my artist residencies (part 2)
After my first residency (see Part 1, last week's post) seven years passed before I got serious about doing another. I was drawn back to the same place, the Centre D'Art I Natura. Hoping for a stay without catastrophic events at home (the dates of my first residency coincided with September 11, 2001) I scheduled my residency for September, 2008. (Though alarming, the major stock market crash during my first week there was only a minor distraction.)
During this residency, I stayed for three rather than two weeks, and found that to be a perfect length of time, with a few days in Barcelona at the end. I noticed that I was able to dive more quickly into my work this time around, and to focus for longer periods of time...I already knew my way around, and was familiar with aspects of the culture and environment that on the first trip had overwhelmed me. I had come prepared with specific ideas for my work, and with more appropriate art materials and other supplies than the first time. On this second stay, I recognized the value of returning to a residency more than once--many artists do go over and over to the same location. (Usually, an initial acceptance allows an artist to simply sign up again according to availability of space, rather than having to re-apply.) Coming back to a place I knew and loved allowed me to go deeper into my work, and I found that the painting I did there opened up ideas that remained with me all during the following year, and continue to this day.
While I did not have the kind of breakthrough insight that I did on my first stay (see Part 1), I did end up understanding more about how my abstract imagery evolves in response to the landscape and my experiences in it. This was an unexpected discovery, not something I'd planned to explore ahead of time (as so much of what happens during a residency is unexpected!) It came about as I spent part of every day out hiking, photographing and sketching--observing closely what was around me in a way that travel always stimulates in me. But back in the studio, I painted as I was accustomed to doing at home, allowing the work to develop intuitively, trusting the process of layering paint and seeing what emerged. It was fascinating to see the close correlation to the landscape of texture, color and form that came through without conscious direction-just by taking in the surroundings and then allowing intuition to have its way. The small painting above reflects the experience of being inside one of the old barns that could be found in the surrounding countryside, with a whitewashed wall. (For illustrations and further description of what I mean, see my book Old Walls and Lost Paths
, published in 2009.)
The third residency I have been to, at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre
in County Monaghan, Ireland, is very recent; I've been back for only a few weeks. I know that as time goes by I will have more insight into its impact on my work. For now, I can say that I was grateful every morning to wake up in a place in which my sole purpose was to do exactly what suited my creative impulses...to walk, to paint, to photograph, to hang out with other residents. I could also see the same process at work in the studio as I'd noticed in my 2008 residency. What was coming through intuitively in texture, color and symbol bore strong connections to my experiences in the landscape and especially to visits to various megalithic sites such as Newgrange (the world's oldest known existing structure) which is located not far from the Centre. In my studio since coming home, I am still feeling a strong connection to Ireland, and can see added richness in my textures and colors.
I found Ireland so compelling, and so welcoming, that I'm planning to return next year, and possibly the year after--there are at least two other residencies I visited during my travels there that interested me (Cill Rialaig, in County Kerry, pictured above, is one) and if they don't work out I'd be happy to become a regular at Tyrone Guthrie. (For posts about Tyrone Guthrie, see my entries from September.)
Recently several colleagues have asked me if I believe that artist residencies are worth the time commitment and expense (some residencies charge the artist, some do not) and what I feel I have gained by going. While in this post I have spoken from my own experience, I've met many other artists during my travels who seek residencies out on a regular basis, and believe them to be an important aspect of their creative journey (as do I.) Residencies do not have to be expensive or far from home, by the way--I'd say that any location that provides a fresh experience, contacts with other artists, and time away from daily life to completely focus on creative work is potentially worthwhile. For a listing of many (not all) artist residencies worldwide click here