Small Town Stars – Ciarán ‘Yohan’ Brennan

I’ve always had a keen interest in visual art from a young age. Anything weird or wonderful to the eye stops me in my tracks but it was actually secondary school that opened up my mind to a whole new world of art. Unfortunately my painting skills were somewhat questionable, however my appreciation for art history and admiration for what artists create still fascinates me to this day. 
 
Trust me, I’m no art expert but I do love a variety of styles, artists and eras, from Renaissance to Surrealism, Banksy to Frida Kahlo, Sculpture to Painting. I enjoy a gander in an art gallery but I just don’t get a chance to do it often enough.
 
So you can imagine my excitement when Artist and New Ross native Ciarán Brennan agreed to an interview with me! Ciarán is an unbelievable artist, a super, super talented guy. No genre is out of reach for him, he has dabbled in many areas, (some of which I have never heard of before) and has carved out a career creating masterpieces that will blow your mind.
 
Ciarán now lives in Galway but he still has firm roots in New Ross and is admired by many here but in my opinion he deserves more recognition for his work and more people need to know about Ciarán ‘Yohan’ Brennan.
 
Here’s why he’s one of my – Small Town Stars.
 
1. Ciarán, you come from an artistic family, do you think it was in your genes to become an artist? I don’t know if art was in my genes but from a young age I was surrounded by art, my father is an artist and my mother is a skilled craftswoman. The house I grew up in was always full of art, artists and art books so there was no lack of inspiration for a young artist. Me and my siblings would regularly sit around the kitchen table and draw for hours, it was never something that was pushed on us though, we just all loved it. As a teenager I helped out in St.Micheals Theatre with my Uncle Terry, his son Micheal and my father, building and painting sets for the annual New Ross pantomime. There seems to be an emphasis on working with our hands in my family tree, there’s carpenters, painters, crocheters, sculptors, floral arrangers, seamstresses, fixers and makers so it’s no surprise that I ended up working with my hands too.

All that being said I think getting good at any skill is mostly hard work – blood, sweat, tears and plenty of pencil shavings! If it was merely genetic I’d be able to draw with my left hand!

Digital Painting of Ciaráns muse

What do you call your style of art? I don’t have a specific style, I have worked in so many different styles and techniques over the years that it’s hard to find a common thread through all of it. If versatility is a style then maybe that’s it – versa-style-ity! Some of my favourite techniques are Pencil Drawing, Oil and Acrylic Painting, Photo Manipulation, Traditional Sculpture, Digital Painting, Digital Sculpting and Animation. Some of my favourite styles I work in are, Photo Realistic Painting, Pop Surrealism, Loose Digital, Speedpainting, Trompe l’oeil Graffiti/Murals, Classical Atelier Style Painting.

Regardless of the style what’s most important to me is getting across an idea. I love trying to match a style/technique to an idea I have.

1 of 6 illustrations created with Piranhabar for Vhi Healthcare.
Digital Painting of Trinity St. Dublin

3. Have you learned new techniques and developed your art over the years or are you still doing what you did before? I think I am always learning and changing, adding new techniques to my skill set. I get bored doing the same things so I am always eager to learn new techniques. I also feel like my techniques have changed as my opinion about art has changed, for example when I was younger I tried to copy photographs perfectly thinking that this showed skill , however now I know that this type of art is easier and what’s really impressive is getting something across with fewer more controlled strokes, I feel this will be a lifelong development. From working professionally in art I’ve learned techniques that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise sometimes being forced to learn a new technique can really help you develop as an artist. My need to constantly change and try a variety of techniques can be rewarding for me as an artist but it can make marketing my work difficult, as its hard to pinpoint exactly what I do.

A breakdown of stages of digital painting
4. Where did you study? After school I completed a one year art/design portfolio course in C.T.I Waterford. I really enjoyed this year and I would recommend anybody who wants to study art to do a portfolio course first. From there I went on to W.I.T to study design communications. I completed the degree but I realised along the way that Graphic design wasn’t for me, I knew I needed to go down a different route. The course I chose next was ‘Model Making and Special Effects’ in I.A.D.T (Dún Laoghaire) and it was a good decision. I really enjoyed this course, it had a diverse mixture of modules and knowledgeable lecturers who were eager to pass on their knowledge. It was highly creative but in a hands on and pragmatic way, the usual waffle and subjectivity associated with art courses wasn’t present and I really loved that.

 

Digital Painting of Israel Adesanya
5. So I take it you work full time as an artist now? Yes I do, but it can be split up into very different types of art. I do concept art for Advertising, Film and T.V, I do Illustration/design work for print and online but I also do private commissions such as portraits.
In my spare time when I’m not working on art for other people, I ……. make more art!
Hexagon glasses illustration

 

6. What has been your most famous piece that you’ve created? Some of my work for Advertising/TV has been seen by a lot of people but it would be made as part of a team so it can be hard to say what ‘part’ I did. From my own work my most famous piece is the video I made of me flying around a house doing graffiti View Here  and Here. It got picked up by numerous big pages online such as BoredPanda, LadBible and Viral Thread, cumulatively it has tens of millions of views. It’s nice to know that a little house outside New Ross has been seen all over the world by millions of people!It might be the most famous house in New Ross, maybe even more famous than the JFK Homestead!

Optical illusion painted on a house

 

7. Where do you find inspiration? I get inspiration from everywhere, books ,films, podcasts, nature and other artists. I’ve never had a problem with artist block and I always end up with way too many ideas. I keep my ideas in big Lever Arch folders and they’re filling up all the time. If I get to do even 1% of these ideas I’ll be doing well.
I’m a voracious collector of reference images – Taxidermy, Suits of armour, Landscapes, Jellyfish, Ships, you name it and I’ve got a folder for it.
I also have huge folders on my computer full of artists I find inspiring. There are literally hundreds of artists I like in these folders and I add to it all the time. There’s a diverse range of artists in the folders but I think a common thread among them is that their works are representational with good draughtsmanship skills.

I like loose virtuosic oil painter like Anders Zorn, Joaquin Sorolla and John Singer Sargent. Contemporary traditional painters such as Henrik Aa Uldalen, Benjamin Bjorklund and Jeremy Lipking. I’m a huge fan of the Pre-Raphelite Painters John William Waterhouse and Sir John Everett Millais. For landscape painting I’m inspired by the Hudson River school painters and Modern Matte painters like Dylan Cole and Erik Tiemens. I love the Chinese Pop Surrealist, James Jean and I have a number of his prints hanging on my walls. Another favourite is Alfonse Mucha and the Art Nouveau movement in general.

Old school Commercial/Advertising Illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, Andrew Loomis and J.C Leyendecker are a huge influence on my work.
I also follow a lot of concept artists for film and games some favourites being Piotr Joblonski and Sergey Kolesov.
I could go on and on but I think you get the idea! I have many pieces by these favourite artists hanging around my house and in front of my computer for inspiration.

I also love to collect art books and primary reference/resource books for inspiration. I particularly like books with finished art. I don’t really like ‘How To’ art books, I much prefer to get inspired, then figure things out myself.

Oil painting of a brain
9. That’s fascinating Ciarán. I see you sign off your artwork under the name Yohan. Is that your nickname or a brand name for your work? It’s a little bit of both, it was a nickname I had in school but it has come to represent the commercial side of my work. In a way it’s a character I play, he’s a guy who can fly around houses and create crazy complicated illustrations. I really want to explore the idea of him as a character in the future and I have many ideas in the works to do that.
YOHAN logo

 

10. You recently created a stunning intricate illustration for Visit New Ross. I’d love to know the thought process behind it? The guys in Visit New Ross approached me looking for an illustration to represent New Ross for their shop. I really loved the work they were doing and the positivity they were bringing to the town so I wanted to create something really impressive to compliment the diversity they were showing. I wanted to illustrate multiple aspects of New Ross but in a new imaginative, interesting way. It was a lot of fun adding some elements for the tourists and some parts that only the locals would understand. I am currently updating that illustration and it will be released as a limited edition print in November 2019.

Special commissioned piece for Visit New Ross

11. How long does it take to create a piece of work?  In 2017 I started recording exactly how long pieces take, on average I’d say about 10-60hours, but it really depends on what it is – For example the Visit New Ross piece took approximately 260 hours. The question I’ve always wondered is ‘do you count the hours when you’re just thinking about what your going to draw?’

Digital Painting of Rose Namajunas based on a photo by James Macari

12. Finally, Do you showcase your work at exhibitions? Not yet but I’ve been threatening to do an exhibition for years. At the moment I showcase my work online, I have Instagram, Facebook, Behance, YouTube, an Online Shop and a portfolio website. I have a huge buildup of paintings in my studio at the moment though, so maybe it is time to get an exhibition together?…..

Wood Sculpture for the Guatemalan section of Barry Kavanaghs Trocaire Garden.
Yes, I have to agree, I think it’s time for an exhibition by ‘Yohan’. Right here in New Ross.
Who’s coming?
 
Aileen
 
p.s Since this interview I have learned (thanks to Ciarán) that you should not ask an artist if talent is in their genes. That my friends, is an insult! After getting to know Ciarán and having a closer look at his work, I can see why he or any artist would be insulted by that question. This is a skill that is worked on over a long period of time it’s not simply genetics and now I understand that the only thing in his genes is his love for creativity.
Respect.

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