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Rudi-Lee McCarthy | Artist | Co. Westmeath, Ireland

For starters let’s go with some secrecy, after letting that digest how about some horror and for dessert… A slice of the truth. Dear guests, thank you for dining with us tonight for this once-in-a-lifetime dining experience—an everlasting meal of insight, knowledge and the unveiling of worldwide secrets. Truly, to die for. In the Void Magazine kitchen is Chef Rudi-Lee McCarthy who plans to unveil the mysterious secrets tied to the sour recipe surrounding the contemporary slave trade of food production.

Rudi-Lee’s art can be categorised into multiple genres. Painting, drawing and writing being some of the many skills at his disposal. Yet his true craft lies within culinary art. The artist uses his ability within the kitchen to convey emotion and passion. These feelings would be served up on a captivating dish to a guest about to embark on a voyage of flavour.

Rudi uses the beauty of cooking in combination with the world’s interest in all things tasty to include a side of truth with his menu’s various dishes. Rudi describes his pop-up restaurants as “a vessel for me to communicate my research which was the colonial history surrounding the tomato and the contemporary slave trade of food production within Almeria Spain.” As we can see there is more to Rudi-Lee than meets the eye (or the taste buds in this case).

In a personal interview with Void Magazine, the artist delves into his journey of artistic expression and explores his thought process, approach and understanding of where his inspiration comes from. You can read Rudi-Lee’s personal interview below.

My name is Rudi-lee McCarthy, I’m a 22-year-old artist whose studio is situated in Westmeath. However lately I have found that my practice is bringing me around Ireland and my studio is becoming my backpack. This is a nice change for me that I haven’t completely adjusted to just yet. I’m also a trainee chef and studied horticulture for my old garden centre job. I’m fascinated by the natural world and the ingredients it produces, the natural world is a playground for me as an artist. I find when I’m not doing research I still take any excuse to get out to nature. My art practice often focuses on the topic of the effects of capitalism on the ecosystem, aka Anthropocene, and relational aesthetics. Before these topics, while in my first year of NCAD a lot of my artwork was rather dark and disturbing to some, suffering like most young people in Ireland with terrible anxiety I used art as a way of communicating the disturbing mindset my brain kept me trapped in. I have since grown and although topics I focus on are quite dark such as the Anthropocene I have since found a sense of peace in the natural world and this, in turn, has informed my practice heavily (Continued)

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The artist behind the art.

The aspect of relational aesthetics is a new topic which found itself in my practice as a form of the pop-up restaurant I set up for my end-of-year exhibition. Porto Aperta was the restaurant’s title, which translates to back door. The restaurant was a vessel for me to communicate my research which was the colonial history surrounding the tomato and the contemporary slave trade of food production within Almeria Spain. While discussing this I served a series of dishes over four days I designed and documented in my cookbook of the same name. The whole project was a whirlwind of travelling and talking to people from west Africa, Mexico and Italy. It has seen me travel over to Naples to learn their cuisine. Many random acts of hospitality found me inspired to offer back to people as a way of communicating the horrors of our fruit and veg aisle.


As you can see I’m quite political within my practice, I would like to say rather unorthodox too. I’m heavily inspired by the creative misfits who have existed throughout history. Jack Kerouac, William s Burroughs, Derek Jarman, Penny Rimbaud of anarcho-punk band crass, Gee voucher, Edvard munch and Alberto Giacometti, are the artist I grew up fascinated by, informed by and educated by. I would sit in my room as a 16-year-old, feeling quite lost, absorbing every bit of information from these creatives and dreaming one day ill create a body of work like them. I was an anti-social teen in some sense of the word, with no ambition other than to draw and paint, these people thought not to give a fuck about the outside world, they thought to be what you want, do what you want. Before I knew it was walking through the front gates of ncad ready to spend the next four years of my life learning how to develop my art practice.


As the four years of ncad passed, and I start to emerge properly into the art world, I always find myself asking what being an artist meant to me. I guess the answer is held in the inspiration, to enjoy the journey and create something you are proud of and others can enjoy. My work isn’t anyway like theirs as I’ve grown but their inspiration still echoes throughout my day-to-day creative activity. As an artist I want to create and grow, I’ve no interest in what everyone else is doing or trying to be in the same lane as them, I make work because I feel the drive to do so, not to be a part of some click. Right now this drive is focused on the Anthropocene and relational aesthetics. Art is the only field I find myself existing in, I obsess over science, gastronomy, experimental music, and sustainable practice. I don’t need to be a professional in these fields as an artist but being an artist allows me to explore them in an exciting and free way to in turn create work.


I’m by no means a scientist or tech expert, I just read about what I was doing, experimented with ideas and hoped for the best. Like simultaneously in the morning before sitting down to work on this project I was outside my front garden steaming sawdust with a make-shift contraption. This was to create a mycelium culture in the sawdust that I believe would be able to top be used as an alternative to plastic. It was more like a lump of clay in the result. Thinking about this now this is why I’m an artist because I’m an oddball, while my neighbours were going to work I was outside the front doing makeshift science experiments.


An important day in my art practice was when listening to the Grateful Dead’s Morning dew, it was the live in London on their 1972 tour version. I felt an overwhelming surge of emotion, quite corny I know every dead head talks about the first time this song spoke to them on a spiritual level, but the apocalyptic lyrics and beautiful, LSD-fuelled guitar solo brought me to a place I needed to be creative. During this time my grandad, one of my inspirations had just died. I was working on a project where I befriended a tree log, this was a strange time for me but I drove everywhere with this log for 6 months. I had robbed the log from a place where deforestation was happening, simultaneously I was working on a tattoo documentary that kept falling through due to my life being turned upside down. But one night while driving around in my car the hillbilly mobile, a bright red, 06 seat Ibiza with its gloss peeling off, that version of morning dew came on while lost in rural Meath. I pulled over, turned up the music and sat there surrounded by the living trees as opposed to the dead one in my car. This surge of euphoria, slight shock and anxiety all hit me at once while jerry sang about the apocalypse and played his guitar solo. I knew at that moment I had to create a piece of work that emulated this moment in my life. This rather corny experience gave birth to my auditory and visual psychedelic short film titled “Atabarrah”.


Atabarrah found its insp[iration in the public art commission of grace weir, The work is a relief mural of a boat and greek constellations. Its located at the end of bull ally a spot where the modern-day beatnik youth and drug addicts would spend their evenings in Dublin. The title derives its name from the river that flows through Ethiopia, originally I was re-writing greek mythology as I travelled through Africa on a great big ship, this was a vessel for me to detail my experience in the art world, I was feeding this writing to an ai software that would generate digital painting for me. But while researching Grace’s work further I discovered her piece Black Square, I became fascinated by the howl of black holes as Grace Weir’s project inspired me to look at space for inspiration. I began sampling them and running them through modular synth plugins. Before I knew it I had 200 images generated and songs that told this story without lyrics. I animated the images to morph as one large moving painting that reacted to the music I made. In turn, creating my equivalent to the emotional shared expression experience in the LSD-fuelled Jerry Garcia guitar solo of morning dew.


Following this, we come to a point in my practice where I decided I wanted to create a more physical experience for the audience of my art practice. I first set up a pop-up free print giveaway of 70 prints, in the location of the grace weir work. There I distributed a political postered I designed. I enjoyed the shared experience, the strange characters that explored the concrete wasteland, the communication and interest people held. I knew I wanted to emulate this experience in a “gallery” based setting. I had quite a similar experience as the grateful dead epiphany. It was Friday the 25th of February 2022, I sat in the kitchen I work inn as junior sous. The invasion in Ukraine progressed onto its second day, and the news media were stating it was the beginning of world war III. I felt overwhelming anxiety, I also dreamt of living as a nomad on the road, but in a Kerouac book, not a Cormac McCarthy novel. I looked out at all the happy people stuffing their faces with the butter-filled french inspired cuisine. I realised at this moment no one out there looked happy, we charged them an outrageous price for something so simple, work in hospitality raised its ugly face to me at that moment. It is all so artificial, fake and a facade. I wanted to subvert the restaurant and break away from customers, employees and employers. To make it a communal engagement where I offer free hospitality alongside a public discussion on the dark reality behind our food and veg aisle and how our diet is shrouded in the dark smoke of the contemporary slave trade. I want to tear away the tick layer of deceiving lies forced to use by the big chain supermarkets like Tesco and the capitalist system of consume, consume consume.


So I set up Porto aperta. Porto Aperta was the subversion of fine dining which took place between the dates of June the 8th to June the 11th. The project resulted in a pop-up restaurant that rejected the traditional norms of consumer-based hospitality. The purpose of the pop restaurant was to communicate the history, and trade and expose the dark production of the tomato. It was a successful exhibition which resulted in me getting longlisted for the RDS Award. While investigating this concept of food as a medium me and my frequent collaborator Ian Kelly set out to make a pilot for a cooking show script titled: “As much as you like”. The pilot used food as a way of exploring modern art history, focusing on Yeats. It got such great feedback but sadly we haven’t gotten the time yet to shoot the first season. Also, we would like to be picked up by a media outlet for that project, there is so much that goes into making a pilot but we would love the helping hand from a company with more experience than us.


The concept of Porto aperta will be taken to VISUAL Carlow and base its new selection of meals and research in response to David Beattie’s work, “light from distant stars”. I’m excited about this exhibition, David has been growing a great selection of veg, fruit and herbs for this project. I’m looking to bring food sustainability practice to this project, I’m interested in the wild ingredients of the area, preserving of ingredients and lacto fermentation. Simultaneously I’m thinking of how to tie this back into the local history and ghost of the famine that echoes throughout Irish food culture. Alongside this project, I’m in talks with some musicians and other artists on collaboration. The art scene is a beautiful place but also filled with a lot of promises and ideas that fall through.

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