What kind of a year has 2020 been for you?
Obviously, it’s been an unusual year, but for me it’s also been good, creatively. It began normally, I was working on the sphinx-sofa, a furniture-sculpture piece. Right after completing the sofa, I installed Mythomania at 20-21 Visual Art Centre and the very next week everything went into lockdown. It is an Arts Council-funded solo show that I worked pretty much all of 2019 on which was meant to run until May. Fortunately, the show is part of 20-21 Visual Art Centre’s touring programme, so it will be at the Sainsbury Gallery in Basingstoke from January.

One of the biggest changes was suddenly I had time, which I haven’t had in years, to make my own stuff without worrying about it fitting into an exhibition or commission theme. I made some aesthetic developments that I had been wanting to achieve — larger-sized, more detailed figures. I also draw differently now, and while it isn’t replacing my current way of working, using the iPad more and expanding the ways the graphics can look has changed and improved my workflow. Drawing on the iPad produces a more traditional, hand-drawn look and gives me more control. It’s more fun than vector graphic drawing, which is fiddly, boring and time consuming.

Making new 2D work was good, but everything was staying in the digital realm. So, I applied to the Arts Council Emergency Relief fund and was awarded funding for a giclée printer to make archival prints. It means that I now have another aspect to my work that I can develop more — either in a commercial sense or as 2D fine art.

After completing the Arts Council funding-related work, I applied for the Beverley Treasure House commission, which I got, so it became my focus until mid-October, when it was installed. The accompanying workshop was unfortunately cancelled because of Covid, but it meant that I could design the sculpture at home in London and just pop into the studio to build it.

And by ‘pop into the studio’ you mean travel from London to Leeds, correct?
Yes. I moved down from York to London at the start of 2020, but was still travelling up to Leeds regularly as an Associate Lecturer at Leeds Arts University. I would get up at 4 am, catch the first train to Leeds, tutor all day and stay over to do it again a second day. Sometimes I stayed longer to work in the studio, returning at the end of the week.

How did you find virtual teaching?
To be honest, when my tutoring and assessment work for the Visual Communications department went online, I found it better. Mainly because more students turned up, especially mornings. Virtual teaching worked best one-to-one, just because sharing stuff in a group setting was more challenging, for various reasons.

How would you characterise the year as a whole, then?
Disruptive, but stimulating. I was able to transform my practice because the interruption allowed me to focus on my own personal work.

What has changed for the better?
I’ve been able to expand my visual vocabulary significantly because I’ve been able to change the way I make my graphics. I can respond to independent and commissioned work in a better way. I’ve been using the new, modular process in my recent work and it looks quite different to what I’ve been doing up to now.

What do you wish had happened this year, but didn’t?
I didn’t get to experiment with the prints as much as I’d hoped to. I really wanted to cut them up and physically arrange them, mimicking my digital work. I still want to do that, to make them into unique works of art. I had hoped to develop a full 2D fine art portfolio. I will definitely go back to it, though.

Another thing I really wanted to do was visit galleries and to get involved in the creative community down here, to start making connections, but that’s been totally impossible.

What would you characterise as your major achievement this year and why?
For my portfolio, the Sphinx-sofa is the major one. It might be my favourite piece ever, partly because I had to tackle so many elements to make it: collaborating with a joiner, new processes and materials. I loved it.

But in the long term, what was actually most valuable was having the time to work independently and developing the idea of what my practice is actually about. To spend time really thinking about what the work means, what I enjoy about it and to progress it more than just technically. For me, the achievement was allowing the development to find its own way. That was a big deal for me.

Is there anything you’d like to have done this year but haven’t?
I didn’t develop my 2D practice in the way that I had hoped. But I will develop it.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?
I don’t know if I can say. I have a couple of commissions, but they haven’t been announced yet. One is a piece of public art over in Europe, which is exciting. And I have a sculptural commission coming up in February.

I’m looking forward to doing more 2D art. That is where I started off, painting on cardboard, then my work drifted towards sculpture. I’m hoping to drift back, essentially.

And I am really looking forward to making connections and going to galleries here in London.

1. Ian Kirkpatrick. Photo: copyright Know Film
2. Ian Kirkpatrick, Quest for Fire, 2019. Artificial leather, embroidery, gold chain, stainless steel
3. Ian Kirkpatrick, Atlas Turned to Stone, Gicée print with archival inks, 42×59 cm, 2020. Courtesy: the artist
4. Ian Kirkpatrick, Beverlac, 2.2 x 1.5 x 2 m, digitally printed cardboard and mirror card, 2020. Photo: Ian Kirkpatrick
5. Ian Kirkpatrick, Sphinx-sofa, installation view, Normanby Hall (Scunthorpe), 2020. Photo: Ian Kirkpatrick

Valerie Zwart is part of the 2019-20 a-n Writer Development Programme that has supported eight a-n members to develop their skills in arts journalism and critical writing.