Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Inktober 2019 first time, first week!

The past few years my offspring has been trying to get me to commit to participating in Inktober - where, following prompts, one creates an ink drawing every day in October and posts it on instagram. While I have good reasons not to participate (too busy on other projects!) I decided that this year I would commit to participation. As I have started the residency in the studio at Signal Arts Centre, I have made doing the Inktober sketch part of my daily studio routine: inktober sketch, instagram/facebook post, self-portrait, bookbinding work, printmaking work. The bookbinding and printmaking work at this point is mostly preparation, so the first month of my residency can afford the extra item in my routine.

The prompt for Day 1 was "ring" and I did a fairly quickish sketch of my wedding ring on my hand, using a Staedtler green pen and some yellow ink. The ring was designed and created by an artist friend, after the theft of my original band (which was simple and cheap).

The prompt for Day 3 was "bait" and I simply took off my earrings because they made me think of fishing flies, though if I had have thought about it before I left the house, I may have chosen something more feathery.

The prompt for Day 6 was "husky" and I chose to interpret this as vocal rather than the dog or a person. I thought of the beautiful, sexy, soulful, magnificent voice of Billie Holiday and then thought of her singing the amazing song "Strange Fruit". This song has been covered by many artists but Holiday's is the quintessential version that gives me goosebumps.

My residency morning routine has been (and no doubt will continue to be, for the month of October anyway) to follow the official Inktober prompt and create a sketch accordingly. After I have finished the sketch it is posted to my instagram account, which is linked to my facebook page. The point of the exercise for me is to actually SAY something, tell a story, reveal a thought or memory. This is most obvious perhaps in Day 7 where the prompt was "enchanted". Here is my sketch:

 and this is what I said about it: Day 7. Enchanted. By the cosmos mostly. Natural phenomena. And deep time. In 1981 I was nearly blinded watching 2 suns rise, an atmospheric illusion, above Lake Ontario. In 1990 I picked out Jupiter and 4 of its moons for the first time from a rooftop in Dublin. In the winter of 1992 the Aurora undulated like a huge red curtain over the Ottawa River. From a field outside Port Magee, in Southwest Kerry, in 1995, I saw Comet Hyakutake hanging like a sword in a spectacularly clear, star studded sky.

I am enjoying following this routine and will continue to do it this year. I won't commit to next October till I see what's happening with my other work.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Signal studio residency begins!

I made the decision awhile ago that during my studio residency at Signal Arts Centre this year  I would concentrate on printmaking and bookbinding. I am happy with my painting set-up in my home studio now, but had to pull my pasta-press from storage under the studio couch! I gathered my materials at the top of the stairs leading to my studio in order to start  For my progress information about last year's residency, look here, here, here, here, and here!

The first job for me was to do a good sweep of the place! I was asked if I wanted any of the large tables removed (there was one that wasn't there last year), but since I was planning on working differently than I did last year, I decided to wait till I moved things around before making decisions to remove furniture.

In the end I decided to keep all the furniture that was in the studio, I just had to move things around a bit.

I covered all the surfaces with kraft paper so I would have a fresh clean surface to start work on. I moved specific tables to specific spots to form my work stations for drawing, printing, bookbinding, paper cutting

 and of course a place to set my tea cup.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019


Since moving to Ireland in 1988, I became aware of a printmaking process that I had never heard about (printmaking was one of my courses in art school). My curiosity has peaked about the process of carborundum since I have become re-interested in printmaking over these past few years. I have looked at a number of courses and workshops, but usually they entail a night class or weekend workshop on the north side of Dublin -- something that would be difficult for me to travel to. So I completely jumped at the chance to attend a workshop being held by Trinity Arts Workshop, near the DART, and not starting till 10 am on a Sunday morning. The facilitator, Daniel Lipstein, outlined a course that would cover whatever aspects of printmaking prospective participants were interested in. I wrote to him, secured a place and he had a variety of plates ready for me to work on when I arrived.

Lipstein explained the process to me with the pre-prepared plates. A mixture of carborundum, a sandy powder, was mixed with pva glue and painted onto a plate (the plates were completely de-greased first with ammonia, water, and chalk powder). After thoroughly drying plates, a design was painted on with either oil paint or oil printing ink. The process was similar to monoprinting, and the first print pull would look simply like a monoprint. The second print would show off the carborundum texture.

The printing process is fairly quick, so I worked on a few of the ready-made plates during the class. The direction of the carborundum on this plate reminded me of the field in front of a house in which I used to live in Kerry, so I made Knockeen the subject of this print.

But I also had a go at mixing the carborundum with pva myself and

preparing my own plate by painting the carborundum/glue mix. It does need to dry thoroughly before painting with oils or ink, and unfortunately this plate only finally dried by the end of the workshop. However, I got a very thorough understanding of the process from the few hours, and look forward to another workshop in a couple of moths, where I can ink this up and print it as well as work on a few other processes that I want to re-visit.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Then & Now: Janet Mullarney at IMMA

A few weeks ago I was delighted to see the exhibition of sculptural work by Janet Mullarney in the hallowed halls of IMMA. Mullarney was one of the first contemporary Irish artists that really impressed me when I had seen an exhibition of hers at the Project Art Centre about 30 years ago!

Mullarney's figurative work straddles that precarious space between dream and reality, fact and fiction - a space close to my own heart.

I concur with IMMA's description of the exhibition: "Although the works presented are diverse in scale, form and materials, they clearly belong to the distinctive world of Mullarney's imagination. Her underlying concerns with the strangeness, darkness and fragility of the human condition also form a connecting thread." IMMA website

Looking at the pictures and thinking about Mullarney's work now, I see a positive affinity with the work of Louise Bourgeois, another artist that I admire.

Mullarney comes from a classically trained background (Florence, Italy) and divides her time between studios in Ireland and Italy. The exhibition brings together old and new work, though I was surprised NOT to see any of the work I remembered from that early Dublin show that had so impressed me. The exhibition runs till October 13 2019.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Tulip bowls

In previous blogs I have described the making of bowls and plates through handbuilding, rather than throwing on the wheel. One of my main projects this year, in the ceramics workshop, is to create a dinnerware set. Details of the large and small plates of the dinnerware set can be found here, here, here, and here. Here are two of the bowls for the set after I put the feet on them, using two thin semi-circular slabs.

When the four bowls (it is a quartet tableware set) came out of the bisque fire, I drew the tulip designs directly on them with a pencil. I talk about the bowls and my plans for glazing here.

I started with glaze painting the flowers - two different colours of yellow.

I glaze painted the leaves and stems with "tropic green" a speckly green that I particularly like, but I painted a coat of "apple green" over the stems as I wanted them to vary from the leaves, but still have that nice speckle.

Since a glaze fire was announced, I worked at getting one bowl completely glazed. The background and inside of the bowl are glazed with the same "speckled turquoise" that are on the plates.

I was very happy with the firing results of the bowl! I found out that the tropic green is one of the runnier glazes and really liked that gravity pulled it down a bit to accentuate the terracotta lines. I also enjoy the random dripping into the stem from the leaves.

Here is another view of the first finished tulip bowl. The "speckled turquoise" is a consistently beautiful colour and the interior of the bowl is very smooth.

Another view of the finished bowl! Once I finish glazing the other three bowls, I will start work on 4 mugs to complete the dinnerware set.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Farmleigh House - nagOffsite installation, Gallery 2

Since Farmleigh House Gallery consists of two separate rooms, I decided to blog about each room individually. Just as the nagOffsite exhibition was related to the nagOffsite exhibition in Rathfarnham Castle, so too was gallery one related to gallery two. Both galleries were warmly and dimly lit with spotlights highlighting the work; this warmth and lighting conducive to observation and contemplation.

Impossible to photograph, the elegant "weaving" paintings on wood panels by Kohei Nakata were precise and calming, the woodgrain providing a natural foil to the symmetry of the paintings and

the pearl paint lines having a fragile, gossamer feel.

I had seen some of Masashi Suzuki's gorgeous cha wan (tea bowl) ceramics in the Rathfarnham Castle exhibition, where they were primarily displayed in a cabinet, sitting atop their kiri bako boxes.

Here, Mark St John Ellis, exhibition curator, presented them to greater effect in specialised individual displays, with their boxes, of equal interest and beauty, integral to their display but at a greater distance from the bowls.

There is something about gold that I find attractive, and this piece was my favourite -- the bowl so obviously celebrating itself as hand-crafted in its asymetry and texture.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Farmleigh House Gallery - nagOffsite installation, Gallery 1

Although it was a hike to get there, a visit to Farmleigh House Gallery last week was a worthwhile delight. The Gallery is divided into two separate spaces, both of which were curated by Mark St John Ellis as a sister exhibition to the one I had seen a few weeks ago at Rathfarnham Castle, and blogged about here. As such I viewed the exhibitions as related, and thought of the similarities and differences between the two installations. While Farmleigh House is a historical building (also worth a visit), the gallery is contained in a completely renovated outbuilding, so it is a modern space. The intimacy of the two gallery spaces is pronounced by the dim ambient lighting (this photo has compensated for the dimness) and spotlighting of individual artworks.

Unfortunately there was no catalogue available for Gallery 1 on the day I went, but I was able to get some information, with a quick google search, from nag gallery's website here.

I was most interested in seeing the State Collection ceramics and recognised the work of Katharine West.

I specifically loved this ceramic vessel sculpture, which seemed like it had a gashed tire around its rim (this is, however, totally ceramic).

The interior glazing and spiral movement definitely made me think of a dizzying fall into the void.

As each work had its own spotlight in the dim room, it was easy to focus on the individual pieces, yet a work could always be viewed in relation to at least one other piece.

Noting the expanded clay technique of texturing this work, I knew there was a lightweightness to it despite its size. Another friend referred to this piece as a "hornet's nest" and its organic quality is a tactile pleasure for the eyes.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Rathfarnham Castle - nagOffsite installation

In June I had gone to a food festival in Rathfarnham and also to have a look at nearby Rathfarnham Castle - an Office of Public Works restored fortified house from the 16th century. While in the "castle" an art exhibition was being set up. I was able to see some of the works and my interest in the group exhibition was piqued enough to return recently, before the exhibition closed. The exhibition was curated by Mark St John Ellis of NAG Gallery, as one of nagOffsite installations, where the work complements and is complimentary to the historic space in which it is situated.

In the first room there is a curious archival box, by artist Kristina Huxley, which has tags and numbers and envelopes and poetry perhaps. I was told, on my June visit, that Huxley has catalogued dust from the building. This is a labour of love piece of work and I was able to extrapolate meanings from the process related to me as well as from the form of the work. On my return recent visit I was also glad that there was some information on the artists, the work, and the curator of the exhibition (Mark St John Ellis) and nagOffsite as a creative presentation entity. This room also included some ceramic ware and boxes by Masashi Suzuki that present the epitome of shibui aesthetic (modesty, naturalness, texture, spontaneity). The framed photographs displayed with Suzuki's work, show ceramics as items of contemplation.

Moving along into the larger "dining room" works by Kristina Huxley and Helena Gorey were placed on walls/faux walls and juxtaposed beautifully with the painterly deterioration of Rathfarnham Castle's actual walls.

There was also a table cabinet in this room which had Japanese Edo Period wrapping paper displayed next to one of Gorey's subtle watercolours. I do not agree with the assumption of worth by proximity, and I did not think Gorey's work fared well in this display, where the Japanese paper and calligraphy were far more interesting visually.

The next room had several table cabinets also, as well as an ambient sound piece by Elijah's Mantle and digital prints by Roseanne Lynch. I was most curious about Huxley's "Citizens of Dust" rolled paper drawings and balls that made me think of watching men in the south of France playing bowls on a hot day. I found out later that the spheres were made of wax and soot and were the same size as musket balls excavated from Rathfarnham Castle.

A nearby display table held more Japanese wrapping paper with calligraphy and a small sculpture of a Buddhist figure from the personal collection of John Hutchinson. The overall effect of these items within an exhibition of contemporary artists is to stress temporality - items of everyday use (wrapping paper) become items of art with time. There is an overall mood of contemplation and timelessness within the exhibition in its entirety.

In the last room encountered, the intimacy of the space is palpable. One is almost encircled by Jane Proctor's drawings (like being on a stage of an amphitheatre and being encircled by an audience) and their subtleties beg for closer inspection. The grid drawings resemble woven cloth, and one's eyes follow the meticulous warp and weft. This is contemplation at its finest, as one is virtually transported while looking at this work.

Also in this small room, is a table cabinet with another of Kristina Huxley's "Dustopia" boxes and a furoshiki package, the blue of its cloth highlighting the bit of colour in Huxley's box and
complementing the colour of Proctor's surrounding drawings.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

plattensbau studio - drawing workshop

At the end of July a friend and I had signed up for a drawing workshop given by the Berlin-based Irish artist/architect duo plattensbau studio (Jennifer O'Donnell & Jonathan Janssens). They had a short residency at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) to coincide with the group exhibition, A Vague Anxiety, of which they were a part. I hadn't seen the exhibition yet, so did not know what to expect, but they began the workshop with a presentation of their practice, which is arcitectural but always with a concern of the human presence.

The focus of the workshop was the fact that "IMMA Was A House", or rather, a home and hospital for veterans. The participants in the workshop would assist in the research of mapping signs of habitation at IMMA, specifically evidenced in the courtyard.

Each participant was provided with a clipboard containing an architectural drawing of the courtyard, markers, blank paper, and sticky dots. We were sent to the courtyard to observe... I was interested in the clock tower and sundial. Both used Roman numerals.

Details such as chimney pots (and a seagull preening beside a chimney pot), a window, curved features interested me.

My friend was walking around making her own observations. I wrote down a few words overheard...

I also marked the areas on the ground where there were circular and rectangular utility covers, on the provide architectural plan. I left this with plattensbau. There were large plans taking up several tables in the Project Space at IMMA, and it was here that after an hour or so the participants crowded around and added their observations. Afterwards there was a lively discussion about the evidence of habitation provided by observation. Before leaving IMMA, I and my friend made sure to have a look at the A Vague Anxiety exhibition, specifically because we wanted to have a closer look at the work of plattensbau in the context of the exhibition. Of most interest to me (though I could not find a proper picture of it - below. at the very bottom, only shows a partial image) was the to-size architectural drawing of O'Donnell's and Janssens' former flat in Dublin, but it included "things" in the flat (ie, the chopping board with carrots). It made me think of the archaeologically precise work that was done to bring the Francis Bacon studio from London and recreate it in Dublin some years ago.

The other work that plattensbau have in the exhibition is an architecturally rendered drawing of the apartment buildings, which are across from and identical to the apartment in which they live in Berlin. After seeing their presentation earlier, I was much more interested in taking a look at the signs of habitation in each apt - the differences between balcony furnishings, plants, etc. - rather than focusing on the bland buildings and the initial feeling of "sameness".