Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Kingston Road: Waiting - painting finished!

I thought that the large Knockeen was going to be the last painting in this series, but then I had some ideas to do a few more, so got to work. The first of the new paintings was also going to be the largest, but considerably smaller than Knockeen and Kingswood. I decided I wanted the works to be stretched and in doing so discovered that pressed cloth is a lot more difficult to stretch than canvas! However, I do like the  unpredictability of painting on this material and think it is appropriate to the concept of memory as being sometimes blurry and unreliable, so I carried on.

I started painting, as usual, by working out the composition in yellow. I fully expect some of the yellow lines to show through in the final work and like the idea of revealing the process as I go along.

In the mid 1980s, when I lived in Toronto, I had a bachelor apartment on Kingston Rd, not far from where I grew up. Though this apt was technically in Scarborough, it was only several blocks away from Toronto, and about a 20 minute walk downhill to Lake Ontario. I was in my final years of university at the time. For an installation I was working on I painted sheer curtains, and it is those painted sheers that are hanging up in the windows (as they did) behind the figure.

The figure is, of course, a representation of the younger me, and the red checked table-cloth over my all-purpose folding card table had to make an appearance.

What I refer to as a "small" painting is relative, as is obvious by this working picture. That's Kingswood on the wall behind; I unrolled it and hung it over Knockeen, then covered the two with plastic sheeting so they wouldn't get spattered accidentally while I worked on the smaller easel paintings.

The painting in its final days. The xmas lights were a year-round thing, just as they are now in my house, though fairy lights are much smaller.

The finished painting -
Kingston Road: Waiting, acrylic on pressed cloth, 76 cm x 102 cm, 2021 

For all previous works from the Memory Is My Homeland series, please do a simple search within this blog (I have made many posts of the works in progress and completed). Also, the origins of this project may be found under the label The Home Project, as I called it when I hadn't yet decided on a name for the work.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Pathos - exhibition at Rathfarnham Castle

I was initially planning to write something about the Pathos exhibition last week to follow up on my post about the Diana Copperwhite exhibition that was showing at Rathfarnham Castle at the same time. However, I got sidetracked by the Pluid: National Comfort Blanket exhibition at Farmleigh House, which I thought deserved more urgent attention. Anyway, I blogged about Diana Copperwhite's exhibition here, so now I will continue where I left off.

This is an overview of the Pathos group exhibition in the "Pistol Room", which is just off the larger rooms on the first floor where Copperwhite's work is displayed. I am not sure of the point of the show's title because, other than one particular piece of an empty room, I did not think the work largely connected me to feelings of pity or sadness.

This exhibition consisted of small works, appropriate to the size of the room and I like it when the false walls are arranged at angles to each other. I chose to look at the work in a clockwise direction.

 On the first false wall were two paintings by Sinéad ni Mhaonaigh (left) and a framed watercolour by Alice Maher (right). I am always pleased to see Maher's sensitive drawings, and the small watercolour entitled The Glorious Maid of the Charnel House, from 2016, was easily my favourite piece in the show.

At first I thought this piece did not belong in the show at all - the graphic simplicity of it made me think of an album cover or high class graffiti art. But after several looks at the posterised image I began to laugh. I had never heard of the Canadian artist or art collective, Royal Art Lodge, and was curious about the meaning of Chickens. There are definitely two stylised human images as well as the chicken itself but the context eludes me.

The final, largest display wall has a disparate grouping of paintings and a wall sculpture on the end wall. Again, I am not sure what brought these works together under the title, but it was an interesting little exhibition. 

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Pluid - The National Comfort Blanket

This week I had intended to write about the other exhibition, Pathos, at Rathfarnham Castle, but after seeing the Pluid exhibition on Sunday, I decided it was a priority because it is a fundraiser in which all of the works may be viewed here and many are available for auction in aid of Pieta House, a charity with a mandate for suicide prevention. I blogged about the Pluid Project back in April of this year when I decided to get involved; you can see that post here. While the initial intention of the project was to create a National Comfort Blanket where the individual contributions would be sown together into one giant work, it soon became apparent to the organisers, Claire Halpin and Madeleine Hellier, that both the variety of media and the number of artworks involved would make this an impossible task. Instead, the numbered works were laid out on a long platform and visitors to the exhibition could make their way around the table to view the squares.

Looking up the tables at the multitude of contributions! Admittedly it was a little overwhelming but also gorgeous to see. The two monoprints I submitted, Rosehips and Wild Rose (#81 & #82), are visible towards the bottom centre.

The brief was completely up to the contributing artist to interpret: so a 6 inch square encompassed both 2D and 3D work and any medium that could be thought of was used! I was particularly drawn to Ciara O'Connor's stitch-drawing image of a parent and child making pasta together.

There were three primary schools that took part in this project: Fairview NS (Dublin), Holy Family NS (Monkstown) and Gaelscoil Nás na Ríogh (Naas). This picture also shows a variety of textile-based work: knitting, crochet, felting, beadwork and quilting. 

Jenny Mahony's limestone sculpture (centre) is a beautiful example of a fully 3D artwork in the exhibition. As #56 - an early piece to arrive at Pluid headquarters - it certainly shows how impossible it would have been to stitch the works together as a literal blanket!

2D work took the form of painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and various types of printmaking. There were a few examples of sun-printed cyanotypes. The print at centre-right is by Val O'Regan.

I was thrilled to see a ceramic piece in the exhibition by Orla Kaminska (upper left), whose work I had seen at the annual Ceramics Ireland exhibition at Rathfarnham Castle in June (I blogged about that exhibition here). I was delighted to discover that Fungi (centre right), the beautifully debossed and gold leaf embellished hand-bound book by Fiona O'Grady, was a blank sketchbook! As someone who enjoys bookbinding myself it is such a treat to see what techniques another artist is using.

This picture again shows a variety of works in different media and techniques: painting, felting, photography, crochet and stitching. The gold embroidery on denim is an extremely delicate drawing of wild garlic by Mairéad Harrington, which to her were a comforting sign of spring. As I have wild garlic growing annually below the fuschia hedge in my front yard (from which I make pesto each spring), I delighted in this piece.

In many of my own art pieces I have referred to my "dream boat": an image of a red-sailed boat in the ocean that first appeared to me in a dream and which I have come to associate with my self. Seeing this marker drawing of the red-sailed boat (centre) by Laura Geragerthy brought a true smile to my masked face, like meeting an old friend.

Human touch, both painted and photographed, like these photos (top, black and white) by Joshua Sullivan, has such strong associations during this time of "social distancing". Hugging and holding hands, when possible, have become far more important and nuanced than at any other time in our lives. I was also delighted to see the mokuhanga print of Kate McDonagh. Stillness (centre) "reflects the solace [she] found in the quiet skies throughout the Pandemic particularly [during] the first lockdown when no planes were flying." I became acquainted with McDonagh's practice during one of Graphic Studio Dublin's "Artist Beyond the Studio" series of lockdown remote artist talks a few months ago. A recording of it can be watched here.

Comfort in nature was another theme found in various forms throughout the "blanket". I was particularly drawn to the bog cotton works by Pamela DeBrí. I used to live rurally in Kerry and the field next to me was where I first saw bog cotton, a sight which I thought wonderful and beautiful. It was a joy to see both the photograph of a cotton field and the real things immortalised on rag paper.

This picture shows varying 3D works by different artists. I enjoyed Grant McEwen's stainless steel Jigsaw Time (reflecting the overhead beams of the cowshed) and it gave my family the opportunity to do a squishy masked selfie. In front of McEwen's piece is the blue origami and graph paper work, Blue Pavilion, by Helen Barry and beside that is Nourishment, a driftwood and copper piece by Helen OBrien. Nearby I was struck by the altarpiece quality of Michelle Boyle's The Sun Rises in Spite of Everything, a mixed media work that includes gold leaf, granite and découpage elements to create something mystical. To the right of Boyle's work is a blue glass abstract landscape work, Bay, by Barbara Keneally.

There were a surprising number of glass works submitted and I was particularly drawn to the colourful works (centre) of Maresa Edwards, which were based on her daily walking routes.

Obviously it is impossible for me to feature every worthy artwork here - there are more than 1200 works! - so please look at the auction website, here, to view individual works and find out more about the artist's response to the theme of comfort. Altogether it is quite amazing how much thought and work and expression can go into a six inch square. Each artwork is so individual and so human - this is truly a project that has shown the depth of feeling that individuals are willing to show during this extraordinary time and to share their comfort with others. Brava Claire and Madeleine for intiating this project! Thank you.

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Diana Copperwhite at Rathfarnham Castle

From Aug 14 to Sept 26 an exhibition of recent work by Diana Copperwhite is (or was, depending on when you might be reading this!) at Rathfarnham Castle. After seeing an artist talk (part of a weekly series from Graphic Studio Dublin during lockdown) where Copperwhite presented her art practice, I was curious to see her work in the flesh. As with the other GSD artist talks, recordings can be seen on YouTube (GSD has its own channel); the recording of Diana Copperwhite's presentation can be viewed here. Because of Covid protocols, it is a good idea to ring Rathfarnham Castle in advance to let them know when you wish to see the exhibition. There is easy signage to direct you in viewing the exhibition though there was no one else there when I attended.  Although I could see work near the bay windows of the large Dining Room I followed the floor arrow through the door to the long Saloon where most of Copperwhite's work was displayed. Her work draws the viewer in because of its intense colour. I was surprised to find that the large curtain was not a draping painting, but actually an industrial print of a painting onto a large curtain!

Other than the large drape, most of the work was on paper and exemplary of Copperwhite's signature style. Since I am having an exhibition of my own work at the Castle next spring, I am also checking out how artist's are displaying their work in the rooms. From previous visits I know their is a lovely fireplace being covered up by that false display wall and will specifically not want this wall used in my exhibition. The beauty of Rathfarnham Castle lies in the architecture and history (that door on the right of the picture below is curved to work with the curved wall, there is plasterwork and paintings in situ on the ceiling!).

Although I have only seen Copperwhite's paintings as part of that artist talk a few months ago, I find I prefer these works on paper to those that she showed in the presentation, which were on canvas. 


Using a mix of watercolour and acrylic, Copperwhite is showing more versatility: there are both soft, transparent areas and harder, more solid areas playing off each other providing an interesting tension.

While the  arrows directed me to the Pistol Loop Room, the work there is not Copperwhite's, it is a group exhibition that I will post pictures of next week. I doubled back to the Dining Room and saw the final two pieces beside the bay windows. 

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Knockeen - finished painting!

I think it was the first week of August that I declared (to myself) that Knockeen was finished and I signed it without further ado. It is a painting that I have been working on for most of this year and I blogged progress reports fairly regularly; you can see the painting's development here, here, here and here.

So here is a picture of the whole painting! Knockeen, acrylic on pressed cloth, approx 228 cm x 200 cm, 2021. I made some changes from the original composition sketch, which you can see here. The red and blue calla lilies reference a dream I had shortly before the death of my father in 1995. While I had not seen real calla lilies till I moved to Kerry, on rural lawns the flowers were always white. I talk about painting those dream flowers here.

Here is a detail from the left side.

This is another detail from the left side. I had decided very early on that I wanted to include a section of the night sky, because the sighting of Comet Hyakutake in 1996 in a completely clear Kerry night sky was amazing! I had also seen René Magritte's painting, Empire of Light, at the Peggy Guggenheim gallery in Venice a couple of years ago, and loved this possibility of painting day and night at the same time. I have previously painted Hyakutake in Knockeen and posted images here and here. (NB in the first link I mis-identify the comet as being Hale-Bopp, which saw in Bray.)

This is a detail from the right side of the painting. I have also used the image of the house and field gate at Knockeen in prints, which you can see here and here. The small gate divided the house from the field in front of it. Sometimes the cows were in it, but more often they were in the field behind or around the house, where they trampled our garden attempts, ate half the straw welcome mat and, no doubt, getting up to mischief in the cramped space behind the shed...

Although only at Knockeen for a year and a half, it was a very creative time for both my husband and myself.

Here is a detail at the bottom of the painting - fuchsia and wild roses are quintessientally Kerry to me.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Bite The Hand That Feeds You

 A few weeks ago I went to Rathfarnham Castle to see the PhotoIreland Festival group exhibition Bite The Hand That Feeds You. In that very large space I was delighted to see that the exhibition was a smaller group show than I expected, where each artist was given ample room to stage individual installations of work around this year's themes (food consumption & human-animal relationships being the bigger ones). The first installation that one comes across (due to Covid the system of masked movement is, understandably, very particular) is by Finnish artist Hertta Kiiski. Milky Way consists of goods (cloth and clothing) that reference her video (not in the picture below) of two very bored looking teens, dressed alike and cradling large, oddly-shaped, clear bottles of milk, which they periodically drank from. There was no dialogue in the video (at least while I was watching) and the ennui was infectious, so I did not stay for the duration. I definitely had the sense of teen insecurity (in the way the bottles were cradled), boredom, and the ability to consume as something to be taken for granted. I assumed this was cow's milk as opposed to human milk and it highlights that, perhaps somewhat dubious, human-animal relationship where human's are the beneficiaries of an animal product.

In the next room one is also confronted with the treatment of animals, again cows, in the large digital data drawings of Dániel Szalai, Unleash Your Herd's Potential. Using assorted surveillance and computer techniques, Szalai brings to the fore a number of issues concerning the human-animal relationship. 

However, I have to admit, that it was the imagery and painterliness of these computer drawings that attracted me to this work.

Accompanying these works is the strange-seeming abstract floor sculpture; this, however, is a piece constructed from actual shapes of salt cow-licks and brings the element of reality into this hi-tech installation.

Sharing the room with Szalai was Overlapping Histories, a mixed media installation by Gê Viana.

The video seems to be of the artist setting up a posed National Geographic style "authentic" cultural photograph, which is included and enlarged within the installation. There are clearly doubts about any authenticity, but also concerns about colonisation and cultural appropriation raised. While it is a thoughtful piece, I found it difficult to engage with.

Almost as an afterthought, Tuna by Sheng-Wen Lo, was placed in the same room as these two larger installations and really seemed out of place. According to the accompanying didactic, Lo's game is concerned with sustainability and the available bottle of hand sanitizer next to the video game attested to the fact that this was a hands-on piece. However, I found nothing in its presentation to tempt me to give it a go.

The smallest room allowed for Hans van der Meer to present a video, book, and related photographs of cows together as a single entity, Time to Change. The video, in which cows, in turns, enter a hoisting machine in order to have their hooves shorn/scaled for hygienic, health and safety purposes. The most interesting thing I found about watching this rather hypnotic process was that the cows did not in the least mind the noise (an angle grinder!) or being lifted from the ground by the machine, legs manoevred neatly in order to accommodate the human doing the work. Other sections of the video showed the cows systematically ignoring automated processes - the cows just went about their business as various machines went about theirs!

The wall of photographic portraits of these cows presents them in all their glory: ready for sale, for work (milking, procreation) or consumption (prime beef). The cows themselves do not really seem fussed at all - are they condescending or dumb?

The final, large room contained two installations. Spinebone Soup and Stuffed Rabbits by Ksenia Yurkova is a large, multi-media humorous installation where the seemingly innocuous concept of the recipe takes on absurd dimensions. From transparent, impossible and confusing recipes hung from a complex free-standing framing system (where ingredients may include sawdust and glue) to a vox pop video, where topics include thoughts on the point/pointlessness of meat flavoured substitutes for vegetarians and vegans to the possibility of growing meat scientifically from human tissue to end world hunger. I do not know if Yurkova's video was scripted and staged or a genuine vox pop, but it most certainly provokes a reaction of ethical proportions as one tries to figure out one's own answers to some of the queries. While the overall piece delves into the absurd and comical, it has a fundamentally serious edge.

The final piece before exiting the exhibition was Alan Phelan's A World Looted. The hexagonal pillar with light emanating from  some of its planes provided a TARDIS-like curiosity seen from the corner of my eye while viewing the previous installation.

On closer inspection, those back-lights illuminated individual Joly photographs* set within the pillar. Phelan's photographs are concerned with specific global, corporate fruit controversies highlighting concerns of how fruit is produced, consumed and the ethics of globalisation and colonisation.

While the display's execution is pristine, if it weren't for the didactic and the titles of individual pieces (such as Pineapple: let's depopulate and extract profit to make the perfect pineapple) I wouldn't have had a clue what Phelan's work was about.

*This explanation of "Joly photographs" was written on a didactic at the exhibition: This is a method of colour photography developed in the 1890s by John Joly, a physics professor at Trinity College, Dublin. It is an additive colour method, with a striped red, green and blue (RGB) colour screen placed in front of the film in-camera on exposure and then again on display. Colour information is recorded on black and white film and rendered as a colour image when the screen and film are put together. The film is processed as a positive and so what is displayed is the film that was in the camera, not a print or reproduction.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Memory Is My Homeland prints - part 2 of 2

This is the second blog to feature linoprints that I made towards the end of last year. I blogged part 1 last week, which can be seen here. The unique prints on silk fibre sheets (that I made last fall during my studio residency at Signal Arts Centre) will be included in my exhibition next spring, Memory Is My Homeland, at Rathfarnham Castle.

This image of a clothes peg developed from my thoughts of living with my Mum and Dad in Bray in the late 80s and early 90s. Living with them as an adult was so completely different than growing up with them as my "parents". We each seemed to understand that there was now a person to person relationship and sharing household chores was part of this new, gratifying dynamic.

Clothes Peg, linoprint on Fabriano Tiepolo paper, edition of 10, image size: 6cm x 7.5cm, 2020

I added some mauve threads as inclusion to the silk fibre sheet when I was making it. 

silk fibre sheet size: approx 21cm x 27cm

In 2017 I wrote a fictionalised account of a specific incident that happened when I and one of my sisters were caring for my Mum the previous year, shortly before her death. Prayers for My Children was published by the online journal, Tales from the Forest, and can be read here. For me the image of rosary beads was a strong one and I cut a lino block with both the incident and the story in mind.

Prayers for My Children, linoprint on Fabriano Tiepolo paper, edition of 10, image size: 6cm x 7.5cm, 2020

I did not use any dyes for the silk sheet I printed the image onto, but I there are small torn paper (acid-free) inclusions.

I loved the gate between our second house in Kerry, near Portmagee, and the field in front of the house. The gate itself was white picket with a blue glass ball on the pillar-post on one side. My husband had dug up two wild rose plants from the roadside hedge across from our first Kerry abode in Kell's Bay and planted them on either side of the gate. When we left there and moved back to Bray a year and a half later, the roses were dug up again, waited for several years in pots and finally transplanted in the garden of our more permanent house now.

Field Gate, Knockeen, linoprint on Fabriano Tiepolo paper, edition of 10, image size: 6cm x 7.5cm, 2020

I added some blue pigment to the silk sheet when I was making it.
silk fibre sheet size: approx 22 cm x 27 cm

One of my earliest memories as a toddler (maybe two years old?) is using the chain fence - that divided the surrounding sidewalk from the lawn in front of the first house where I lived in Toronto - as a swing. For the longest time I thought this must be a false memory as it didn't make any sense to me. When I was in my 20s, however, I passed by the house while on a streetcar in downtown Toronto and saw the exact type of chain fence that I remembered. It was a low barrier, maybe a foot high, made of sturdy chains that curved to small posts at regular distances in front of the gardens of a row of houses. Only a very small child could possibly use this as a swing and obviously I must have!

I put both green threads and torn bits of paper as inclusions when making this raw silk fibre sheet.

image size: 6cm x 7.5cm
silk fibre sheet size: approx 21 cm x 26 cm