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Guggi: “I was very sad to walk away from that band”

Enter.ie – 2000

What were your interests as a teenager?
I think that what other kids were interested in didn’t do it for me. I guess that that’s the best way of putting it, and to some extent, I was probably quite lost. I remember being hit by a stone on the head as a kid by some other kid that lived at the other end of the street. I was about five at the time. But, that kid was Bono and he became my first childhood friend. Then when we were teenagers we met Gavin Friday. We seemed to notice him as being different. He had hair down to his waist and flared jeans with things written on them. We slowly got to know him and he became a great friend.

Were you drawn to music at that time or was it art or something else?
For me, going right back, I would have been into drawing. I don’t have the same passion that they have about music. Even within the ‘Virgin Prunes,’ my main contribution to that band would have been a visual thing. I suppose from the painter in me. It was make-up, costume and performance for me in a band.

How did the ‘Virgin Prunes’ come about?
We were at a U2 practice and I had brought some of the boys out to Malahide. I was seventeen and I had just got a car and I think that they were having a cup of tea and we picked up their instruments and we decided to do something. This punk movement had started up in London and if you couldn’t play an instrument you could still get into a band and say what you wanted to say.

The ‘Virgin Prunes’ hold a very special slot in the history of Irish rock. Certainly no band is going to ever sound like the ‘Virgin Prunes’ again.

Yeah. Certainly when I try to listen to a ‘Virgin Prunes’ track now, I can’t really listen to it. I find it hard to listen to and I’ve never really been able to listen to it. From my point of view, as someone that doesn’t have as much “suss” about music, I found that the ‘Virgin Prunes’ sounded more like a sound track to a performance and that’s always how I pictured that. They gave me an opportunity to be the member of a band as a kid and I couldn’t possibly have been the member of any other band because I couldn’t play or sing and yet, my contribution to the band was a valid one.

The ‘Virgin Prunes’ shows really provoked and shocked the audiences. Stuff like simulated sex on stage. Is that what you set out to do in the band?
Most of the visual stuff that we showed at the performances just happened at one of the early gigs and I can tell you that before we played any gigs that we didn’t say, “Let’s do this, and Let’s do that”. The angle that we took it from was to set us up for something that might happen. Walking out on the stage made us feel that something would happen. I think that the ‘Virgin Prunes’ gigs that we did that one in ten were dreadful, but the one that did go right would be very special. I think that if somebody saw one of those gigs that they would say that they had never seen anything like that before. Anybody can go out and try something really wild, but for us it really worked.

You made all of the record covers, didn’t you?
Yeah, well I physically drew some of the covers in ink. It was a series called, “A New Form Of Beauty” that was a big drawing with hundreds of thousands of dots. Some of them were darker or lighter than others and as the picture built so did the series. We started off with a seven-inch, then a ten-inch and then a twelve-inch single.

Then the whole band did an exhibition?
Yeah, we did a show in the early 80’s in the Douglas Hyde gallery in Trinity College. It was an exhibition of objects and installations and paintings and then, into the Edmond Burke Hall for a two night performance. Something that ran through that exhibition and the ‘Virgin Prunes’ was the humour that we took with us.

In 1986, you left the band to go out on your own with your Art. How did it feel to leave the band?
I was very sad to walk away from that band. I really missed them. There’s no doubt about it that when you’re that age and to have seen a little bit of the world with your mates that it’s a great thing. It was certainly time for me to move on and perhaps I should have done it sooner. For years afterwards, I really missed performing.

Did you fall into some routine after leaving the band in order to work on your art?
Discipline was certainly my biggest problem. We were actually in my house when they kicked me out of the band, maybe it should have been in somebody else’s house. We didn’t make too much money for ourselves in the band when we toured or whatever. So, I used to do sign-writing to make some money in my spare time. It was that period that I became very technical about my work – every detail mattered. I believe that every Artist has to go through that period for their work all the great artists are technically brilliant. But, I agreed that it was time for me to leave the band although it broke my heart and I continued sign writing. It became easier for me because there was something waiting at the end of it. One day I decided that I didn’t want to sign-write anymore and that I just wanted to work. I’m pretty well disciplined now and I surprise myself. I work six days per week and I have to go into the studio everyday and make some contribution, otherwise I don’t feel as though I’ve worked. It doesn’t feel like work.

What do you paint? Are they fixed ideas in your head or do you let ideas develop as you go along?
I’ll do a painting and from that another idea will often come along. Some of my work is very structured in the sense that in the centre of it there’s definitely something going on and around that there’s lots of different areas in it. I think that sometimes working in that structured way really gives me a hunger to loosen up and work in a more abstract way. I think that they are two sides of the same coin. I only paint what I want to do next. It’s never what I might sell next.

What other painters influence you?
I don’t think that I am influenced by other painters. I think that I’m guided by the surface that I’m working on and by the paints that I use. My background is in music although it’s not my gift. There are other painters that I like but I’m not directly influenced by other painters. People always try to relate you to other painters when they see your work.

Do you work on one painting at a time or do you suddenly feel the urge to start another one mid-way?
I do both. Sometimes I’ll work on a painting until it’s completely finished. Sometimes it’s right to walk away from the painting or to walk away from the studio and do something else. Recently I was working on five paintings at one time, which was a record for me. I really trust my instinct.

How much has having a wife and a family influenced your work?
It’s hard to say. I have four sons. It’s a gradual thing so it’s something that I don’t question. My wife has been a huge support to me and she has backed me right through.

Is there a recurring theme in your work?
Yes, I would say that “common objects” is one. But, it’s really not about what the object looks like, but what you try to say with the object. There are many ways to paint the same thing. But, I think that when you look at a painting that that’s when it means something or doesn’t mean something. Maybe they’re like a language that I’ve carved out. Enter CD-ROM Magazine, seven hours of entertainment, filmed interviews and live performances, pop videos, movie clips, computer games, and promos.