Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Rooftop archive 9 - early 1990s

Yes, this rooftop archive is pretty big, but it has served a purpose to go through everything that was there taking measurements and photographing past work, and best of all PURGING work that I don't need hanging around to haunt me! I have recently blogged about the archive (installments 7 and 8) here and here. In installment 6 - here - I have also given links to all the previous installments.

As this piece is undated, I am relying on memory and circumstances to suggest that it was either from 1989 or 1990. It was created after my first solo exhibition in Dublin while I was living with my parents in Bray. It is of course based on dream imagery except for the crazy complicated lightning bolts – lightning configurations that I actually saw during a storm in Ontario  in the 1980s! This untitled work hung on my Mum’s bedroom wall (which had been my room when I lived there) for many years and was returned to me after her death in 2016. This untitled, mixed media work is 157 cm x 150 cm.

In either the spring or summer of 1990, I returned to Toronto to be in a group show with nine other young artists. I created the sculptural element of a work to exhibit while I was in Ireland (a trellis table holding a house with a fimo figure dancing among stars who could be viewed through a bay window on the second floor of the house). Behind the sculptural element was this oilstick drawing, Two Waterspouts. Amazingly, I still had the huge roll of Strathmore paper my mentor professor (sculptor Hugh Leroy) gave me while an impoverished art student at York University, Toronto, some years before. I gessoed the paper before drawing the waterspouts, 107 cm x 63 cm. The sculptural element had live roses added to it for the exhibition; that part of the artwork was sold and I do not have any pictures of it! 

I was living in Toronto, perhaps in turmoil, when I drew this work on Oct 20 1991 (very specific date written on the back of the drawing!). Tornado, graphite on paper, 102 cm x 66 cm.

Two mediums I still enjoy a lot are combined in this drawing that I created while living in Toronto in the summer of 1992. Foxglove, oilstick & graphite on paper, 76 cm x 49 cm.

 In the early 1990s I was quite obsessed with stonework and windows in both ecclesiastical and secular ruins around Ireland. I think this obsession started when I was on holiday here in 1992 and visited a friend who had moved to rural Kerry and ruins nearer to where my parents lived on the east coast as well as ruins in Clones, close to where one of my sisters was living at the time. I did large, loose sketches of a number of windows using monotones from acrylic black paint and I later used these sketches as research for a new body of paintings that I entitled My Tower of Strength (taken from the motto on my family coat-of-arms). These painted drawings are all untitled, acrylic on paper, 76 cm x 56 cm (or 56 cm x 76 cm), the specific ruins that they are based on can be found in Clones (a church ruin), 

Kerry (outer wall of Ballycarbery Castle)

and Wicklow (Killadreenan near Newcastle). 

It is only the stonework in the drawing of the church window at Clones that I recognise as making its way into a future painting. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Rooftop Archive 8

I'm returning now to the so-called "rooftop archives", that is the portfolios and rolls of work that I pulled from the roof in the last few months of 2022 in order to actually see what was there and hopefully do some purging! The purging was successful in that I destroyed a lot of things whose moment had definitely come and gone, including all the chalk pastel cut-outs and drawings that I did while on residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig during the spring of 1989. I talk about about my first solo exhibition in Dublin here, the main reason I was on art residency but since I had most of the work done for the show by then, I spent most of my time winding down and having fun. This link also gives all the other links to previous posts about the "rooftop archives" or simply do a search for them on this blog.

I was surprised to find that I kept the irises as I had already thrown out tulips and roses at some other point! But dry pastel is very messy and I have no plans to ever install this work anywhere again, so it was easy enough to make a "trash" decision.

Though I like the drawings well enough, should I ever want to recreate the installation I would use paint rather than pastel.

I loved working large and freely, but there was no reason for me to keep these works once a picture and measurements had been taken (the rectangular drawings are approximately 100cm x 150cm or 159cm x 100cm).

I had made friends with painter Pat Moran (who I blogged about here) while at Annaghmakerrig and he called my studio “the playroom” as each day for several weeks I did large pastel cut-outs of flowers, whales, dolphins, swans and stars and affixed them to the wall. My studio became a space where my dreams could be immersive. Here is the dream imagery on the walls of my studio at Annaghmakerrig.

I can't remember how I affixed things to the walls -- I don't remember having blue tack, but perhaps I did or else just use loops of masking tape. The size of the cutouts is apparent from the chair and the sink area alcove. The figure caught in the trellis is the same figure which appeared in a lot of work and I associate with myself and the sea (as she turns into a red-sailed boat in the original series of drawings, which I talk about here).

I also made some of the stars green in colour as a nod to American poet Wallace Stevens, whose poem Our Stars Come From Ireland was a poem that I had been obsessed with for a few years by this time. 

At the corner of the room I decided to affix another drawing, mixing land, water and air (flight) together in the same space. Sure the stars had already prepared the way...

The final image in the studio is the rose rain area between the two windows. The next area leads to the start again: the drawing of the swan over the sea leading to the big cut-out swan flying over the flowers at the radiator.


Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Thyssen-Bornecizma Museum - Madrid

My first afternoon in Madrid was spent at the wonderful Thyssen-Bornecizma Museum. The collection was quite varied, spanning a few centuries. There was something intriguing about all the medieval religious paintings but I was more interested in the modern masters (incl deGoya, Bacon, Magritte, Matisse, Giacometti, O’Keeffe, etc). I was also taken by the paintings of some slightly lesser known masters and am including some of these images here.

I enjoyed the loose painting in this landscape by Maurice de Vlaminck.

Likewise, there is a looseness of style in this streetscape painting by Erich Heckel. The urgency of the brush strokes show everything in motion such that the road flows like a river.

It was brilliant to see the work of Lyonel Feininger again. I had first come across his work on an art school trip to New York but any image I saw of the work (specifically a painting of a ship floating on a seascape) did not do it justice. I remember buying a postcard of the work just as a reminder, but the card always seemed uninteresting and I could never explain to anyone who saw the card image that the real painting was magnificent.

What I especially liked about the Natalia Goncharowa painting was the use of blue outlines to define both people and trees. When I was in art school, in Toronto in the early 1980s, I attended a talk given by a representative from Parsons School of Design in NYC. In the prospectus for the upcoming year there were images of some student work and one of these images was a gorgeous life painting where the student had used a blue colour to define the figures and all shadow areas. The colour was bright and full of light and I thought it was both an effective and an anti-intuitive way to portray shadow. From that point on I had decided for myself to use light purply-blue in shadows rather than any other colour. But of course, this is also something that Matisse did in his paintings too!

I am more familiar with the German expressionist figure paintings of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner so it was delightful to see a landscape.

I am almost sure that Emil Nolde thought he was simply portraying a brilliant sunrise or sunset sky without a thought for how vibrantly abstract this painting is! 

I have recently read Ben Shahn's The Shape of Content so I was glad to see his work in the flesh. In the book, which is a transcription of his 1956-57 Norton Lectures, he talks about the relationship of the artist to both his craft and his wider community so it was good to see that his visual work reflects this.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023


I was in Madrid for a few days last week and discovered for myself that, as well as having an incredible array of art museums (the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Prado and Reina Sofia were the ones I visited) the city iself was magnificent! We stayed centrally in a little apartment overlooking the Plaza Santa Ana.

Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes if you go there, as the streets are all cobbled (which is hard on the feet!) but the best way to see the city is by walking around.

I was intrigued by the charioteer and horses on the roof of one of the buildings, so had to zoom in with my phone camera.

On another day's perambulation, I came across the chariot again from a different direction.

I'm not sure what Romulus and Remus have to do with Madrid, but sure enough they're there being suckled by the she-wolf on top of a wedding-cake type building.

There was lots of construction around Puerto del Sol so I never got a photo of the bear and berries sculpture there that is a symbol of Madrid. I preferred this mural of stacked bears that I saw on another day anyway. There is so much to see and do there that four days can't possibly be enough (and it isn't!) so I know I'll be back, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 15 February 2023

Rooftop archive 7: solo exhibition in Dublin 1989

Last week I gave all the links to the various posts I made regarding the rooftop archive, so rather than do that again, I am simply providing a link to that post here.

In the fall of 1988 I was offered an exhibition from Temple Bar Gallery & Studios in Dublin. The exhibition, my first solo show, was to take place the following spring. Other than some of the work, which has since been framed, I have not seen much of this work since 1989 so it was with great pleasure that these drawings were sighted again when going through the rooftop portfolios. 

Shepherdess I was the very first drawing I did in this particular style, which I always think of as sculptural: the paper is covered with graphite and the drawing created through careful erasure. I distinctly recall the inspiration for this image coming from a formation of bricks on a wall I saw while looking out the train window on my way in to Dublin one day. It is 76 cm x 56 cm and is from 1988.

This drawing, Figure with Rose, provided the image used for the exhibition invitation. It is also 76 cm x 56 cm and drawn in 1988. The exhibition was launched by the Canadian Ambassador at the time, Dennis McDermott. As well as plain graphite, I also used some coloured graphite for accents.

Prayer, graphite on paper, 76 cm x 56 cm, 1988

The Cloak I, graphite on paper, 76 cm x 56 cm, 1988

Rose Kiss, graphite on paper, 64 cm x 52 cm, 1989

Rose Rain with Thorns, graphite on paper, 64 cm x 52 cm, 1989

The exhibition also included some oilstick drawings of cloaked figures with roses, and some symbolist but figurative paintings on paper in oil and alkyd. Most of these works have been sold and I do not actually have images of them available. In any case, those pictures are not part of the rooftop archive! The rooftop archive also included rolled up works and one of the rolls contained the four large drawings from this exhibition. 

I remember how this drawing came to me fully-formed in a vision one night while thinking of mortality (a dear Aunt was suffering with a cancer that would eventually be fatal). 

Dream of the Time, graphite on paper, 100 cm x 150 cm, 1989

Rose Rain and Time, graphite on paper, 100 cm x 150 cm, 1989

After seeing this finished drawing (which I had yet to title), a friend of mine loaned me his book of Seamus Heaney’s poem “Sweeney”. When I finished reading the beautiful poem I thought of an appropriate title for my drawing, as for me the poem and the drawing were a portrayal both of madness and freedom. At the same time as my Dublin exhibition there was a two-person show in another Dublin gallery where the two male artists visually imagined Sweeney in their works on display. I remember being annoyed (and still am) that my female portrayal of Sweeney was not mentioned in the review of the male artists’ exhibition. To me it was a completely missed opportunity for dialogue!

Sweeney Among the Roses, graphite on paper, 100 cm x 150 cm, 1989

This was the very last drawing I did for the exhibition while on a residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig. 

Whirlpool, graphite on paper, 100 cm x 150 cm, 1989

Rooftop archive 6: more dreams

In previous "rooftop archive" posts I have discussed selfies and early work here and here, other people's work here, other dream drawings here, and the Tidal Series here, which is more vision than dream and remains a major influence on my work still.

Here is some 80s dream work from the rooftop archive. I have been interested in dreams and psychoanalysis for a long time with a dream diary spanning four decades. Imagery from my dreams is often used as a starting point in both my writing and my visual work. I had picked up a number of oilsticks (as opposed to oil pastels) while visiting my parents in Ireland one year and absolutely loved drawing with them. The diptych of swimming angels was created directly from a dream that reflected my obsession at the time with the Wallace Stevens poem “Our Stars Come From Ireland”. This diptych from 1987 is quite large, each panel measuring 102 cm x 67 cm.

Dolphins often appear in my dreams, and this depiction of them churning up the sea is also a direct dream image. “Dream of Dolphins” measures 82 cm x 66 cm and is also from 1987, when I was still living in Toronto.

When I first moved to Ireland, I lived with my parents in Bray and one of our morning rituals was to discuss our dreams over breakfast. This image of a double bass in the water is related to one of my Dad’s dreams; oilstick on oil paper, 51 cm x 76 cm, 1988. 

This chalk pastel drawing is my attempt at visualising a specific dream of my own. It measures 56 cm x 76 cm and is also from 1988.

In 1988 I worked on a number of oilstick drawings, which were an amalgamation of recurring dream images (ladders, the sea, the red-sailed boat, dolphins) before I finally settled on a theme and medium for my 1989 solo exhibition in Dublin. Ladders to the Sea, 77 cm x 57 cm, is one of these dream amalgamation drawings.

Wednesday, 8 February 2023

Rooftop archive 5 - Tidal Series

Continuing with the 1980s work from the rooftop archive (which I have previously blogged about here, here, here and here) I was delighted to see the pastel drawings from the Tidal Series. These drawings are all on paper 76 cm x 56 cm.

I specifically remember the summer night of 1986, in my apt in Toronto, feeling unsure of where my art was going now that I had finished my education. 

After a phone conversation with a good friend, however, I felt confident and invigorated and the drawings came to me, fast and furious, using both hands.

I did a purge of my work before I left Toronto in 1993 (again), so not all of the original pastel drawings survived.

In 1986 I had decided to create 27 paintings from these drawings before I turned 27 the following year. The large paintings (I got to 18 of them: 4 ft x 3 ft canvases) did not have the same vigour and I destroyed them all

I also did not keep all the pastels, just these 7 that tell the story. I always saw it as an animation and finally created a short animation related to the project several years ago. 

I have previously blogged about the Tidal Series here and have also blogged about the related collages and collage cards here and here.

With this work, I always felt indebted to and recognised the relation to Andrew Wyeth’s haunting painting Christina’s World, which I saw at the MoMA on my first trip to NYC in 1980.