Who? Originally from Belfast, Neal recently received the prestigious New York-based Pollock Krasner Award for his landscape paintings.Neal lives in Glaslough, Co Monaghan, with his wife Eileen and their children, Shona (15), Rowan (12) and Rosa (8)
Where do you come from and what kind of art do you produce?
I used to live on the Saintfield Road in Belfast before I finished school and went to art college in Edinburgh. Ironically, I met my wife, Eileen, who's from Edinburgh, when I came back to Ireland. I'm primarily a contemporary landscape painter. I really like the art making process. I just responded to it well.
When you returned to Ireland where did you do most of your work?
I painted a lot in a house that was left behind by a man called Tyrone Loughry. He left the house to the Arts Council to be used by artists, so there's everything there and plenty of artists take advantage of its great studio space. I don't use it as much now but I still pop by now and again to say hello to those working there. The house also facilitates musicians and poets.
Your art requires you to move around a lot. Have you worked anywhere particularly beautiful recently?
Two years ago I spent some time in Newfoundland in Canada - a place called Fogo Island - to do some landscape work. The island is really beautiful and a lot of the people who live there are fifth or sixth generation Irish settlers. They were all so friendly and helpful to me during the six weeks I spent there. I was the artist in residence and stayed in a sort of wooden house beside a big sandy bay. There was so much to work from in terms of subject material. I would often see whales or spot large icebergs and there was plenty of wildlife. When I wasn't painting I spent time whale watching.
Where else have you worked?
I did a residency in Vermont in America in 2004. There were about 70 other artists at the studio in Vermont. It was the autumn, or what Americans call the Fall, so the leaves on trees were just starting to turn and there was a multitude of different colours to work with. The colours were really ablaze. I'm an artist who paints of the moment as I see it, so it was perfect for me.
What work have you been doing in Ireland?
I've been doing a series of works all year while travelling around different estates in Ireland. I've been focusing on looking at seasonal shifts and I try to show the transition of different seasons in my work. It's also just about enjoying the moment and the spontaneity that brings. Most of my work is done alone in remote places.
Do you have a preferred season in which to paint?
I don't really have a favourite season to paint in. Each season has its own benefits.
How did it feel to be given the Pollock Krasner Award and grant?
I was really delighted to be given the Pollock Krasner Award. It's given to other artists as well as me throughout the course of the year.
How did you get noticed by the judges? How valuable is the grant to you as an artist?
I just submitted an application and sent in images of my work. I have a good track record of residencies which helps as well. The funding I was given is really important. It's really to facilitate artists such as myself so we can continue to work and it covers the cost of vital equipment and means we can use high grade materials as well. We also have to show them things like the accounts of our household, but it's a terrific thing that's there for artists such as myself. It takes the pressure off a little when trying to pay the household bills.
What's it like being a landscape artist these days?
Being an artist has its ups and downs. It's tough enough at the moment.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions in Northern Ireland or abroad?
I'm actually heading to Chicago this week to open an exhibition of my work at the Lydon Gallery. I put a lot of work into my paintings so it's a great feeling when I can stand back and look at my paintings on the wall in an exhibition, particularly in somewhere like the Lydon Gallery. My work is also on display alongside other artists' paintings at the Tom Caldwell Gallery on the Lisburn Road in Belfast.
e Do you have a favourite musician? Stevie Ray Vaughan.
e And a preferred book? English Passengers by Matthew Kneale.
e What's your favourite film? Through a Glass Darkly.
e And your 'never again' moment? Painting on a cliff top. The canvas acted like a huge kite. I had to basically tie the painting to myself.