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fifth day at cill rialaig
Cill Rialaig: sea, sky, rocks and fields of sheep….rain, sun, wind….smoldery peat fires, dressing in layers to handle the chill, taking a hot water bottle to bed. I’m settling into the rhythm of painting, reading, writing, poking the fire, and visiting with Jan. I can’t pass a window without looking out at the changing weather and light on the sea, and often step outside for a moment in the midst of painting. Life here is basic, bracing, elemental, sometimes challenging in terms of the comforts and conveniences of home. I am savoring every day. There is poetry and mystery in the air, in the astonishing natural beauty, the ancient sites, and the beautiful Irish language that is spoken widely in this part of the country.
The studio area in my cottage is quite nice—not huge,around 10x20 ft.—but it’s fine, and I like the fact that it is right there as part of the living space. I look at my work all throughout the day, not just in the studio area but I’ve also taped some of my finished things around on the walls of the living space. I enjoy that it all flows together, living and painting.
I moved my kitchen table into the studio area to have that surface in addition to the work table provided, and I asked the very helpful maintenance guy to bring in some blocks to raise the work table to a comfortable height. I’m painting on paper taped to a board on the easel--the studio walls are stone so they’re not useable as support for painting. Above is a skylight that provides perfect natural light. There is a fluorescent fixture also, for night--but when the natural light fades I don’t find it to be great for working. Still, I’ve made some starts at night –I save the more subtle working for daylight. There is a radio and when I’m not enjoying the silence (which is profound here) I listen to Irish public radio. (I include these details because they are things I wondered about beforehand, as other artists might who are thinking of coming here.)
I have a good variety of art supplies, because I had stored some paints and things in Ireland when I was here last year, and brought more with me. I’m keeping an experimental attitude and working mostly on paper, with a mixture of acrylics, charcoal, drawing materials and various acrylic mediums. At home I always gravitate to oil and cold wax medium so it is an interesting challenge to make this shift. I do feel that things are flowing well. I’ve used water-based mixed media on other overseas residencies so it’s not new to me, but I’ve struggled with wanting it to be like oil in the past, and often feeling less than satisfied. So far this time, I am enjoying the surprises while feeling a sense of control over the basics and am pleased with what I’m doing.
(Please excuse the lack of square cropping--I am having to photo on a table without my usual set up.)
My work so far (four days in) is strongly influenced by the textures of rocks and ancient surfaces, and also by the patterns of stone fences in the fields. Colors are soft and earthy. I’m also playing around with edges, a result of the process taping the paper down on the boards. The tape makes a border of white around the piece, and I’ve also started some paintings on the table with color extending clear to the edge, then moving to the board, so that the border is not white, but has color and texture. I like it when something that arises out of process offers new ideas.
In all of this, throughout the peaceful, productive days, I’m also aware of and disturbed by reports of the terrible hurricane devastation back home. It’s hard to imagine the extent of the destruction, and so far, aside from short reports on the radio, I have not caught much news. Overall it is very positive aspect of Cill Rialaig that there is no internet, but at the moment there is also a frustration in not being able to know more about the situation. Today Jan and I are going back to the internet café where I will post this, and will catch up on the news. I send my caring thoughts and best wishes to everyone reading this that has been affected by the storm.
at cill rialaig
Janice Mason Steeves
and I have sought out wi-fi after a few days of solitude at Cill Rialag, and I'm taking the opportunity for a brief post and some photos. Cill Rialaig is perhaps the most spectacular place in which I have ever spent time. Stunning seascape, green, green fields of gorse and sheep, ancient stone structures. I've had some beautiful walks and started a number of paintings. We have had two out of three days sunny, which is unusual I am sure!! In the photo below, you can see the artist retreat on the left side of the photo, the row of rooftops.
The photo above was taken last night, full moon over the sea.
The days so far have been full of painting, walks, conversation and sitting on various rocks. I will post more in the future--I have only limited access to internet and finding this to be one of the pleasant aspects of the stay!
In a little over a week I am heading for an artist residency called Cill Rialaig, on the coast of County Kerry in Ireland. There is no website for the residency, but if you're interested in learning more, a Google search will tun up various blogs by people who have stayed there, both visual artists and writers. There is also a facebook page (click here
) and information about applying for a residency here
. I took the photo above when my husband and I stopped by last year on our travels...I say 'stopped by" but really it was more like "managed to find the place after lots of driving around on remote roads and speaking with several very friendly people whose directions were nonetheless quite vague and confusing." This beautiful and dramatic location by the sea is not exactly on anyone's main route--a huge part of its appeal.
The Cill Rialaig Project purposefully does not include internet or other contemporary conveniences (besides simple kitchen facilities, basic plumbing and a peat-burning stove) in the 18th century restored stone cottages that serve as homes and studios, so that the artists and writers can enjoy the pure experience of the setting and the landscape. I look forward to three weeks of simple living, focused on work, hikes, and getting to know the other artists in residence. I already know I will enjoy my time with one of those--my good friend, Ontario artist Janice Mason Steeves
who will be there at the same time as I. We were together last fall at the Tyrone Guthrie Center in County Monaghan, and in the year since have exchanged countless emails and a visit, and discovered true kinship in our approaches to art and life. We plant to meet in Killarney and rent a car to get to Cill Rialaig (braving those Irish roads!) With the car on hand, we may perhaps take a few day trips--around the Ring of Kerry, the famous coastal route around the Kerry peninsula--or to Killarney National Park, both pictured below in photos taken by me on last year's trip.
At Cill Rialaig I plan to work in water-based mixed media, responding intuitively to the landscape in a spontaneous, expressive way. I don't expect to do highly developed work there--I'll save that for when I get home. From previous experience I know that the paintings I do then will unfold under the influence of the residency for months afterward, and that's when the more intensely worked, layered expression will take place. The paintings below are exmples of the kind of quick painting I expect to do at Cill Rialaig (see this blog post for a more in-depth explanation.)
This will be my forth residency overseas; in 2013 I have two more scheduled, one in the US, near Atlanta, Georgia in March (AIR Serenbe) and one at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in County Mayo, Ireland in October/November. Obviously I believe in the value of these experiences for my work, and I urge other artists to consider them as possibilities. Res Artis is a website with information about artist residencies worldwide. There are a number of excellent residencies in the US, including in our National Parks (see individual park websites for information) as well as in many other countries. Residencies do not have to be expensive--some charge the artists, some do not, and some even provide a stipend. Even those that charge tend to be a bargain compared to spending an equal amount of time abroad in a hotel or renting an apartment.
Blogging may be infrequent between now and my return to the US in mid-November. I expect that an occasional trip to town for groceries will include finding wi-fi to check email, and perhaps write a quick blog post--but for the most part I'll be offline for three weeks.
In the past few weeks, a series of small paintings (12"x 12")with strong dark/light contrast and very textured surfaces has been evolving in my studio. Whites--titanium, buff titanium, ivory white--and darks--carbon black, sepia, asphaltum--are the paints I have been reaching for most often as I bring closure to a painting. Because the paintings are layered, as always, with many other choices, bits of those show through for sparks of color. But it is the stark contrast that I'm intrigued with in this work.
Since I haven't intentionally been painting in a series (I rarely do) when a number of strongly related paintings emerge it makes me wonder why. In this case, I think maybe the work is a response to the time of year here in Wisconsin, when the softness of summer is giving way to elemental darks and lights (it's still fall, but the colors have become muted and snowy season is not far off.) Or maybe it's a response to the passing of long time friend. Awareness of mortality and the drama of life and death have been heightened in the wake of that sad event. And there is definitely some purely visual excitement--the contrast of rich darks and subtle lights, and the challenge of keeping subtle elements in play along with the more dramatic elements.
I enjoy speculating what has brought these paintings on. But I love even more knowing that whatever is behind them is complex and mysterious. There is no straightforward explanation, and like many artists, I'm intrigued by the notion that what comes out in my work is a distillation of many factors--aspects of the visual world, emotions and experiences. These form a tantalizing tangle, not easily unraveled.
I don't mean to say that I'm always completely mystified by my paintings. Finding connections, revealing underlying meaning often does happen, over time. Or even in a moment of insight. Once a series acquires a title and some definition, the desire for a more focused exploration of the ideas may follow. And that's all good--but I am also OK with a series remaining undefined and untitled (other than say, "Dark/Light Series.) It seems right that there is some work that remains inscrutable.
The painting above is part of the just-named Dark/Light Series
, 12"x12" oil and mixed media on panel.