Preface: Out Of The Grave And Into The Groove


Still from ‘Blind Ambition’ (2016) Anne Murray

This won’t take long, I thought. Put out a call for writings on the topic of, The Graveyard of Ambition. Collect all the writings and art submitted.  Edit it, publish it online and print a few physical copies too. But time, life and every other distraction, the modern world can possibly throw at you, got in the way. What started as a project near the end of 2016 has rolled into 2017, and now, exactly 2 years later, in 2018, I have found the time and space to finish this.

Much as I tried to keep the momentum going in the early days of the project, I soon found myself out of time, making excuses and soon forgetting about the deadlines and promises I had made to myself and others to get this project done!

It is appropriate then that this publication was about the concept of ‘The Graveyard of Ambition.’ As I have already shown, such ambition can be easily diluted by the everyday of work, home, ‘it’s Friday!’ weekend, repeat of life.

But this was not the original inspiration behind starting this publication. That initially stemmed from a conversation I had with someone during a night out in town. I was discussing my move to Galway and attempts to get back into painting since I had left art college. Their immediate response to this was, surprise. Why did you move to Galway? Was Galway not the Graveyard of Ambition?

It was not the first time I had heard this term being used to describe my new home. In fact, Galway is not unique for having this term applied to it. The origins of the term vary, but it is thought to originate from Swansea. Workers, it was said, upon moving to the city, would be overcome with the beauty of the area and settle there instead of pursuing work ambitions. In doing so, killing their career potentials.

Over the next few weeks I began to mull over the idea of ambition and its role in the arts. What did it mean to live in a place where such ambition was not only dead but already in the grave! Therein lay the initial idea for Disrupt. To discuss such topics. To challenge such assumptions about art and creativity.

I contacted a few people about my idea. The feedback was very positive. I felt a real momentum build within me the more I spoke about it. It could be so many things. It could inspire ideas for people both within the arts and outside of it. I jumped ahead of myself and started a website. Put together a manifesto and sent out a call for writings, art, or any other creative responses people had on the subject. Submissions came in quicker than I expected. This was it, I thought, I had tapped into something.

Reliving this experience is frustrating for me as I cannot pinpoint the moment at which I lost this drive. I had the bull by the horns and somehow it got away. But through all my attempts to justify my inability to complete this journey, I never considered the most obvious.

I left college in 2009 at a time when Irelands recession and disastrous bailout was beginning to grind the life out of Dublin. I had been led to believe that my life outside of college would not be affected by this manmade catastrophe. Art was above such concerns. So long as I stuck to my creative impulses. Everything would be ok. Exhibit, build a portfolio of work, get your name out there. Work hard and the results will get you through any obstacle.

It was a slow realisation over time that made me appreciate how near impossible this idea would be in practice.

It started out well. My first exhibition outside of college resulted in good reviews and even a few sales. But this soon dissipated and by the end of 2009 I found myself lost. I forgot why I was exhibiting my work at all. I had lots of ideas but felt that I was becoming risk averse with my work. Everyone liked what I had sold. I liked it too. But to develop it more, might result in something completely different. Could I take that risk? Financially no. But if money was the driver, why was I making art?

Looking for a way to resolve this fiscal uncertainty I decided to offer my painting skills, on a demand service basis. I would paint whatever anyone wanted me to. Portraits, signs, abstracts that match the couch, windows imagery, whatever was asked. What ethics!? What legacy!? I needed the money! But this wasn’t enough.

There wasn’t much of a market for my services and I found some of the commissions, demanding more time than I was being paid for. Business was not something I had learned in art college either. So, pricing work was difficult to judge. I definitely, underpaid myself in most cases. In short, try as I might, art was never going to offer a steady income. It was after a miserable 2 years on Social Welfare, I found myself somehow working in a multinational corporation.

Now I have a steady income. Perfect for ensuring I need not concern myself with making money from my art. I can now create without that pressure. But this has brought its own challenges. This job, that pays the rent and utility bills. Allows me to eat and drink. Allows me to have a car. That allows me to type these very words on a company laptop. All had a hidden cost.

Being paid to sit in front of a computer 5 days a week can be draining. The only relief coming when I return home, often to sit in front of another screen to watch TV. Those projects and paintings, those books, I keep buying but not reading, can wait. I will find time, another time, I say to myself.

Time moves fast when such a schedule takes over. However, no matter how hard I procrastinated around this issue. At some point I would return to thinking about this publication. I needed to get it done. I needed to set aside some time off, from friends and family. To put my phone on silent. To switch off the TV. Sit down and write.

So, it is to begin, this article on the graveyard of ambition. To answer some of these questions. What drives ambition in art. What forces drive it to the grave? What are pressures the creative mind is under to succeed?  Maybe I have already achieved that!? Maybe not. Maybe the following articles can answer that.

Paul Gallagher