Wednesday 31 December 2014

On the Cusp of the New Year!

New Year's is always a time for both looking back and looking forward. Mostly I like to look forward, but looking at the frost on the fuschia hedge surrounding my tiny front garden, I can't help but look back. I have been in Ireland for 21 years, and my remembrances of snow at winter time do not include being able to see so much greenery! So even with a sugary layer of frost yesterday morning and the morning before I am well aware of my location.

This fuschia hedge was planted twelve years ago, when we moved to this little house in Bray after the birth of our daughter. The hedge was an amalgamation of numerous types of fuschia - cuttings taken from various garden hedges we came across, hybrid houseplants, and cuttings from the wild fuschia hedgerows from Kerry, where we lived rurally for our first three years in Ireland. The wild Kerry fuschia has overgrown the other, tamer varieties and our hedge is quite large. Our daughter has also grown, starting secondary school this year, and certainly developing into quite the young woman. I look forward into a challenging year ahead for all of us. Happy New Year and all the best for a healthy and safe 2015.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Happy Christmas!

The Irish Times had a competition about Christmas baubles, and after we did the tree decorating, I entered this picture. My Mum had given me the pink ball, along with a number of other family decorations, when she and my Dad returned to Ireland in 1983. She had initially received the decoration from her Mum when she emigrated to Canada in 1958 and remembers the decoration from her own childhood -- it has certainly stood the test of time! I brought the decoration with me in 1993 when I firmly moved to Ireland myself and it has been on my tree annually since then. I didn't win the competition, but must have been a runner-up as my picture and blurb were printed in the newspaper on Monday with only a few of the other entries.

Every time I bake something for xmas, I think it is the last thing I have to bake. My traditions though seem to never end! Yesterday I made the butter tarts, which have become an annual taste event for a few years now.

As if we don't have enough Christmas traditions in our house, I have watched a number of candy cane making videos and am seriously thinking of co-opting this as a tradition for future years! I thought this video particularly good as it gave the recipe and the woman is making them in a regular kitchen. They are truly home made!

"Ingredients: (this made 15 decent size candy canes, filled one jar with small candies, and still had some left over)

700g sugar
300g glucose syrup (corn syrup)
1/3 - 1/2 cup of water
1 teaspoon of cream of tartar (can be left out if you can't find it)
1-2 teaspoons of peppermint extract/essence
Red food colouring

Will keep for a couple of days. Keep away from humid spots. I stored mine in the fridge :) "

Happy Christmas and a Healthy & Safe New Year!

Wednesday 17 December 2014

My Hero - Col Chris Hadfield, Canadian Astronaut

Last Sunday I went with my daughter and husband to Eason's, Dundrum Town Centre, to meet and get our books signed by Col Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut. Col Hadfield has been up in the International Space Station three times, including being the station commander on his last tour of duty (ended May 2013). Along with millions of other people, I first became aware of Hadfield through his version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" which he sung from the ISS (I have previously posted it). He was really interested in spreading the word about space exploration and posted many short videos to YouTube to answer questions about life in space - here are two of my favourites:

How do you sleep in space?

How do you brush your teeth in space?

A few weeks ago, in anticipation of the book signing, we picked up Hadfield's latest book "You Are Here". It is a coffee-table book of photographs of the earth from the ISS. Apparently it is Hadfield's favourite selection (from 45,000 that he took!) of views that he would like to show his best friend.

Last February I gifted my husband Hadfield's autobiography so we also took it along with us to be signed.

The Irish Times had reported on the book signings of "Ireland's Favourite Astronaut" so the queue was lengthy. Hadfield though is so personable, happily willing to have his picture taken with everyone, shaking hands, and writing personal dedications that it was well worth the wait to meet him and a big thrill! He is donating his profits from "You Are Here" to the International Red Cross.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Pre-Christmas Cooking!

While technically I began my xmas cooking in September, as I made quite a bit of damson chutney and knew I would be giving some of it away, the idea of xmas cooking really begins when I start the puddings - once Hallowe'en is over and done with. My husband was also decanting the plum liqueur around this time, so with all the leftover fruit, I made a few jars of plum vodka jam. The alcohol cooks off, but there is a nice bitter flavour left, which makes the jam more like a marmalade.

Two large and two small finished puddings. We always have a pudding for my husband's birthday (Dec 8) instead of cake.

Before the end of November I made the annual tried and true apricot-pineapple with almonds jam. A couple of them will be wrapped and given away.

Quite a lot of damson liqueur was made, the by-product being lots of alcoholic fruit. Since the plum vodka jam was very tasty, I knew exactly what to do with the leftover fruit! Again, some of this will be given away at Christmas!

There was a teacher's strike day on Dec 2, which was great timing for us as we had our family day of making gingerbread cookies. We decorated them the next day and sorted out everyone's rations!:)

I was thinking that the cranberry clementine with brazil nuts was the last pre-xmas item on my list...

...but then I remembered I had to make the custard to go with the birthday pudding (and put some in the freezer for New Year's). Since egg whites don't go into custard, they are used to make coconut maccaroons, an annual Christmas treat that stays at home!

Wednesday 3 December 2014

The Tidal Series - Collages

In July I posted some images from The Tidal Series, pastel paper drawings plus what was left of a series of acrylic paintings -- a little figure that I had cut out from one of the 18  4' x 3' canvases! So I was pleasantly surprised that four collages from the series were in that drawing box I re-discovered a few weeks ago. I never expected these collages to still be in existance!

 Around this time (1986 perhaps?) I was getting ready for xmas and making cards. That year I had the brilliant, crazily time-consuming idea of making individual collage cards with the figure from the Tidal Series enjoying falling snow. Needless to say, this involved a lot of gluing tiny pieces of white paper onto about 50 cards... I know I still have a few of the cards myself, but the little card box they are in is somewhere in the black hole of my attic studio. I will eventually find them, but not today.

These four collages, though, are not greeting card sized; they are 55 cm x 37 cm. The coloured paper is mostly standard copier colour paper, but the interesting bits have other sources. In those days in Toronto (and environs) industrial estates had dumpsters that could be scavanged for great art supplies -- the glossy yellow paper, silver paper and gold tape (which I cut in thin lines) all came from a dumpster. The patterned turquoise of the figure's skirt is from wrapping tissue from a gift a friend gave me. I used a mix of matte and gloss medium as my glue, so there is an overall sheen on the collages. I still have some of the silver paper and gold tape with my supplies almost 30 years later and I still save interesting scraps of paper for use in collage cards that I still make for special occasions.

I love the combination of bright pink and silver, something I associate with a smallish Jackson Pollock painting I saw in New York on one of my early trips there. I am pretty sure the image below represents the last of the four collages that I made -- I thought the figure by this time was self-assured and had coralled the stars into the gold "net" formed by the gold lines emanating from her hands.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Archive drawings

Within that box I recently found, were a couple of works on paper that I didn't expect to see again! These are from a series I had been working on from 1983-1986. Some of the series were exhibited at York University, Toronto, towards the end of the 1985-86 school year along with my large dream paintings (a diptych & a triptych where each individual panel was 3' x 4'). The exhibition was a 3 person show in the large gallery of Winters College. The hand pieces from that show were exhibited that summer in Charyk Gallery, Downsview (a suburb of Toronto).

These works are mixed media on paper, 55 cm x 37  cm. While at York University, I took a few creative writing courses and remember that I was inspired by discussions of metonymy and thought it would be great to create visual metonyms: I started using the hand and its gestures to signify aspects of humanity and emotions.

In the above collage I used some of the silver paper sheets I found (dumpsters in the factory areas of Toronto were always great for unexpected art supplies -- I actually still have some of this paper 30 some years later!). After gluing pink tissue to some areas of the drawing I had a hey day with my graphite, watercolour pencils and a brush loaded with water.

I think the above piece was one of the earlier ones from the series (the fragility of paraffin on paper being a telltale sign) and I am positive it was not exhibited. I know I painted on the paper first, before applying the hands and then covering the two sides with wax hiding the lustre of the silver paper. I think the black lines are China marker. I did some more work with encaustic painting in the 1980s, but properly using beeswax, turpentine, oil paint and canvas or board NOT paraffin and NOT paper!

The above piece was not in the box but is from the hand series of the 1980s. It was included in the York and Charyk Gallery shows and had been again exhibited in 2005 during my "Coming of Age" exhibition in Wicklow. A few years ago there was a competition call for providing artwork to Europol's new building in The Hague. The criteria for the competition had very specific criteria that the artists had to meet (as well as not being involved in criminal activity!). While I thought this work met their criteria, the size did not fit into any of their specified categories. Happily, on enquiry, they gave me the go ahead to apply in a larger size category, purchased the piece and it now hangs somewhere in The Hague.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Kingswood drawings!

The box I found last week contained drawings related to the house I grew up in, 293 Kingswood Rd. in Toronto. My family moved there in 1964 and my parents sold the house in 1983, when they both took early retirement and returned to Ireland. I pre-empted a trauma by getting "settled" in my own apartment in the spring of 1982. (For the record, I was hardly settled as I moved house very frequently in the 1980s!)

One of my homework assignments in my first year of art school (Central Technical School's Post-Secondary Art Programme) was to produce 4 pencil drawings with an architectural theme. The family home provided the subject; these drawings are in a folder dated April/May 1979. Judging by the angle on this drawing, I was sitting on the roof of the shed looking at the back of my house and the back porch (built by my Dad). 

This is the view from my bedroom window of the house and lane directly opposite ours.

This is the view of our wobbly fence leading to the lane, from the back porch.

Still a view from the back porch, this is looking at the shed in our yard, our neighbour's garage and the backs of the houses on the next street (Bingham Ave).

Another assignment from that class was to use pen & ink and ink washes to draw an architectural interior. This is the view from my bedroom down the hall to the bathroom.

The assignment here was to do a watercolour architectural drawing and once again the family home was my model. I remember sitting on the curb across the road from the house in order to do this watercolour, probably in May/June 1979.

In my second year Design class I was learning about architectural drawings from a more technical point of view but again I used my own house to get dimensions, etc., when producing isometric drawings. This is the bottom floor of the house.

This is the house cut in half!

After art school finished in 1981, I took a year off to do studio work and make some money in a job before going to York University for my Fine Arts Degree. One of the classes I took, I think in my third year (1984-85) was Experimental Directions. The professor for that course was the inspiring performance artist, Toby MacLennan. During her class there was a lot of story-telling as a basis for making work and as students we discovered how to tease out our stories. By this time my parents were in Ireland but my memories of the house where I grew up were becoming epic. I am sure this undated drawing done in crayon and soft pencil on the back of a piece of matte board was from that class and was illustrating a point in one of my stories. Looking at this memory drawing now and comparing it to the curbside watercolour of the house which was in front of me, I am impressed by my visual recall! Although I don't remember saving them, I obviously rescued all these drawings from purging oblivion simply because they were depictions of the house where I grew up.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Archive artworks - surprise find!

I was looking for something in the attic studio yesterday, when I decided to look in a large flat box. I found what I was looking for, but also found a number of early artworks that I didn't think survived my two Great Purges of the 1980s! The image below is a drawing I did of my sister, Tallie, with her new guitar and another sister's boyfriend, Ernie, with his guitar. I remember drawing this: it was xmas of 1972 or 1973 and I was using new art supplies (charcoal & large sketch pad) which was a present from one or both of my oldest sisters. I remember at the time being amazed at capturing a good likeness of Ernie. That is still the way I remember him!

When I was in grade 11 (1976/77) I did my first silk screen print in art class. We used the simplest of processes, cardboard stencils, for printing  and only had 4 colours available. I used a picture of my toddler nephew, David, in his xmas sailor suit to create my image.

Still a high school drawing, I know this portrait of my younger sister, Dee Dee (awake!) was from grade 12 (1977/78) because it has the initials of my art teacher from that year and a check mark in the bottom right corner of the pencil drawing.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Canvas Panels

As well as the enjoyment I get from looking at works of art when visiting art galleries and museums, I am always mindful of the way things are presented. It is interesting to examine the relationship between a piece of artwork and the architecture it is within, how it is hung on the wall, if it is framed or unframed and what might be the reasons for the way in which it is presented. It is liberating to me when I see artworks hung in atypical ways and sometimes that inspires me to come out of my usual way of working (i.e., painting on stretched canvas).

I think it was in the spring of this year that I decided to make use of leftover strips of canvas by sewing them together with loops at the top to facilitate future hanging. Here is the composite canvas hanging out to dry after I washed it, I had plans for it, a Fever Afterimages painting, but I wanted to do some monoprints and small paintings first (which I did -- images on previous posts!).

Yesterday I did an ironing job on the composite canvas and (with the assistance of my husband) hung it up on the studio wall. I am still not ready to start painting, as I want to put some texture on it, and also may have a few tiny works to do, but soon, soon...

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Fever Afterimages - some finished paintings!

I've finished the other two small canvases, but I am posting the first one again so all three can be seen together. They are all the same size, 40.5 cm x 51 cm, acrylic on canvas, 2014. I created the texture before painting began by gluing newsprint onto the canvas.

Fever Afterimage 3:

Fever Afterimage 2:

Fever Afterimage1:

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Dream Paintings

My huband has been teaching me how to use GIMP, an free software programme alternative to Photoshop. Since I regularly need to adjust colour, crop and resize images, I have been getting in some practice with old polaroids of artworks that I don't have properly documented. I am only doing the simple things to the image, so there is still a lot of "noise".

This painting is one of many paintings I did at the time based on dreams. Specifically, in the dream I was surrounded by water looking up at the sky and could see a red sailed boat on the horizon. I sold this painting sometime in the 1980s to a friend in Toronto who was an art conservator at the time but then got into alternative therapies. Recently she let me know that this painting is hanging in the new offices of her practice. I was delighted that it still has pride of place! I saw it after she had it framed over 25 years ago and it looked fantastic (if I do say so myself!). The painting is primarily acrylic on heavy watercolour paper; two of the hands are silver paper affixed to the ground before painting was complete. Though not visible in this picture, there are many white lines radiating from the stars in the pink sky which I created painstakingly with a ruling pen (do people still use this tool?). The piece is quite large, either 3 or 4 feet square. 

This painting is also about 3 or 4 feet square, acrylic on heavy watercolour paper and based on the same dream. I don't know if this piece is rolled up somewhere or was a casualty of one of my purges!

Also taken from a tiny polaroid, this image is an installation view of some paintings that were shown in Winters College gallery while I was at York University. It may have been spring 1986 or may have been earlier. This triptych and diptych are acrylic on canvas, each panel being 4' x 3'. They are again based on the same watery dream with the starry sky and red-sailed boat. I know most definitely that these paintings no longer exist, as they were destroyed in a purge before I moved countries and the stretchers were sold to Central Technical School for use by students in the post-secondary art programme.


Wednesday 15 October 2014

Matisse and Me!

There is a huge show at the MoMa, New York about Matisse's cut-outs, and I have been enjoying all the images of works, films, photographs of Matisse in his studio, etc. that are available on the internet (the MoMA facebook page keeps posting them, so no need for me to reproduce here). The show was originally in London's Tate Modern last year, and somehow I missed the hype, so sadly didn't see it. Apparently the MoMA show is an expansion of that one. With all this imagery and information floating around, I have been reminiscing about my relationship with the master, who I freely admit has influenced my work. I think this is obvious from some of my very early work such as this Sleeping Dee Dee, oil on canvas,122 cm x 91.5 cm, 1980. 

The picture above is a re-photograph from a polaroid - I don't actually have any other documentation of this piece. I don't know if the painting still exists or not; I gave it to the model (my younger sister!) quite a long time ago.  As well as Matisse, I was also influenced by an unknown painter who attended Parsons School of Design in New York. Before I painted this, a friend of mine had started attending that art school, and a rep from the school came to give the students in my art school a talk. The rep handed out the PS of D prospectus which included a painting where the shadows were painted light blue. At the time this was a revelation to me and it is apparent that I did the same thing with my shadows at the first opportunity!

I did so many drawings and paintings of my sister while she was sleeping that friends who had not met her asked if she was ever awake. This Sleeping Dee Dee is smaller than the one above, oil on masonite. Again, I have no documentation of this other than this re-photograph of a polaroid.

This is an oil on masonite painting, also from 1980 of a woman who I had met in a bookshop near my art school. She was looking for a house-mate and I rented a room from her for one month, my first foray away from home.

Matisse's cut-out show also made me think of how I enjoy the playfulness of  art work. In 1989 I had a residency in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, ostensibly to create new work for my first exhibition in Dublin. However, due to availability (or lack of) at the Centre, I had all but one drawing complete for the exhibition by the time I was granted the residency. In many ways this was very liberating: I was not under any pressure, had a large studio to work in, food was provided with fabulous dinners being prepared by someone else and a variety of artists (playwrights, poets, musicians, sculptors, performance artists, other painters) on location for lots of interesting discussions over coffees and dinners,

So once I had the last drawing complete for the exhibition (a large black and white, graphite, figure drawing), I changed direction and got out colourful pastels, scissors and blue tack. Using imagery from my dreams I created an entire temporary environment in the studio.

It was at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig that I met and became friends with Dublin painter, Pat Moran, who dubbed my studio "The Playroom". Unfortunately Pat died suddenly in 1992 at the age of 30, and is sadly missed by the Irish art scene where his expressionist, figurative painting and drawing is known.

Further to my interest in "cut-outs" as a process, this picture of me in 1993 with some of my paintings from the My Tower of Strength series shows how I used cut-outs (the birds above the paintings) to help me figure out composition puzzles.

Sorry for the poor quality of photos in this post, but all images are re-photographs of existing photos and used as part of my training in GIMP, a free software programme which I am learning in order to replace my reliance on PhotoShop!

Wednesday 8 October 2014

More work on Fever Afterimages paintings

I have been working on the small(ish) paintngs of Fever Afterimages, slowly adding colour. The central yellow area here was originally a deep dioxazine purple (bits are still visible at the edges, so you can see how much a painting can change as I am working on it.

This is still very much in the early stages too.

I finished and signed this one today: Fever Afterimages 1, acrylic on canvas, 40.5 cm x 51 cm.