Artist and Past President of The Royal Ulster Academy Julian Friers is currently exhibiting 23 monumental portraits of cultural champions associated with the music industry at the Waterways Ireland gallery, Enniskillen as part of the Fermanagh Live Arts Festival (FLive) Visual Arts Trail. Here he tells The Impartial Reporter about his artistic background, how he works almost exclusively in oil paints and his favourite project to date.

JC: What is your artistic background?

JF: I attended art college at Jordanstown in the mid seventies. The campus was still under construction at the time and I found it difficult to warm to the place. The course I was on was a foundation year where we were required to try various forms of practice, which I didn’t really enjoy as all I wanted to do was paint - I left after twelve weeks. I am basically self taught.

JC: What inspires your art?

JF: I’ve always had an interest in natural history, it inspired my work all those years ago and still does today. There’s nothing new in that, celebrating the natural world in paint is an age old form, dating back to the the earliest landscape artists and, arguably, to cave painters of prehistory.

JC: Who/what are your biggest influences?

JF: It's important to study the techniques of painters now but perhaps more particularly those of past artists. Oil paint is a medium that has a very old history, but despite that, the paint itself and the methods employed in applying it to canvas have barely changed. Although my work requires a certain amount of detail, I try to make the paint describe the subject - that’s basically an impressionist method. Loose paint implying form - it is, after all, all about illusion! So, influences have been great past painters like; John Singer Sargent, Bruno Liljefors, Anders Zorn and Walter Osborne.

JC: Is there a specific place that you do your work?

JF: I work almost exclusively in my studio. I used to do a bit of work ‘in the field’ - that happens but rarely now.

JC: What has been your most ambitious piece to date?

JF: Hard to measure what has been the most ambitious piece. Perhaps two canvases I completed for the Middle East - each one was two metres by four metres (almost as difficult to stretch as to paint). Apart from a physically big project I enjoy the challenge of imagined scenes like nocturnes or underwater or unusual viewpoint. Putting a wildlife painting together usually requires a bit of imagination.

JC: What different artistic mediums do you use and which is your favourite?

JF: I work almost exclusively in oils. I can’t imagine needing any other medium, I think my expertise lies in paint (though there’s still a lot to learn) much more than in, for example, drawing.

JC: What are you currently working on?

JF: I’m just finishing a series of paintings of lost animals of Ireland, creatures that where here once but have become extinct at some point. Imagination required again - in many cases the image needed a recognisable background. I’ve been working with Dr. Mike Simms from the Ulster Museum on that, he’s head of palaeontology there and he’s been keeping me right with regard to authenticity.

JC: Do you exhibit your work anywhere?

JF: I don’t have so many commercial outlets these days. Most of my painting comprises my own projects, private commissions and a few pieces that go through the Killarney Art Gallery which is owned and run by an old friend.

JC: Any new artistic ventures planned for 2019?

JF: New projects seem to appear from nowhere, so it's difficult to predict what the next will be. It's probably best (I think) to just do the work I feel like doing then see where it leads!

Exhibitions are often a starting point for something and autumn often has some exhibition involvement. So the RUA show is coming up as is the Society of Wildlife Artists show in London, and the 'Resonance' show is running in Enniskillen.

JC: What has been your favourite project to date?

JF: I think my favourite project is nearly always the last - so I’d say its the extinct Irish animals.

JC: What are you up to when you aren’t painting?

JF: I suppose you mean when I’m away from it altogether, so not counting birdwatching, going to exhibitions, planning pictures etc. Well, I enjoy spending time with family and apart from that I do like playing music. I play mandolin in a band with a few old friends and my two sons, Rory and Ewen. The band is called the Sons of Burlap - coincidentally we’re releasing an album this month!

JC: How would you describe your artistic style?

JF: I suppose I would describe my style as figurative impressionism - sounds a bit grand but covers what I think I do!

JC: What does your art mean to you?

JF: A little difficult to answer without resorting to clichés. It feels necessary to paint, to depict things on a 2D surface. It's not exactly a relaxation, sometimes far from it, and sometimes it's hard to describe it as enjoyable completely but I never feel like I’m wasting time. The results of painting are, at least briefly, satisfying. Once the work is complete I tend to lose interest in it, although I suppose a series of paintings is a bit of an exception because I treat the complete collection as a single work.