Wednesday 30 September 2020

Aos Dara - Umha Aois Exhibition

I previously discussed the Aos Dara/Umha Aois combined symposium in recent blogs here and here. For this year's symposium the artists were charged with being inspired by Tomnafinnoge Wood and working individually in their own studio, but it was really nice when all the work came together for an exhibition at The Courthouse Arts Centre, Tinahely, which is near to the forest. The symposium was organised by Niall O'Neill and Róisín Flood who also curated the exhibtion.

For this year's symposium, James Hayes decided to truly combine the spirit of both symposia - he participated in last year's first Aos Dara event, and has been involved with Umha Aois since 1995. He experimented with creating ink from oak galls, found in the forest, and created a video recording the process. In addition, he carved a piece of oak to create a woodblock whose image was that of oak leaves and galls and displayed a print created from that woodblock. Hayes also displayed "Gateway", the carvings he created at Tomnafinnoge on last year's symposium.

Maeve Hunter exhibited a number of felted items and photographs of the items interacting with the environment of the forest. I was particularly intrigued with a felted pair of shoes, which one could easily imagine wearing on a quiet stroll through the woods.

Of the various works I created (using a variety of materials: graphite, oilstick, watercolour, acrylic, etc.) I chose two of my favourites to frame for the exhibition. The acrylic collage "Saplings" is on the left in this picture and the graphite drawing "Lightning Tree" is on the right.

Holger Lonze has been involved with Umha Aois (Experimental Bronze Casting Symposium) for many years and displayed a bronze sculpture evocative of growth.

Dave Kinane, who has also been involved with Umha Aois for many years and was on last year's Aos Dara symposium, created works which again truly combined the spirit of both symposia. He created a bronze age toolkit with which to work two pieces of green wood from Tomnafinnoge into beautiful sculptural forms.

Kinane hafted bronze axe heads and chisels,  made on previous Umha Aois symposia, using ancient traditional techniques.

Niall O'Neill, who is one of several founders of Umha Aois and co-founder of Aos Dara with Róisín Flood, displayed a number of his smaller bronze sculptures in this exhibition. O'Neill is known for his large public sculptures and his large sculpture from last year's Aos Dara still stands at Tomnafinnoge Wood, along with work by Flood, Kinane and Conleth Gent. I blogged about last year's here and wrote about it for CIRCA magazine here.

On the Art Centre's stage, Conleth Gent displayed three sculptures made from wood found at Tomnafinnoge and an additional wooden sculpture which he modified purposely to belong with the group. To hear Gent, Hayes, Kinane, O.Neill and myself speaking about our work and O'Neill and Flood discussing the symposium, have a look at video made by The Courthouse Arts Centre in case the exhibition could not go ahead due to Coronavirus, here.

Wednesday 23 September 2020

Orla Whelan at Rathfarnham Castle

 A few weeks ago - before Dublin lockdown! - I went to see the Orla Whelan (no relation, as far as I know) exhibition, A More Immortal Atlas, at Rathfarnham Castle. This is an Elizabethan fortified house, not a "castle" per se, but a wonderful "fortified house" and a great place to show art. I am partial to the exposed brick, creaky floors, and curved walls anyway, but the juxtaposition of contemporary artwork - Whelan's abstract and colourful forms - with an historical background is such a pleasing visual experience. Here A Melancholy Moment (or Magic Carpet) placed near the majestic fireplace in the dining room allows one to dream of roaring fires, comfort, and colourful carpets of olden days...

I have seen several exhibitions at Rathfarnham Castle and admire the sparsity of display, such that the room in which the new artwork is displayed never gets overwhelmed or lost. One always notices the beautiful room itself while looking at the art. Still in the dining room, this is A Powder of Moments.

I like the way the contemporary art seems to slip in to the rooms on false walls and you have to creak along the floorboards to get a closer look. This is known as the saloon or long gallery room; the ceiling paintings are on panels commissioned in the early 20th century by the Jesuits, owners of the house at the time. Previously, in the 18th century the ceiling panels held mythological paintings. 

Whelan had several pieces that used veneer crafting to create patterns similar to her paintings. I thought the repurposing of an old leaf style table worked well in the context of this historical drawing room.

The exhibition continues, through the curved doorway, into the smaller Corner Room. Appropriately, the works in this room are smaller and feel cozier. Seven works of the same size are grouped together and given numbers to go with their collective title Moon Valley, Dew, Death. All of these are painted in oil except one, which is delightfully crafted in veneer.

On the opposite wall one lone piece, of the same series and title, begs for contemplation. The abstraction takes shape in my mind and seems to reference the past religious ownership of the building leaving its mark in perpetuity. It bears an uncanny resemblance to modern stained glass windows with a sensation of light and otherness.

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Aos Dara/Umha Aois Symposium 2020 Part II

I started writing about the Aos Dara/Umha Aois combined symposium, in which I was a participant, last week. Details of the symposium and my preparations for work can be found in that blog here. As I had the paper prepared with graphite already, I began drawing with my trusty Staedtler eraser, as per my proposal. I was glad to have some green graphite, because after being in Tomnafinnoge wood, I did not want to limit myself to dark, grey works. However, I was  very pleased with this drawing and the subtlety of the green graphite on the tree worked. I did several other drawings on graphite, which I was not happy with, so of course, I am not showing them! (They'll be binned soon enough.)

My original intention, when preparing several sheets of paper with black acrylic, was to paint images in white only. However, as I mentioned last week, the colour of the forest so impressed me that I didn't think such a minimalist approach would work. I really liked that image of the lightning tree and got out my oilsticks to do more justice to the colourful tree.

When I make collages I tend to tear the paper into shape rather than cut. This facilitates a certain amount of unexpected results in the intended shapes as well a beautiful deckled edge, showing off the original colour of the paper (in this case, a creamy white).

Another image that I repeatedly used as inspiration, was that of the small mushrooms which could be seen in networks growing from mossy, fallen tree limbs, and I even spotted a circular Faerie Ring of small mushrooms. While I definitely did not think my graphite, and black & white acrylic drawing experiments with mushrooms actually worked, the jury is still out on the collage.

The acrylic collage that I thought worked best was Saplings. I had experimented with this image several times in other media, with always problematic results, yet I kept on working on it as I really liked the image of trees and ferns that could be seen at one of the forest entrances.

I was guaranteed that one piece would be displayed in the group exhibition, but I chose two to frame as I couldn't decide whether I preferred the sombre Lightning Tree or

the colourful Saplings. I brought both of them to the gallery and said they could choose either. Happily both pieces will be in the group exhibition that launches on Culture Night 2020.

Wednesday 9 September 2020

Aos Dara/Umha Aois Symposium 2020 Part I

I wrote about having my proposal accepted for this year's Aos Dara/Umha Aos combined symposium here and included some of my preparations. I saw last year's work, which I blogged about here reviewed for CIRCA Magazine here. Tomnafinnoge Wood is really beautiful! It is an old oak forest with two rivers and several paths from which to explore it.

My intention was to explore different media and while I had prepared graphite and acrylic pages in advance to work on, while I was at Tomnafinnoge Wood, I did some bark rubbings.

 I thought I might use them in planned collages, and though I didn't, they got me into the mood!

I also collected some oak leaves while I was at the forest and printed from them directly when I got home.

Using my watercolour pencils, I did some sketches from the numerous research photos I had taken during my day in the woods. There were some very strange looking mushrooms growing on trees!

There were lots of smaller mushrooms at ground level too, on fallen, mossy tree limbs, and I even found a quite large Faerie Ring, which neither me or my companions dared to trespass in! I did especially like these mycelial networks and wanted to work more with the image. I'll report more on this in next week's blog.

Wednesday 2 September 2020


A few months ago I responded to an "open call" opportunity that was listed in Curator Space, a newsletter that provides information and opportunities for artists. Although most of these opportunities are more relevant to UK artists, some are international, and others (like this one) was online so anyone could apply. The open call was specific: artists must have a sense of humour, an interest in playing with scale, and their work must fit through the curator's letterbox. The curator of Tiny Cat Gallery is designer/artist Lisa Cole and the gallery is a cardboard box organised, invigilated and frequented by tiny plastic cats. Cole was responsible for all onsite photography and Instagram posting. She can be followed (as herself) on instagram @lisa_cole_designer and (as gallery curator)

I often make miniature work when coming up with new ideas - sketches, paintings, collages - so I looked through my own recent oeuvre to come up with a theme and suitable small work that would appear huge in the gallery. I applied for an exhibition and was accepted. My teen, who is obsessed with cats despite allergies, has a number of tiny plastic cats, so we chose one to send as an ambassador along with the work.

I sent enough work to fit on the box/gallery walls, but I forgot to take into account that one wall would not be used as a space since it was necessary for Ms Cole to access the gallery in order to take photographs for instagram posts. So Shore I and

Shore II were not actually included in the exhibition. All works, however feature on Lisa Cole's website, here.

Before I posted my package to Bristol (where the physical gallery is) I photographed the work and Ms Cole produced an invitation for the online exhibition.

The exhibition was for one week and the launch party on the Sunday afternoon was an indication of the fun that would be had with the work and the cats all week. Narratives accompanied each instagram post (at least four daily). In this one the cats are discussing the nature of "liminality" as a follow-up to their earlier dream discussion...

As my see-through cat ambassador embodied liminality, it put on a performance channelling Tilda Swinton's "The Maybe". For more information about Swinton's performance, have a peek here and here. My ambassador, Lucky, chose to perform between my two silk fibre pieces, Star Cloud and Narcissus. For more information on how I made these pieces during a Zoom papermaking workshop, have a look here.
 One of Monday's instagram posts featured Shore III and Shore IV, working well as a diptych, as well as Star Cloud and Narcissus.

Several artists from previous exhibitions at Tiny Cat Gallery had devised workshops related to their work, and I was no exception. The point of my workshop was to explore colour, shape and luminosity. I took a photo of the items needed for the workshop and posted "how-to" details on Thursday morning. Tiny Cat Gallery made a poster advert for the workshop and re-posted details for both the tiny cat visitors and for anyone following along on Instagram.

The tiny cats had some playful pre-workshop moments...

 and created their own "liminal" painting.
On the Friday, one of the posts featured Branches II & III as a diptych taking up an entire wall of the gallery. I have had both solo and group exhibitions in various countries over the past 35 years, but I can easily say this was the most fun and most engaging exhibition of my career!