Drawing Year alumus Oliver Mulvihill recalls his US Residency

Jan. 20, 2017

Each year selected alumni of the Royal Drawing School’s Drawing Year postgraduate programme are awarded a three-month residency in the US at The Art Students League of New York, and El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA) in California, supported by the generosity of the League, and Brian and Eva Sweeney at ESMoA. 

Recently returned from his residency, Oliver Mulvihill (The Drawing Year, 2015) who received the award for 2015-16, tells us all about his experience of making art in LA…

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Three Figures on a Beach, Oliver Mulvihill

As a first residency, ESMoA (El Segundo Museum of Art) has been a truly fantastic experience. I underestimated how important this time would be to make new work, to reflect, to teach and to engage in a new art scene.

From first arriving in LA, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of those I met. The ESMoA staff and volunteers went out of their way to make me feel at home in all sorts of ways. Brian and Eva Sweeney, the founders of ESMoA, took me on a private tour of The Getty and also showed me their own private collection at their home. I was stunned by how willing people were to give up a day and take me on daytrips to Joshua Tree National Park, Pasadena, and other parts of LA. Without a car LA is difficult to traverse to say the least, so this enabled me to see parts of the city and its art collections as well as meeting some lovely people.

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California Suburb, Oliver Mulvihill

I have never been so prolific as in these three past months. I was able to work uninterrupted in a private live-work studio environment, in a wholly new and inspiring landscape from which to draw inspiration. The studio roof terrace and its view over El Segundo initially inspired many of my paintings. El Segundo itself is a sleepy, industrial suburb South of Los Angeles, but provides everything you need, including a beach with a cycle path that takes you all the way to Santa Monica. ESMoA provides bikes to its residents and this was my main form of transport in Los Angeles, often taking several hours, but it gave me a freedom to explore.

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A Swim Out to Sea, Oliver Mulvihill

My painting took a new direction in subject and in style over the three months of the residency. The vivid colours of California made a strong contrast to London’s greys and resulted in a dramatic change of palette. My subject matter arose from various trips to different beaches and explorations around the city. I made hundreds of drawings that developed into a new and rigorous painting process back in the studio. Three months was a long time to spend my own, and I found myself able to reflect on every part of my practice, which has been invaluable.

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ESMoA had arranged a scheme of teaching long before my arrival, which included a summer camp for teenagers and a workshop with adults. The workshop ‘Colour’ was a three day class where I taught thirty adults basic colour theory, plein air painting in El Segundo, and life painting. This was the first class that I had led on my own, but nervousness soon changed to excitement as I saw their progress and interests develop. The summer camp was a two week course for young artists, helping them to improve their portfolio for college application. ESMoA’s support throughout this was wonderful, and it has made me wish to pursue further teaching experience back in London.

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Sidewalk, Oliver Mulvihill

I have come back to London with lots of ideas and drawings to work from. It will be interesting to see how London and Los Angeles come together in my new work. At the end of the residency I exchanged work with various artists associated with ESMoA, and I hope our relationship continues.