes. There's that thread that just takes us through. A lot of these things come out from our grandparents or in your case, your grandfather. But it's very evident in your work.


Fion Gunn–


Yes, I think that's right. That's the kind of kid I was as well. I was really gripped by all the artifacts we had in the antique shop. At one point for a number of years, we had this amazing ivory shipping fleet that had been carved in China, but it featured 114 vessels ranging from junk ships and galleons down to gondolas. I can remember laying them out in the window. Because I was quite sort of finicky as a child, I was allowed to arrange the window, which is extraordinary for a child of five or six being allowed to do that.


Oddyssey: Explorations (2019), Fion Gunn, video


Marjorie Martay–


It was your artistic side coming out early on as a child!


Fion Gunn–

Yes, I was very obsessive. I can see it now. I actually got more normal as I got older. I think I was a weird child. My first drawings were of things like that and the Qing figure that my mother had...She had a very damaged Qing figure of a scribe, which was the first thing I drew as an observational drawing when I was about five. All those things...you don't see it at the time. 20 years ago if you'd asked me what the process of my work was I think I wouldn't have had the same interpretations and insights into my own work. I was caught up in living a life with three children and yes, doing work and still very gripped by the things that I was passionate about. But I don't think I had the overview, whereas those years, I did a lot of curating. The curating took me away from my own work, but I cannot now regret it because it did give me that time to stand back and view my own creative process in a detached and intelligent way.

Marjorie Martay–

Well, I have to say, I think you doing the curation was very good, but I was very excited when I visited you last year in London to see how your work has developed and how much more serious as an artist you have become. That's why I believe this path for you is the way to go.


Fion Gunn–

Yes, absolutely. I love it and what I've also discovered is the curation was an amazing discipline. I had to do so much artist management. As you know, some artists, I don't want to overstate this because I would say most people that I worked with were absolutely lovely and I've enjoyed the contact with them as my artist friends, but some people that I did collaborate with and curate, I wouldn't want to do that again. I've learned my lesson. Now it's got to be a much more reciprocal thing. If I'm doing a group show with people, I would organize the curation, but I do it as a team and then we share everything. I guess the group of people I work with now is a much smaller group than I used to work with before, but it's a self selecting group and a joy to work with.


Marjorie Martay–

That's great.

So let's go back to the panels now. We talked about Cork. What about Alexandria? Venice? Dubai? and Shanghai?

 Dubai (2020), Port series, Fion Gunn, canvas, acrylic, collage, gold leaf, 101.5x 101.5x4cm

Fion Gunn–

Right. I would say the central panel is Venice and it had to be for me because not only was there that childhood connection. I was an early reader and actually I still have a copy of the first book I read, which was just a Ladybird. I was about four years old and I read Marco Polo on my own, the Ladybird Edition. I was so gripped by that. I used to dream at night of Kublai Kahn Beijing. I used to dream of the voyage that Marco polo undertook. I would look at my clothes and see if there was a way I could carry stuff sewn into the lining? All those weird things would go through my head! That passion was always there, but again, you're sort of living your life and you go along. Suddenly I found myself in my forties, I had never been to Venice. It was just terrible. I was working on this project and I was invited by the Irish institution that was responsible for the Irish Pavilion in Venice. They invited me over. I went, and that was it. That was just absolute love at first sight and first experience. I promised myself then that I would always go back to the Biennale in Venice. Of course I was back there last year. I think it's the most extraordinary city. I feel utterly bereft at what's happened with Italy. It makes me want to weep actually at what Italians have gone through. What an extraordinarily terrible tragic time for them. I can't wait to get back to Venice. I was planning to do a residency there this year. Obviously that's one of the things that did not happen. That's also good in retrospect, but I am determined to go back. I will always go back to the tales of the city. It's pivotal role in so much of the communications and trade between East and West. You could read the history of the world through the lens of Venice very easily. So for me, Venice had to be the central panel.

"Port (2020)," Venice, Fion Gunn

The end panel is Shanghai because of course I really love China. Again, I didn't get to China until I was in my forties. Again, I became obsessed with China because, when I go to those places, I'm also reliving fantasies I had as a small child. I cannot help that magic. I also love Chinese society. I feel a great sense of connection with my Chinese friends over there. Following that whole tale of the coronavirus and seeing what's happened, I admire Chinese people. You don't have to be a supporter of the government, but I admire the Chinese people. I think their culture has a lot to teach us. So Shanghai– it is a fabulous city, it's the New York of China. It's got that scale and that kind of glam and pizzazz. That had to be the end destination.

Marjorie Martay–


I couldn't agree with you more about Shanghai. When I was there, I was so impressed. I thought it was so beautiful, magical and exciting. I definitely want to go back


Fion Gunn–


Come back with me! I want to do a residency there next year as well. Actually, I was hoping to do not only the residency in Venice this year, but also The Swatch residency in Shanghai. So obviously I had to make those panels then. For Alexandria and Dubai, I had very different ideas for those. One of the things I'd hoped to do was be part of Expo 2020 in Dubai. I was also gripped by the fact before the oil trade, historically Dubai was just Bedouin land. People were very simple and had a Spartan lifestyle. The main trade was pearls. Of course, going to China, I've also become obsessed with pearls. I know I sound like I'm obsessed with many things, but it's probably true! There was an instant connection. Then looking at what has happened to the city and the port...do you know when people think about Dubai now, very few people think of Dubai how it was like 60 years ago and how life has changed. I have lots of individual personal stories linked with Dubai as well. My good friend named Niamh Cunningham, the Irish artist who lives in Beijing, she spent many years in Dubai. I've heard all her stories of Dubai– some tragic. One of the groups that I've worked with was a sewing group for women from hard to reach communities... I ran it for six years and the woman I ran it with was a lovely woman called Ifrah Odawa who's a Somali craftswoman who went to Dubai in 2014. Her husband and son were killed there in a car accident. So she came back to London and she went through such a bad time. Her children were injured. They were in a public hospital in Dubai in quite dire circumstances. So there's all that kind of tragic stuff and it plays on your mind. So when I was making Dubai, I wanted to shy away from the too much of the glitz. It's focused on the actual histories and stories that have gone into the making of that city. I also refer to bird life and I do that because birds migrate all the time. You wouldn't try and stop birds from migrating. It's a metaphor for the movement of peoples as well. I'm not in favor of all these intransigent borders being put in place. It's not healthy and it's not what human life is about. Then finally Alexandria, again, it's the childhood obsessions with things. Alexandria was one of the most Greek cities of North Africa hence the name. The tale of the library burning down and the lighthouse at Alexandria– these were things from my childhood that I wanted to pursue. I don't know how things will work out, but my plan also was to go and do a project with the Irish Embassy in Alexandria over the next year or so. I'm hoping to pull that out of the bag as well. It's joining up lots of dots. Do you know the Greek poet, Cavafy? He wrote Ithaka and it's a poem I go back to quite often. I've actually used it in a film of one of my exhibitions. Cavafy had long links with Alexandria and lived there. There is that wonderful treasuring of cultural exchange, which I think we need as artists. We need to be guardians of that.


Marjorie Martay–

Let's talk about your process, about how you create these from using collage, overlaying your paint, where do you find all your images?

Age of Exploration # 2 (2017), Fion Gunn, 76x76cm, canvas/acrylic/collage


Fion Gunn–

Oh, I have a whole library in my studio of books. My husband is horrified, but if it's a book that's very special, then I will try and buy two copies. It's a very interesting process. It's possibly like writing poetry, but I'm doing it with images. I go through and I collect images, and I have all different categories. I keep folders of cutout images. Sometimes I am looking at an image, and I don't know what I'll use that for, but I'll have to cut it out. I keep them cut out and I like to use a mixture of things that are very personal, like images of my family, and then images of just anybody. Because I love about using collage in this way, every time I make a piece of work, it's not just about my story. It's about many stories. It's about the stories of other people and other countries and ideas. I want the work to be really inclusive, so that people from all different backgrounds can look at it and derive interest, pleasure and connection from it. It's sort of a great way of presenting a connected worldview. History is such a massively complex area, and yet we're all part of history. Your life, my life, the lives of the neighbors out in the street, we're all part of history...they're just the little tiny stories that are making the big histories. I find that a very rich vein to explore.


Age of Exploration # 6 - Children (2019), Fion Gunn, canvas, acrylic, collage, 240 x 202cm


I start with a painted image. It's very, very simple. I'll make an outline. I love using portal imagery because it's that lens into the future into the past. Then the circular portal can also look like a planet on its own. I like playing with the subliminal feelings of things. I try not to be too directional. I will know the underlying scene of what I'm doing, but I like to try and keep it quite fresh as I go along. I'll have a whole range of images that I'll play around with them, place, take off, add, and reassess. I often go back, like I do in an initial painted scene. I put in collage, then I go back and paint more. So for example, if I'm cutting out boats, I'll cut out boats but then I'll take away the rigging. I'll do the rigging myself when I'm putting the boats in. I might have half the figure and I'll paint the other half. It's a mixture of painting and photography. So you bring people in and people look really closely and say, "I didn't realize that was painted. Oh!" So there's a constant joy of discovery.

Marjorie Martay–


What's so interesting about your work is the combination of collage with the painting and how that works together. You think of other famous artists who have done collage work, like Romare Bearden or Joseph Cornell, and you can see some of that in your work, but then you have that added element which gives the dimension. You are a great watercolorist and painter. So you have that base to work from, and that adds to it, I believe.


Fion Gunn–


Yes, I think that's true. I like to be a perfectionist actually, if I'm doing something I like to do as well. If I'm painting, I want to use it well. If I'm doing 3D, I'm quite meticulous. I'm really good at cutting out now. Our granddaughter who is also very gifted at cutting out and I've promised her that if she improves to the degree I need her to then she can be my assistant for cutting out.



Shorelines (2019), Fion Gunn, video


Marjorie Martay–


How fantastic, what a great thing!


Fion Gunn–


Yes, she's really obsessed with it as well. She comes to me, "how do you cut out that shape Nanny?" I say, "well, this is how you hold the scissors and you just curve as you go around." You learn all those techniques as you go. When I'm preparing a piece of work, I will have a hundred images I need to cut out and I need to do them very meticulously. But I can be doing other things at the same time.


Marjorie Martay–


Fion, I think this idea of your influence coming from your grandfather, then coming down to you and then having your granddaughter work with you would be an amazing story.


Fion Gunn–


Yes, I'm going to coach her and make sure she gets even better.


Marjorie Martay–


She's your sous-collagist!


Fion Gunn–


Absolutely. My little collage intern.


Marjorie Martay–

I'm curious. How does somebody who was born in Ireland spend so much time in China? What was the pull to that area? You love the people, but was there more to it than that?

Fion Gunn–

It is an interesting tale. All of that childhood interest was there for many years, and then I get to my forties. I was 42 and I remember reading in the Guardian, a newspaper, that the Three gorges were going to be flooded when they built the big dam on the Yangtze river. We all think we're immortal and that we will go on forever and there's always going to be time to do stuff. I remember just being bereft because I was very interested in China and in Chinese gardening as well. I was interested in traditional forms of Chinese gardening and how they constructed the landscape. I was telling my husband this, I said, "I just can't believe it. I'm going to miss it." That is the landscape I always thought of as a child, I would get to see. I thought I would get to have that spiritual journey through that landscape and it's not going to happen. He was really great because he said, "look, I will lend you the money. You have to go there." He said ‘before you work anymore, you have to go’. That was an amazingly insightful thing for him to have done. So I booked myself a really cheap tour with an Australian company called Intrepid. Then I thought I'm not going to do things by half measures. So I then signed up for some Chinese classes because I didn't want to go and not be able to say, "please, and thank you and where are the toilets?" I started my Chinese classes and and I just really liked it. Because I like language, that then became an interesting thing in itself. When I first got there, I have to say, I almost starved to death on that first trip because I'm a lifelong vegetarian. We had a German tour guide who didn't understand the concept of vegetarianism. I basically lived on rice for about three weeks. It was terrible. I came back like a skeleton but what gripped me was the fact that I really loved the aesthetic. I knew I would, I felt completely at home with the Chinese traditional framing, how things are viewed. I feel very close to Chinese aesthetic in that way, but what I didn't expect was that I would feel so comfortable culturally with the people, even though I had very little Chinese. I knew I had to go back. I started working on a series of works inspired by that visit, but then I applied for a residency and I went and did the residency program in Beijing. It is the center of the contemporary art world. That's all I can say to you. It's amazing. The amount of artwork that you can see in Beijing is just breathtaking. I love it.

Odyssey: Exploration (2018), Fion Gunn, mixed media


Marjorie Martay–


Well, it also shows why so many galleries have gone to Beijing to bring over some amazing work from there as well as Shanghai and Hong Kong. Even the major four galleries have outposts in Hong Kong, for example. It is definitely a very verdant area for artwork and great artists. I can understand your pull.


Fion Gunn–


Yes and there's also a great desire to collaborate and have exchange. Being a Westerner is going into Beijing and Shanghai and you're going to these amazing spaces and galleries, and you're blown away by the scale of everything. But once you start going back regularly and you see enough, you realize that actually the scale hides things that are not so good. But certain elements of Chinese have this attitude of "big is good." Actually even though I love working on a large scale, I also love working in miniature. It's not so much scale, but quality that needs to be there. I think for a lot of Chinese artists, they struggle to have exposure to to greater cosmopolitanism. They certainly did, but not so much in the last five or six years. I would say Chinese culture generally is very curious. People like to know about the latest thing– the latest tech, the latest arts, the latest music. It's not just younger generation either. I have been very welcomed and embraced by the Chinese artistic community. I'm very grateful for that.


Marjorie Martay–

That's great. So let's talk about your piece "Displaced #8," that you actually started in December. It seemed like your imagination said a lot about the coming crisis of COVID-19. What were you thinking? How did this whole piece come about?



Displaced #8 (2020), mixed media and sculpture, Fion Gunn


Fion Gunn–

Over the years, I like to use recycled materials. I feel duty bound if I see something that's being thrown away. I think why is this being thrown away? Could I make a piece of art out of it? I like to pick up the strays or things that are rejected– wooden boxes that are dumped out on the street or whatever. I take them home and I give them another life as a piece of art. I'm very aware of the environmental waste that happens...the wastefulness of our society. When I grew up as a child, we had very few toys. People repaired their clothes, you didn't throw things away. I hope I'm not a mean person, but I feel quite thrifty about material things. I don't like to throw things away. I like to use things. So it came out of this spirit. I'm so concerned about what's happening politically, where there's a kind of disconnect between any sense of responsibility to future generations. I have grandchildren...what kind of world are they going to grow up in? If we're going to continue on funding the oil and coal industries, where's that going to get us all?

Odyssey: Exploration (2018), Fion Gunn, mixed media


In fact, I've been reading Naomi Klein's, "This Changes Everything." She is a wonderful writer and she points out today's profligacy, the idea that everything has to be fueled. The economy has to be fueled. But, what does that actually mean for ordinary people? What filters down? The truth is there isn't that much. I do think things are getting better for poor people, but we shouldn't be complacent. I think if we destroy our planet, there's no going back from there. That's it. In fact, even money will have limited protection for you, but certainly for the poorer members of our world's community. We're gone, people are gone. So that's what I was thinking about when I made that piece. I played with scale. It was a complicated piece to make, because I took a plastic Playmobile boat and I dismantled it. I cut holes in it and made different shapes in it. Then I covered it in textile and I painted that. Then inside the hole, I built a city and then I then I sort of destroyed parts of it and weeds growing up through it. Then I made shoals of fish that swim around in it. Because I'm thinking if everything did go downhill and if human life did disappear, probably wildlife wouldn't know what hit it. There would be loads of fish in the sea, lots of animals. Everything would come back. So there is this sea with all these fish swimming around in it, and then over the top of that, there is that layer of water, which is made from an acrylic sheet. I built an Island in the middle of it that comes up with this tiny little space that has the last bit of tree or green that's left in the landscape as we know it.

Marjorie Martay–


What's so compelling is this is again, you exploring another medium of sculpture and how does that work? Then how you combine it with other mediums. I found it a very impactful piece.


2020, Fion Gunn, Artwork for inclusion in a touring exhibition in China


Fion Gunn–


Thank you. Well, I was trained in sculpture anyway. I graduated college having majored in sculpture, so I've always dipped in and out of 3D a lot. I don't really divide up my practice into the media. It's the ideas and sometimes I'm making 3D work, other times I'm making 2D work, now I'm making VR work as well. It's always interesting to pick up new techniques, new materials, and play around with them, you know?


Marjorie Martay–


Well, since you brought up the VR work, let's talk about that. You've used a lot of scenes and images, both in the tangible work and in your immersive work, but there's a lot of crossover. Can you talk about that and what your process and goals are with these pieces?



Oddyssey: Explorations (2019), Fion Gunn, video


Fion Gunn–


Well again, it's a whole voyage of discovery, but I use TiltBrush, which is the VR software. I've got a quest headset and I find TiltBrush very accessible. Because I had a wonderful person who introduced me to all of this–a VR artist called Sean Rodrigo. He's wonderfully enabling, because I said to him, "I have no clue. I've never played a video game and I don't know about controllers." He said, "Here are the controllers play around with them, just go in." He was wonderful at giving me confidence. So I thought, "well, yeah, why not?" As soon as I got into the VR environment, I realized I loved it. As long as you know your undo button, you're fine, you can make as many mistakes as you need to. Oddly enough, I've found even though a lot of people think of TiltBrush as being very painterly, which it is, I like to using the sculptural aspects of it. I felt really at home with that. The fact that I could import objects that I scanned that I could personalize it. You'll see from the work that I did that my aesthetic is quite recognizable. It looks like my other works as well. You can see the crossover and the inspiration through poetry. We were talking about, what happens when you start making an artwork. Sometimes it's a quotation that will trigger something. Poetry is a big thing at the moment. In fact, I'm working on an attribute to Eavan Boland, the Irish poet who died a few days ago. Her poem "Child of Our Time" was one that affected me greatly. She was one of the most impactful poets on me as a young person. So I'm going to make a work as a tribute to her, which will be inspired by that poem. I will be using VR and digital resources as well.

I think if you're a creative artist, the worst thing you can do is tie yourself too much to any medium because you need the freedom to play around. Sometimes it's with words, I have written poetry. I've done those things too. For me there isn't really a division, it is that sort of you're envisaging something, you're in touch with profound emotions that you might not even be able to speak about rationally. As kid, I was fascinated by that description, "the cedars of Lebanon." I didn't quite know what it meant, but there was something about that phrase. Certain words like cornucopia trigger all kinds of subliminal responses.

Oddyssey: Explorations (2019), Fion Gunn, video


Marjorie Martay–


Interesting. Talk about this new project that you're working on called "Arrivals and Departures." It's a small group that you're going to do this with. I think you're now going to be raising money for it and the project? When do you see this happening next year?


Fion Gunn–

In theory, if we get the funding and of course everything hinges on this, the prototype will be ready in November and we'll be working flat out on it. From the creative perspective, it's very much in the line of work I'm doing anyway. So the "Arrivals and Departures" links in with the Odyssey theme, because we all think we're leaving and going somewhere, but actually we're going around in circles in our lives. So there's that constant returning to the beginning, but in a slightly different way. So it's an immersive project and the idea is I'll be creating the vessels which sail.. I'll be creating them in my VR headset. Sean will be creating environments and we'll work together on those. We've got a great game designer and a user experience specialist. We'll all be putting together an online experience where people can come online and play or go through the voyage. But equally, using augmented reality, you can actually introduce the waterways, environments, islands, and boats that we're designing and you can overlay them on your own sitting room. So it's great fun. We'll be able to do the stuff and we have the right kind of tech to be able to do it. But we do need the funding. So if we don't get the funding, we still want to do it and we'll have to search around and try to find funding from another area. But we do have a wonderful institutional partner on board, which is the Hornimann Museum in London. I've got to confirm it, but I think we would want to work with them. They've got a very good approach towards accessibility and an ethical approach to their collections. They're the people we would like to work with. It's a massive amount of work and headsets are not wonderfully comfortable. I've let my hair grow long because I have to wear it in a bun in order to balance the weight of the the front of the headset. When you come away from an hour or two in the headset, you really look like you've been beaten up because you've got so many lines on your face. You have to time it, so you don't have to go out anywhere afterwards so that nobody would see you because they'd worry. But, I found it a really massively interesting thing to get into VR. It's also meant that I have a whole other bunch of people that I mix and work with and I'm friends with. I'm usually the oldest person in the room. It's fun and games!

Marjorie Martay–


I think it's fantastic that you're moving in this direction because it's so important to take the technology that we have out there and create something that relates to your work in different mediums. You have combined them all together, but pushed the envelope!


Fion Gunn–


That's right. It's not either or, you can do and do it all.


Marjorie Martay–

I think that we, as women, especially work on so many levels. Your work is like that as well. It's quite complex and yet it ties back to the past. You live in the present, but you've taken it to the future.

Fion Gunn–

Yes, I don't kind of see the divisions there either. The stories in history are repeating themselves today. They will tomorrow and people are people. I like the idea that I've had people look at my work who come from certain backgrounds and they've say, "Oh, I recognize this and this and this, and I really enjoy it." I've had children who know very little about anything come and say, "Oh, I really like that." I like that– it should be open to anybody at any level.


Marjorie Martay–

That ties back to your work "Young Gunn" as the Odyssey of human life, across time, across place, across media and think about it as a discussion... It is very much emblematic of that. It's just so interesting how that has been a thread of your work that has gone through many years. Now you are going across new media and pulling from different areas and then creating something new with it. That's quite amazing!

Fishing without my Father (2019), mixed media and sculpture, Fion Gunn


Fion Gunn–


That's right. I was a bit embarrassed about the title of the exhibition "Young Gunn." It was not my idea. That was the curator's idea who was referencing the show that Mark Quinn had done in Beijing which was called "Young Gun." But nobody got that. I've found it very embarrassing because I'm not trying to pretend to be young. I would have called it something more comic, but anyway as you go on as an artist, you realize all the things that interest and obsess you now are probably the things that interested you as a kid. We retain that aspect of our characters.


Marjorie Martay–


That's true. It's interesting that I think of Mark Quinn's work and I like his work, but I like the complexity of your work more.


Fion Gunn–


Thank you, Marjorie. Do you know what... I agree with you! However, he does a great deal better than I do in the world of art.


Marjorie Martay–


I know let's talk about that for a second. You've been doing a lot of work for many years, but you haven't gotten the recognition that you deserve. Do you think it's because you spent so many years as a curator?


Fion Gunn–

I'm not sure, Marjorie, because I didn't do that much curation. That was just a few years. I have two major disadvantages, maybe three. One is being a female of my age was not going to be good. We were treated as second class citizens at our college and expectations were very low. When you left, there was no support. You were just adrift. So just maintaining your practice at all was a struggle. The second thing was because I moved around and I didn't understand that if you don't build up a local network, then you struggle with that. I'd grown up in Ireland and if I'd stayed in Ireland, I possibly could have been the big fish in a little pond. But I didn't want to do that. I went to France and I was there for four years and began to build up a network. But then I left again and came to London. I think what I found here, what I really struggled with in London, was the fact that I had not gone to the Royal College. I hadn't gone to St. Martin's. I hadn't gone to any of the recognized schools. The gallerists were taking people who were graduates from those places. They were not particularly interested in looking at anybody with my kind of background. I didn't have any family connections. I was singularly without connections, I would say, no network, no connections. So making the work, people always said they liked my work always. I had people who buy it. But I think I got to a point where actually the curation was pretty good because what it did do was it helped me to network with people. So for example, as a result of curating, I ended up meeting Huang Du, the Chinese curator. As I began to make more of my own work and he started to see it. Since then, he was the academic curator for our exhibition last year and has written about my work. Even though the curation on the one hand, it took time away from my work. I think on the other hand it was time well spent.

Age of Exploration: Slaves to Silk (2019), mixed media and sculpture, Fion Gunn


Marjorie Martay–


Yes. Probably for connections, it was very valuable for you. I hear that. That's probably one of the reasons– hearing your story and hearing many other women's stories of getting the recognition they deserve. That's why I started Art W to advocate for women artists like yourself, exceptional women artists, that would like to get more recognition and deserve to have it. Then also doing this blog "Women– We Create." I think it's a combination. Then I created my experiential journeys which highlight exceptional women who have really contributed to the global landscape of art– all of these things in connection together, work to help people like yourself.


Fion Gunn–


Yes, I think it's a great move Marjorie. Great move!


Marjorie Martay–

Thank you. I just want to end by saying, it's so delightful to be talking to you today. I have always found your work very compelling, and I love your themes of travel, the environment, development of trade between the East and the West, how you work in sculpture and VR, video, collage, paintings, printed materials– all of that in a very thought provoking way. You've layered over painterly landscapes. You create portraits. But through all the mediums you've worked with, I really think you have delivered. I just wish you continued success in getting the exposure that you deserve in these international exhibitions. I hope you achieve great global gallery representation.

Fion Gunn–


That would be good. Because I think for me, that's the missing link. I have the public appreciation, which certainly was the case at the Tate last year. I mean, unbelievable responses. So I have the public on my side and I love doing my work. But I don't have that intermediate link.


Marjorie Martay–


Well, who knows what's going to happen again? We have got to think positive.


Fion Gunn–


We must. Yes. Thank you so much for taking the time and being interested!


To see more of Fion Gunn's work, please visit: http://www.fiongunn.org/

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