How did you two meet each other, and how did you start making art together?
Adrian: We went to the same secondary school growing up, but we never actually knew each other then. Years later we met through friends we had in common at a nightclub. Shane was in Glasgow studying architecture but was home for Christmas, so we were at a straight nightclub with an ABBA tribute band and met on the dancefloor. They were playing ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme a Man After Midnight’, and that was how we met.
Shane: So how we started making art was Adrian came over to visit me at art school in Glasgow in February 1998, and he brought a pad for sketching in, and we got very drunk one night and we were just passing this sketchpad over and back and just started doodling in it and making collages.
Adrian: Not talking while doing this, just playing loud music and drinking vodka, so there was no communication, we just started painting in a pad and swapping it back and forth. Over those couple of days, we made ten pieces which we’ve never exhibited and that no one else has ever seen. The following year we had our first solo exhibition at the Droichead Arts Centre. We became this art duo quite naturally, it was unplanned.
So your new exhibition in the Droichead Arts Centre is a homecoming of sorts. Have you approached it differently because of this?
Shane: Absolutely. We do see it as a homecoming, but also as a reinvention. What we’re doing is very different to our first exhibition, as we’ve evolved and changed. This is our first Irish exhibition in ten years- we’ve exhibited in Barcelona, France, and lots of other places, but our last big Irish show was in 2011. Being invited back to Droichead gave us a chance to look at ourselves and our work retrospectively, and think about what we’d like to change about ourselves. A lot of our lives, and what we want to do with our lives, has been channelled into these works, so it’s a bit different for us. It’s very different work from what we’ve done before.
What kind of work are you exhibiting?
Shane: The premise of the work is looking at happiness. I struggle with being happy and always have done, so there’s always been a journey for me of looking at how I achieve it. Self-care, self-help, and mindfulness have all become such big commodities. It’s cynical in a way that people are trying to cash in on others’ happiness; there are always these lists in magazines and online of ‘Do these ten things and you’ll be a better person’ or ‘Here are five ways to jumpstart your day’.
The show is a bit of a take on these pressures, we don’t have 17 ways to a better you, but it’s looking at these things that could change your life, and looking at them through the medium of advertising. There was a study done in the US in the ‘50s about how people saw their lives and what made them happy, and back then it was being around friends and family, and then when the same study was conducted 50 years later after people had been bombarded with advertising, the answers were cars, a big house, travelling. People were being fed this formula of how to be happy, so we’re looking at that and why we’ve gone down this route of money and commercialism and whether we should go back to looking for the simple things. But in a fucked up way.
Adrian: We’re doing it in an ironic way, it’s not serious. When you come to our exhibition you won’t be leaving with a list of things that make you happy, so it’s kind of a piss-take, and there’s a darkness and a humour to it.
Shane: When we’ve been looking at our art over the past ten years we weren’t happy with what we were doing or where we were going. What could we be doing to make our art the best version of ourselves? We went back and looked at ourselves and this is the result of it. I think we see this as the start of something.
Adrian: It does feel like a new beginning, even though we’ve been working together since ’98.
Shane: We’ve never talked so much about art. The way we started- drunk, passing a notebook back and forth- is how we continued it for a while. It was about gut and feeling, so when people asked us to talk about our art we weren’t sure where it was coming from or why we were doing it. This time there’s been so much talk between us about what we want to achieve with the work.
Adrian: These works are large scale pieces, bigger than anything we’ve ever made before, so that’s very different too, and the look is distinct from our other works.
Your previous work fits within the pop-art genre. Can you speak a bit about how pop art informs your work?
Shane: The two of us growing up did the same thing where we were drawing and painting to escape, and we were talking about that again when we started working on this exhibition. We went back to the very basics of why we were painting as kids and it was about escape and aspiration. Back when we were kids there was nothing about being gay or coming out or anything like that, so you were left trying to find yourself and to find your own space. We were both sketching and aspiring to a different life.
The same words - ‘escape’ and ‘aspiration’ - kept coming up again and again, and advertising and pop art are both very much about escape and aspiration. You’re aspiring to a better life where you’re travelling and you have nice things, and that’s something that we’re very much attracted to. We’re not very materialistic, but that imagery around pop art is still very appealing. We wanted to bring that imagery in, but we’re using it differently this time. We’re not using it as a product that we want people to buy but instead to make people question. I would consider us pop art inspired, but I think we’re moving away from calling ourselves pop art.
Adrian: Are we though? This work is very pop art, so we’re not really moving away from being pop art (laughs).
The show is very much a critique of consumer capitalism then. Could you speak a bit about the cultural context that informed that critique?
Shane: Especially in the past few years with COVID it very much made us question where we wanted to be in our lives. There was a disconnect between our art and how we were living, so we wanted to make that a bit more cohesive: to have our art reflected in the way we were living and to have our lives inform our art. We started that four or five years ago. We had an installation at the Fringe Festival and a friend of ours was talking to us at the end of it saying that there was a disconnect between our promotional video, our artwork, and how we did our installation, and we thought the same.
On the back of that, we were asked to do a show in Barcelona in 2017. We were getting ready for that show and we got funding from Creative Ireland, and then in May the gallery contacted us and said that they were closing. We were just devastated. We were putting a lot into it and making something a bit unique and different. So we took six months off but we still had to use the funding from Creative Ireland and we had to use it within that year or return the money to them, but we had already spent it developing the show. We had to go through the first gallery who had to talk to the new gallery, and we had to relinquish control over the process. We just weren’t happy with it at all.
Adrian: It was a mess.
Shane: It was a mess, and on the back of that we were thinking about where our lives were going. It was the first exhibition in our entire career where we sold nothing, not even one print, and it made us start reevaluating both who we are as artists and how we were living our lives.
17 Ways to a Better You, a critical look at advertising and the self-help industry, will be running at Droichead Arts Centre, Stockwell Sreet, Drogheda, County Louth, from November 26 to March 4. https://www.droichead.com
You can find Adrian+Shane’s current and previous work at their website: www.adrianandshane.com or follow them online @adrianandshane