Wednesday, 3 August 2022

return to Toronto

 It's been awhile since I've been back to the city of my birth and youth, but a trip to North America brought me to Greater Toronto Area for a few days. I stayed with friends in Aurora and was surprised when a gift jewellery box that I had made years ago was pulled out for my perusal. I had absolutely no recollection of painting this tin, just a few inches in diameter. There was no identifiable signature or date, but it was most definitely my work and, because of the dream imagery, I estimate that I made it sometime between 1987 and 1992. The paint job has held up pretty well on whatever surface this tin originally provided!

This is actually the underside of the tin, though from the way the jewellery is placed within, I presume my friend prefers this side.

At my friend's house this miniature self-portrait has pride of place on a living room shelf. I do remember creating this, as part of a series of b&w selfies, while on holiday in Ireland in 1987. I used discarded postcards from an aunt's shop and my original intention was to post the pieces to various friends. I decided not to use the postal system as I was sure the paintings would get damaged.

On my final day in the city I went to Toronto Islands where some friends live on Ward's Island. It was a perfect way to spend a hot summer day, even getting in a swim in Lake Ontario - it's been a long time!

Friday, 22 July 2022

Printing on textiles - summer course at NCAD part 2

I previously blogged about the Introduction to Printing on Textiles course that I did a few weeks ago here. This is the second part of that account of my adventures at NCAD. I was thinking about French painter, Henri Rousseau, when I was figuring out imagery for my linen napkins. Here is one of his most famous paintings, The Dream.

After seeing the heat press demonstrations with foliage, I had an idea that I wanted the linen napkins to have a lush foliage design and I kept thinking of Rousseau's work. Here is another of his paintings showing what was in my mind.

I started out thinking that I wanted an overall background colour of green, so painted a sheet of newsprint (with the special ink for the heat press) that was roughly the same size as the napkins.

I used the negatives from the Yupo paper to block out the wild rose, and various bits of foliage to block out areas that I did not want the overall colour to go on. The Yupo paper, which is synthetic, melted in the heat press! But I decided it was an unnecessary precaution anyway as the fuschi screenprint of the wild rose was a stronger colour than anything to overlay it. I also decided that I didn't really like the white foliage areas, even if I did like the foliage shapes.

So I painted some other greens on newsprint and ripped pieces to make a sort of collage of colour, including cut-out leaf shapes and real foliage.

This random collage and colour was more satisfactory to my sensibility and my plans were then to just keep layering as I went along.

The class was a small group, so by time my collage layer was ready, the heat-press was free and it was my turn to do another sixty second countdown.

Up until it was time to clean up on the last day, I was working on my layers. I photographed the finished napkins on a bench outside the work room and the sun was absolutely streaming through the huge windows.

These pictures give some sense of the finished napkins. The colour seems fairly correct on the wild rose, but the individuality of all the foliage is easier to discern in real life.

As well as Rousseau for the foliage, I think I was also channeling Botticelli's Birth of Venus by having the silkscreened goddesses emerge from the wild rose. It was an intense, productive and fun week learning this process!

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Printing on textiles - summer course at NCAD part 1

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Introduction to Printing on Textiles week-long summer course at the National College of Art & Design (NCAD) in Dublin. The experienced, patient, wonderful and lovely tutor was artist Mel Bradley. On the first day she introduced the small class to heat press printing on synthetic fabrics so that we could gain some understanding of the possibilities of this process. The day was one of experimentation and fun!

On the second day Mel gave some demonstrations of silk-screening on fabric and how to create our own stencil designs using newsprint and/or Yupo paper (a more robust synthetic paper).

Mel's demonstrations, of course, made everything look so easy, but she was also using very simple techniques and basic shapes to prove that designs did not need to be complicated to be beautiful.

When I got to the class on Tuesday morning, Mel and her assistant, Tríona, were preparing workboards for everyone, which was soft on one side and covered with wipeable oilcloth, and hard wood on the other side for cutting. This is my workboard in my workspace before I started working!

I cut out a basic wild rose stencil from Yupo paper to be my basic screen image. I had brought in six linen napkins that I wanted to refresh with textile design and I also brought in four tiny silkscreens of archaeological goddess images from different cultures (for instance, an image of the Venus of Willendorf and  an image of an ancient Egyptian Venus) that I had prepared many years ago.

This is the wild rose silkscreened onto the first linen napkin. As you can see, the cloth must be taped down to the soft part of the workboard before screening.

Here are two napkins with both the image of wild rose and goddesses screened on them, hanging on the wall to dry completely before I do anything else to them.

Midweek I brought a few acetate rose leaf stencils into the class thinking I might use them. My husband had made these stencils when he was painting his suit jacket for our wedding in 1995. Here I used a hard round brush to stipple ink onto the linen through the stencil, but decided this process took too long and it wasn't actually what I had in mind for the napkins. Though I knew already that the heat press process and inks would not be as intense on natural fibres (such as linen) I decided that it was this process that I was most interested in and planned to spend the last two days with working on foliage to get all six napkins completed by the end of the course. I'll continue with the results on the next blog!

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Ceramics at Rathfarnham Castle

I was at Rathfarnham Castle a few weeks ago to see the ceramic exhbition, which was being held in the former old kitchens area of this historic house. 

Curated by Mark St John Ellis for nag gallery offsite exhibitons. the work is from the State Collection 

and beautifully placed in the new exhibition areas of the former kitchens.

Each piece had it's own well-lit space from which to examine it in all its glory.

Some pieces were placed in the individual storage areas. Though obviously one could not walk around these works, they seemed to belong where they were placed. The ceramic pieces inhabited their individual cubby holes - they were not simply "shelved".

The apparent roughness of specific pieces worked well in the raw environment of this part of the castle, The ceramics both evoke and echo the nature of a kitchen as a place of warmth, nourishment and activity.

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

RHA Annual Exhibition - part 2 of 2

I gave a general overview of this year's RHA Annual Exhibition in my post here, but I also wanted to post a few pix of works that stood out for me among the plethora of excellent artworks.

Although the first gallery room seemed chock-a-block with work, the hanging seemed very thoughtful as works definitely were in some sort of conversation and subtle echoes of each other. One of my friends who was viewing the exhibition on a repeat basis noted that visitors spent more time in this first room, before they really realised how huge the exhibition actually was. I tried to hurry my pace. In one corner I noted a large drawing, a self-portrait, by Imogen Stewart, a grand dame of the Irish art world. She is a notable sculptor and, indeed, the drawing was very sculptural in form. One of her sculptures is in the foreground of this picture. Also in the corner was a drawing and some sculpture by Danny Osborne. I had some familiarity with his fascinating work in lava casting because he had been on an Umha Aois project with my husband a few years ago.

My foray to the RHA was brought about by the desire to see Judy Foley's new work in the flesh. Through the delicacy and clarity of her images of body implants, she subverts traditional icon painting techniques (egg tempera and gold leaf triptych) to boldly make statements of the fragility of humanity versus godliness. I have followed Foley's work for a number of years and have previously written about it for CIRCA online magazine here.

After being introduced to Myra Jagos work at the recent "Show and Tell" at Signal Arts Centre, I was looking forward to seeing her painting in the flesh too. I wrote about the Signal event in a previous blog, here.

In one of the large rooms upstairs, there was a whole wall full of small prints. It was here that the tiny self-portrait etching of Daniel Lipstein leapt off the wall to my eyes in recognition. I had met Lipstein a number of years ago when he was giving open printmaking workshops at Trinity Arts Workshop. Not only was this pre-pandemic, but it was pre-policy change - shortly after Lipstein demystified carborundum printing for me (I had never heard of this process till I came to Ireland!), TAW decided that their workshops would no longer be open (albeit paying) to anyone who was not affiliated in some way to Trinity College. Since I am not, I could no longer attend the workshops. Boo, hiss, on Trinity Art Workshop!


I noticed this larger woodblock print and recognised the work of Kate MacDonagh, who gave an artist talk via Zoom last year, hosted by Graphic Studio Dublin. I had also virtually attended MacDonagh's artist talk on the mokuhanga technique (Japanese traditional woodblock printing) of which she is a virtuoso, through the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown arts office.

Susan Early is also associated with Graphic Studio Dublin. She is the education outreach administrator there (from whom I get loads of e-information on artist talks and courses) and also a printmaker. I was unable to attend her recent Zoom artist talk (thank you GSD for holding these talks throughout the lockdowns and continuing them into the foreseeable future!) but look forward to seeing the recording when it is available. GSD has a YouTube page so previous artist talks can accessed here.

I also recognised the work of Stephen Lawlor from a GSD artist talk and likewise the work of

Ailbhe Barrett (though this print stood out anyway to me, for its ethereal atmosphere).

Speaking of ethereal atmosphere, I loved this intimate painting by Anne Magill.

I thought, when I first saw them on the wall, that this tiny work and a companion piece by the same artist, Bernadette Madden, were colourful, miniature paintings but then realised that with all the sold red dots beside them, they were in fact prints - silkscreen. Gorgeous! it is really inspiring to see so much fantastic work by fantastic artists - my blog is just touching the tip of the iceberg, and in any case a quick pic taken with a phone is nothing compared to the live experience of seeing the actual work. I have my gripes against the RHA, but I can't fault the work being shown there.

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Work in Public Collections!

In 1991, while I still lived in Toronto, I began a series of works which later fell under the collective title My Tower of Strength. I took the title from part of the motto on my family's coat of arms (deliberately leaving out the reference to god). The series of works were based on both secular and ecclesiastical window ruins throughout Ireland and I exhibited the first group of paintings in the first "Me & 9 Others" exhibition in Cedar Ridge Creative Centre in Scarborough, Canada in 1992. When I re-emigrated to Ireland the following year, I had already expanded on the series and brought the paintings with me. I continued with this series and exhibited the paintings and works on paper throughout the country over the next 4-5 years. 

When I dropped off a work recently bought by the Office of Public Works for the State Art Collection, I was asked by the person in the storage area if it was my first piece bought by the OPW. I was able to say "no" as I remember the day in 1996 when I was so excited to get a call from Jacquie Moore (the Art Advisor for the State) asking if a certain painting was still available for purchase. However, at this time I was unable to remember exactly which painting from this series was in the State Collection - no problem! The person in the storage area was able to reference my name and find the piece: The Holly and the Oak, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 91.5 cm, 1992. The window here is structurally (it's been a long time since I've used anything resembling BROWN paint!) based on a medieval church ruin on the side of Bray Head (Raheenacluig, ie, the Church of the Little Bell). At the time I remember reading a book about mythology and rebirth, The Oak King and The Holly King, which most certainly influenced my work.

I am not sure exactly when, but at a Canada Day celebration in the late 1990s I met the Canadian director of Microsoft World Products Group, Ireland and found out there was a company art committee, made up of employees, that bought works regularly for the company's collection. She suggested I send information about my work and some slides. I did so and two of my paintings were bought. I know one that was bought is an oilstick figure drawing from my first solo exhibition in Dublin (but I don't have a photo of it!) and the other is from the My Tower of Strength series. Raheenacluig Light, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 91.5 cm, 1992.

Several later pieces (dawn as opposed to night colours) from this series sold to a private collector in the US, but in 2005, in a case of being in the right place at the right time I sold a number of works to the Health Services Executive (HSE). I was fortunate to be working there part time as they were moving premises to a purpose-built office in Bray and needed artwork for the Board Room in a hurry. I was happy to oblige by first showing off my website, and then arranging delivery of a number of works from which they could choose after in-person perusal. To my surprise and delight they chose several pieces, among which were yet two more early My Tower of Strength paintings. Apple Light, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 91.5 cm, 1992 and

Glendalough Gift, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 91.5 cm. The window ruin on which Apple Light is based is from a castle north of Dublin and Glendalough is my favourite monastic ruin in Ireland. It is in Wicklow, less than an hour south of where I live and that window is structurally based on the largest church ruin there.

As a bonus, I also gave the HSE buyers a framed painting on paper, which was originally placed in the Director's office though later moved to the Board Room with the others. I am just not sure which one I gave them - it might have been this one: Window at Kilcoole, acrylic on paper, 76 cm x 56 cm, 1992 or

Leacanabuile Fort, acrylic on paper, 56 cm x 76 cm, 1992. Window at Kilcoole acted as a sketch for a future painting with a raven flying in the window, and Leacanabuile Fort became one of my favourite ruins when I lived near to it in 1993-1996. When I did the large sketch I had been on holidays in Southwest Kerry and didn't realise then that I'd soon be living there!

What especially delighted me about the HSE sale was that they chose my largest and, at the time, more recent piece for their collection. This painting of tulips in the throes of their final glory is one of two custom-built oversize canvas and stretchers that I had made in the early noughties. It was a no-brainer to get these made from a carpenter who offered them fairly cheaply, but unfortunately for me he didn't stay in that business too long. Tulips, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 183 cm, 2001.

In 2007 I put in a proposal to create several possible mosaics as part of a % for art callout from the HSE's St John's Community Hospital in Enniscorthy. I definitely learned something from attending the site meeting: the hospital selection committee was looking to expand their collection and wanted to commission several artists to do smaller works, rather than one artist to create a large piece that would take up the entire budget. I complied to this brief by offering plans for a variety of works as single pieces, diptychs or triptychs and a single piece was selected. Gorse, glass mosaic on marine ply, 100 cm x 72 cm, 2008. It was installed before the walls were finished so that it is a fully integrated part of the room in which it is located.

Around 2010, Europol (European Policing Agency) was looking for 2D artworks to hang in its new headquarters to be built in The Hague. It held a Europe-wide open competition in which an artist could propose one work for its new headquarters. I proposed this untitled piece from 1984 (though of course, as is the way I work, it was part of a larger series where the hand gestures act metonymously for the entire body) and was delighted it was accepted. The 54.5 cm x 37 cm mixed media work on paper was couriered over to The Netherlands in 2011 to be installed before the new premises officially opened. 

Earlier this year, in the final days of Memory Is My Homeland at Rathfarnham Castle (for a virtual tour of the exhibition on this blog see here, here and here), I received an email from Jacquie Moore of the OPW. Was a certain piece still available for purchase for the State Collection? Indeed it was! Kingston Road: Waiting, acrylic on pressed cloth, 76 cm x 102 cm, 2021. The image is based on a self-portrait photograph from the mid-1980s, where I was sitting in my east-end Toronto apartment in front of the window. The curtains depicted in the painting were initially a component (painted sheer net curtains) in an installation about "home" that I had created for one of my classes at York University, from where I had received a BFA in 1986. After I graduated I continued to use the curtains - as curtains - in various apartments. When I came across that photo I felt it really related to my current work and decided to paint a painting within a painting. I liked using the pressed cloth as a ground because it is a material that is used for roller blinds, thus has the relation to windows and domesticity that is appropriate for this body of work.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

RHA Annual Exhibition - part 1 of 2

It has been many years since I attended the annual exhibition at the RHA in Dublin, so it really took me by surprise just how much work there was to see! 

I couldn't help but be impressed by the quality of the work also, it wasn't just quantity.  

The first room downstairs seemed the most orderly in the way it was hung - pieces seemed to relate to one another in a thematic, colour or movement type of way and this was a satisfying way to look at work, though I would have preferred more space around individual works.

Each work deserved way more time than I gave it -- the first couple of rooms really won out when it came to my attention, but it was somewhat overwhelming to know that there were several huge rooms waiting upstairs...

I don't even have a picture of the large hall which was chock-a-block with small works, mostly paintings, skyed almost to the ceiling. The stairwell seemed to be dedicated to the work of one ARHA member. The room full of prints asked for closer attention to individual pieces and I was only able to give this attention if something stood out and/or was familiar - in that I have taken several printmaking classes over the past few years and participated in a number of zoom artist talks during the pandemic so recognised the work of particular artists.

While I object to and don't participate in open exhibitions where the artist has to make a payment, I find the RHA Annual Exhibition somewhat distasteful in that there are three distinct tiers: ARHA (part of the club!) members are ENTITLED to exhibit several pieces of work, for whatever reason some artists are INVITED to exhibit, and the rest (about 2/3) PAY a fee to enter. Competition is high and not everyone is accepted, but it sure is a huge batch of cream! Regardless of my personal opinion, within Ireland exhibiting at the RHA Annual Exhibition is considered a privilege and an honour.

ALL of the work in the exhibition is worth taking the time to see. I will do another post on individual pieces that I paid the most attention to. The exhibition runs till July 24.