Fiona Gillespie is a young Irish artist from Cork and a recent graduate from the Limerick School of Art and Design. Her work is a colourful concoction from which emerges monster heads, anthropomorphic creatures, and weird vegetation. The almost ‘kitsch’ style is loud and unapologetic with pure saturated colour reminiscent of psychedelic art. However, the work is not truly kitsch or psychedelic. Instead, it is created without narcotics and appears to exist in a limbo between easily accessible pop culture and the ambiguous unattainable visionary realm.
Before her final year in college, during a time of self-doubt, Gillespie had an epiphany. She decided, while in bed, that she would start creating work for herself about her demons and inability to do things. Gillespie proceeded by developing a new world covered in forestry. Within this invented forest, there existed ‘idea hunters’ and ‘idea prey.’ These active and imagined characters became a tool for Gillespie for handling and understanding her psychological demons, anxiety, and self-doubt. She described, “sometimes, when I am in a bad place, the only way to fix it is to brain diarrhoea over a canvas, and then I feel much better!”
Gillespie’s bizarre compositions are inspired by her deep fascination with Biology. This interest began in early childhood, nourished by her parents, who both worked in marine biology. She recalls how, as a child, her curiosity about the natural world was encouraged and often satisfied by her parent’s knowledge and collection of books. But, although she was influenced by her parents, she continued her interest in a very different manner! I spoke with Gillespie last week, and here is a segment of our conversation.
Could you introduce yourself, your name, age, and educational background?
I am Fiona Gillespie, I am 22. I went to secondary school in North Cork. I really had no idea what I wanted to do up until the leaving certificate. I had in my mind to do graphic design or animation until I actually did the animation elective in LSAD and realised I could not stand computers! So, it would not have been a happy occupation for me. That is why I ended up doing sculpture.
How was the experience of completing your degree during the pandemic?
It was different. However, in my fourth year, the lockdown gave me the freedom to explore my drawing and painting a lot more. If I were in the college studio space, the tutors would have pushed me to do more 3D work.
The subject matter of your paintings seems to be primarily monsters, animals, people, and a mix of all three! Where do you come up with the idea for the strange imagery?
The summer before my fourth year, before the pandemic, I was at home and started to tell myself that I could not do this; I could not finish college. I was almost going to take a gap year until I had an epiphany moment lying in bed. I had the idea of just making art about me, about my demons and inability to do things. So, I came up with the concept of ‘idea hunters’ and ‘idea prey’ because I am interested in biology. The hunters were the carnivores of a forest, which is where all the paintings take place. I would almost consider my images similar to Darwin’s research, where he went and studied all these different creatures. However, I was examining creatures inside my head. I then continued to develop the creatures and considering how they would evolve.
Your pieces also have a very strong colour palette. Are you using UV light in the presentation of your work?
I’m not actually; what I have is a very bright LED light that can change colours. The paintings for the degree show took over 60 plus hours, so when I got sick of it, I would light it up with the LED lights, and it would become a completely different painting. Even the markers seemed to change colour! I use Pascal paint pens mostly, but I also like to use acrylic paints for their fluidity.
That is very interesting. How would you go about beginning a piece of artwork?
I just draw from my head; I do not plan them out beforehand. I especially love filling in space; if I see a gap, it upset me!
Would you consider your work therapeutic?
Yes, I went into the doldrums of giving up. And by creating the monsters in the forest, I managed to incorporate my very personal life into the paintings. Sometimes, when I am in a bad place, the only way to fix it is to brain diarrhoea over a canvas, and then I feel much better. I try to be very honest with my work.
Is your work influenced by psychedelic art, and do you use substances to help with creativity?
A lot of people ask me that! They also say, “you must be mad into your mushrooms.” But actually, I am not. I think the most psychedelic thing I have had in marijuana, but I didn’t really like it. To be honest, I feel like there is so much going on in my head that if I had anything like LSD, I would definitely end up with psychosis.
Have you any plans now that you have finished art college?
I am thinking of applying to K-Fest in Kerry. They seem really lovely and inviting. I also like how they exhibit work. You can tell they are more than just a commercial tag.
Fiona Gillespie is a sculpture and combined media graduate from the Limerick School of Art and Design. To support the artist, visit and follow her Instagram account https://www.instagram.com/fweirdart/