Wednesday 22 December 2021

Season's Greetings

 Season's Greetings and a very happy xmas to everyone. Remembering loved ones both near and far, walking this earth or speckled among the stars, always with much joy. Above all keep safe and well in this our second pandemic holiday.

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Annual Craft Fair

Every year, for several weeks in the month of December, Signal Arts Centre gets in to the seasonal spirit and switches its purpose from a gallery to be a venue for local artisans and hosts a lively craft fair.

Every kind of handcraft is represented - jewellery, knitting, ceramics, crochet, bookbinding, metalwork soapmaking (to name a few).

The gallery is set up like a gift shop, with something for every budget and every taste. 

Seasonal fare in the form of handmade cards and decorations are available, but many items make wonderful year-round gifts.

These pictures were taken last week when the fair first opened but the setup has already changed as I notice some items missing from these pictures, having been sold, and new stock has been brought in since. The fair is open daily (including Sundays) from 10 am to 5 pm until xmas eve, and well worth a look!

Wednesday 8 December 2021


 One of the things I clearly intended to do during this year's studio residency at Signal Arts Centre, was make some more books. I had a fabric sampler folder and thought I would make a number of cloth covered books for Signal's annual Christmas Craft Fair. Having this in mind, I bought a pair of pinking shears in order to cut the cloth but the other very important aspect of bookbinding is measure, measure and measure!

I decided fairly early on that I was going to do a simple Japanese stab binding technique and, after matching various coloured threads to various patterned cloth designs, it was a fairly simple operation. this picture shows how a piece of wire acts as a specific placeholder until I get my needle and thread to it.

On larger books I also use pieces of cardboard and lion clips to hold the covers in place while I bind. On this one I decided to use some beads for embellishment.

Here are the cloth-covered books I made for the craft fair. They are all A5 in size, but the top two are bound as landscape while the others are portrait.

I used brightly coloured paper as endpapers in the blank notebook/sketchbooks.

I had a few bits of other material so I made an A5 leather-covered book and 2 A5 vinyl-oilcloth books.

The Christmas Craft Fair runs at Signal Arts Centre daily (Sunday included) from 10am-5pm until December 24th.

Wednesday 1 December 2021

Double Estate at the Pearse Museum, Dublin

On a cold but dry Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I made my way to Rathfarnham for the specific purpose of seeing a couple of exhibitions at two OPW museums that are near to each other. I previously blogged about the Mary Ruth Walsh exhibition at Rathfarnham Castle here, but on the way to the castle, I first visited the Pearse Museum. Please note that due to covid protocols one must phone first and specify the time of a visit. I had seen pictures of the exhibition in a recent issue of VAN, the Visual Artists Ireland newsletter, and was intrigued enough that I wanted to see the work IRL (in real life).

Though it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by Janet Mullarney's sculptural work hanging in the middle of the first room, the set-up also forced me to carefully wend my way around the perimeter of the room to look at works individually (taking care not to step backwards!).

From across the room I recognised a colourful carborundum print by Michael Cullen (lower right). Once I discovered what the title of the piece was, the image took form in my own memory - Caravaggio's Taking of Christ can be seen in the National Gallery.

The work in Double Estate is put together by curator Davey Moor from the OPW (Office of Public Works) art collection. A poem by Emily Dickenson inspires the show and the reasoning behind the amalgamation of these disparate works. Dickenson refers to the body and the soul in her poem, and Moor latches on to these concepts as his curatorial premise. Moor's essay, along with an essay by Brian Crowley (collections curator) are printed within Oonagh Young's beautifully designed full colour exhibition catalogue.

It was good to see the Pearse brothers represented in a contemporary exhibition at this location. William Pearse, Patrick's artist brother is represented by two pieces of sculpture (not in any of these photos, but in the catalogue) and Patrick himself appears in a 1944 lithographic portrait by Sean O'Sullivan.

The second room of the exhibition contained larger wall works and several sculptures but again was dominated by a mixed media floor piece.

I particularly liked this large drawing/painting/sculpture, Boy, by David Quinn.

The exhibition has been on show in the Pearse Museum for awhile now, but it finishes at the end of the year so there are only a few weeks left to have a look! 

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Mary-Ruth Walsh at Rathfarnham Castle

I wanted to make sure I got to Mary-Ruth Walsh's exhibition at Rathfarnham Castle exhibition, Strangely Familiar Shades of Gray II, before it closed. Especially as I've been seeing information about Walsh's sister exhibition, Skin Deep, which was in Highlanes Gallery,  Drogheda, Limerick City Gallery of Art, and most recently at Wexford Arts Centre.The gorgeous accompanying book of the same name was created through collaboration between Walsh and Folded Leaf (aka Eílís Murphy). In the Entrance Hall there is an overview concept video where Walsh speaks about this body of work (including Skin Deep) and its relation to Eileen Gray's architectural work. Walsh made plaster casts from various packaging materials and then created the haunting cyanotype prints.

Imagine my delight when I saw all the images in cyanotype (my current obsession) in the Salon!

While I know these images are directly related to the plaster casts, they become more like architectural blueprints in both size and quality. The process gives the images a reflective, luminous quality which is ghostly.

This is another view of Salon. There are cyanotype prints on the walls and plaster castings on the pristine, specialty light-box display tables. The entire exhibition makes one extremely aware of light and space - perfect for its setting within the architecture of Rathfarnham Castle.

One cast shared a light table with a clear sphere that reflected the surrounding cyanotypes in miniature.

This is another image of that sphere from a different angle - reflecting the room's windows as well as some of the prints on surrounding walls. In the Pistol Room an ethereal video by Walsh compared Eileen Gray's designed house in France (known as E1027) to the inside of a camera. For me the reflective sphere and this video corresponded through time and space. And light, perhaps.

Although I glimpsed this piece in the Dining Room from the Entrance Hall when I came in, Covid guidelines necessitated following the arrow directions and seeing the work in the Salon first. However, for me, this was a wonderful way to end the show (there was one more cyanotype with matching pink paint on it, but the glass frame made it impossible to photograph adequately). This screen, entitled Aprés Eileen Gray, is a scaled replica of one of Gray's screens. I first came across Gray on an art school trip to NYC, where an exhibition of her designs, including several screens, were on display at The Met. I have been enamoured by her work since, so it was wonderful to see Walsh's homage. I thought this particular piece, which had a strong influence on the design of the book Skin Deep, was in the sister exhibition, so I was excited to see it from the corner of my eye on arrival and then to see it commanding the room at the end of the exhibition.

Wednesday 17 November 2021

Signal Arts Centre - October selfies!

Each morning at Signal studio, I start the day with a self-portrait in a dedicated sketchbook. The medium that I decide to use in my sketch entirely depends on my mood that particular day. I enjoy doing this daily exercise as a warm-up and have a variety of media from which to choose. I am surprised that I didn't blog more about my daily self-portraits while at Signal studio in previous years, but I dedicated a post to them in 2017 and two posts in 2020 (here & here). Last week I included a selfie in my post about starting this year's residency, here. For posts about this residency in previous years (since 2017) just do a search for Signal Arts Centre within this blog.

Generally I do a fairly straightforward selfie, but this day I must have felt like the hand was a "sigh" gesture and included it! I think the sketch was done with a 6B pencil.

On this day, I limited myself to three colours from the cake watercolour tray and used a fine black pen for the drawing.

When I do a selfie exercise, I tend not to correct mistakes or labour over the drawing, so what happens happens. In this one, drawn with a soft charcoal pencil, I did not observe the correct distance from my bottom lip and ended up showing myself as having a weaker chin than I do. But really it is a little disconcerting that my staring eyes give me the grim look of Myra Hindley...

I enjoy using watercolour pencils for a sketch, dipping the pencil directly into water, leaving it dry or using a wet brush to spread the colour a bit. 

By limiting my watercolour palette I can block in an image quickly and then define it afterwards with a fine pen.

A soft pencil is always nice to sketch with.

And sometimes using a soft pencil compels me to work a little longer on the sketch. I remember that day I was wearing my NASA t-shirt, so that the end result of me feeling like a crew member of the Enterprise was no suprise. Could I be Captain?

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Signal Arts Centre - residency early days

As I mentioned in a recent blog, I started my 4th studio residency at Signal Arts Centre a few weeks ago. As in previous years, I set myself the task of having at least three things daily that I was to complete. I really enjoy the warm-up exercise of a self-portrait each day; it is a good drawing exercise and good for exploring different media on the same format. This one is from the first week of the residency; I think it was done with a 6B pencil.

One of my other tasks is to create a number of softbound books for the upcoming annual xmas craft fair at Signal. I picked up a trusty pair of pinking shears to cut the cloth (I have a load of cloth from an upholstery sampler). Part of the the preparation is to match binding threads with the cloth.

Because the awl would be problematic when pushing binding holes in the cloth, I had the idea that a hole punch would work if I could punch holes as I marked them. A few experiments proved that I was not coordinated enough to do this.

So the tried and true way that works (and has worked in the past) is to prep the books for a drill press. Here are a few just waiting for that step before final binding. The third task, and really the main point of my time in the studio this year, is to work on my writing. I spend most of the day on this, but of course I am not taking pictures of the keyboard or computer screen. All is going well!

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Darby's Bridge

 The final painting that I wanted to do for the Memory Is My Homeland series had to do with the first house that I rented (with my then boyfriend, now husband) in Kerry after returning to Ireland in the early 1990s. As I have been creating this body of work for the better part of three years, simply search within this blog to see other paintings, prints and drawings that are part of this series, most of which will be shown next spring at Rathfarnham Castle in an exhibition of that name. Before I had decided on the final title of the series, I was referring to it as The Home Project.

We had ended our European travels in the spring of 1992 in Ireland, and had gone down to Kells Bay in Kerry to visit a Dublin friend who had moved there. On returning to Ireland this friend (easily) convinced us to move to this beautiful village and even found us a place to live, beside this bridge whose name gave itself to the house we lived in, as a postal address.

 As with most of my work, I have a very clear idea of what my image will be before I put any media down. The green and blue blurs of paint denote to me the background of sky and hill; I have sketched out the bridge itself with a yellow line. 

Even at an early stage in the painting, I am giving a clear indication of the end product, though there is also always the uncertainty of how paint is going to play out on the pressed cloth. I enjoy this level of unpredictability in my painting, most especially a factor when using a ground that is not canvas.

The stone bridge harks back to my series of paintings from the '80s and '90s, My Tower of Strength, which built on my obession with stone ruins of windows. Interested in the architectural structure of a window (usually from monastic sites) I proceed to paint bricks with magical colour - purples, blues, pinks and yellows. I think with the bridge I have been a bit more conservative, but then again...

While I wanted the trees on the background hill to remain elusive, I wanted them also to be a more definitive blur. I have seen some pretty magnificent rainbows in this land and there is something about them that will forever be magical to me, despite their role as a cliché.

Darby's Bridge, acrylic on pressed cloth, 70 cm x 54.5 cm, 2021

Wednesday 27 October 2021

4th Signal Residency

 My fourth residency (for information on previous residencies simply do a search on this blog for Signal Arts Centre) in the Signal studio began Oct 11. While I like working at my home studio, the ten weeks at Signal pulls me out of my regular routine and puts me in a specific project routine. Since I have all the work done for my solo exhibition (Memory Is My Homeland at Rathfarnham Castle, Feb 16-Mar 20 2022) I decided that this year my main focus in Signal would be my writing. So when I packed up I had considerably less stuff to transport down to Signal Arts Centre than in previous years. I still had some visual art supplies to bring, as I decided, as usual, that I would give myself three daily tasks to complete while at the studio: as well as writing, I would be making a self portrait sketch and do some bookbinding work (making blank books for the annual craft fair and for some gifts). The photo below shows the various packed things awaiting transport from my home to the studio on the Monday morning of Oct 11.

The studio was fairly clean, just needing a quick sweep and then I covered the tables to start them as fresh, clean work surfaces. The table on the left foreground will be my main bookbinding space, and the other tables act as supply overflow areas. 

I set up a laptop at the desk as my definite office space for writing. There are two sinks in the studio, so I found the board to put across the one with the mirror behind it, and this would be my self portrait space.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

The Source - book launch

During the past year or so, one of my joys has been to watch artist talks via zoom when live, or later via YouTube when available. An artist himself, Alan Keane recognised the desire of other artists to see what their peers (known and known) were up to during the pandemic and decided to host a series of live but remote video interviews with artists in their studios. The interviews were held weekly on a Saturday morning for about an hour, during which the artist would give a virtual tour of their studio, talk about their practice and be open to a Q & A. While I was only able to attend one event live, it was a brilliant format, and I am so glad the sessions are available on Keane's YouTube Channel, here.

In another recognition of this being such a valuable resource of living Irish artists, Keane turned the series into a beautiful book "The Source". Both the book title and the series title are a deep nod to creative inspiration. I attended the book launch at the United Arts Club in Dublin a few days ago, and was so delighted to meet Mr Keane and to collect my copy of the book.

I don't know if anyone was watching, but I certainly obtained some olfactory satisfaction by opening the book and taking a good sniff! The book is absolutely beautiful, two pages devoted to each guest from the series - a written page with artist bio, statement & portrait and QR code (to directly lead to the YouTube video of the individual) and a lush, full-colour page of the artist's work. The contents page gives a full roster of participants (over 50) at varying stages of their careers, including some very well-known artists.

I had only heard about The Artist's Well series because I saw a notice for an upcoming event with Eamon Colman. Eamon had been a good friend of mine last century but we lost touch over the years, so I was intent on seeing the live event on the Saturday. It was such a pleasure to see him again - and his work! - that I made a point of renewing our acquaintance and headed to Thurles, Co Tipperary to see his recent exhibition, Into The Mountain, there and meet him again. I blogged about it here.

Though most of the guests on The Artist's Well were visual artists, Keane did not confine his interviews to this one form. In fact there are also several gallerists, a musician, a singer and a writer included. Olivier Cornet owns and operates the Olivier Cornet Gallery in Dublin and it was totally fascinating to hear him talk about setting up in Ireland, the artists whom he represents in his stable and his own interests in inter-disciplinary explorations (for example, theming group shows as a response to a specific poem).

At the launch I was hoping I would become reacquainted with a number of artists whose videos I had seen and met years before on one occasion or another. However, due to covid restrictions, I could not stay long at launch and did not get the chance to re-meet some past acquaintances (who may have arrived after I had left). One such artist is Niamh O'Connor who I had the pleasure to meet when we were both involved in the Jack and Jill Foundation's fundraiser "The Big Egg Hunt, Dublin" back in 2013. (I did a few blogs about it back then here, here, here, here, here, here and here!)

At the book launch, Alan Keane assured me that Series 2 of The Artist's Well was due to start in a few weeks. Looking forward to that!

Wednesday 13 October 2021

Rathfarnham Castle - fine plasterwork

 A few weeks ago I blogged about the rough wall textures that I find so attractive at Rathfarnham Castle (see here) but there are also other things about the architectural restoration that really catch my eye too. 

In the hallway on the second floor, there is a small but deep "window". Of course, I have been obsessed by stone windows for a long time: my series of paintings from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, which formed the "My Tower of Strength" exhibitions, are based on stone windows in ecclesiastical ruins I have seen throughout Ireland. This is not so much a window, but an alcove, and there is another in The Pistol Loop Room. Perhaps they were once windows?

I think a curvy door is magnificent! There are several of them in the building, continuing and fitting snugly in the line of the wall where there are curves rather than corners.

There is lots of finely crafted plasterwork throughout the building.

I love the juxtaposition of the fine plasterwork and the distressed walls of The Dining Room.

The Saloon has wonderful plasterwork in the ceiling, which paintings are set into. (The paintings are early 20th century religious works commissioned by former owners, the Jesuits.)