I’ve been back from Ireland for a little over a week now, enough time to recover from jet lag and to host a big Thanksgiving gathering. Also enough time to pin up my paintings on paper from the residency in the studio and to make progress on a large new panel as the smaller paintings hover in the corner of my vision. I notice that my interest in visual texture seems to go up a few notches with every exposure to the Irish landscape. The often misty atmosphere there adds such beautiful intensity to the rich, rugged surfaces and textures. Rocks, lichens, dry grasses, fields, clouds and sea--all of the paintings I did during my time at Cill Rialaig were textural studies in response to what I saw around me. In terms of color, I was especially struck this time by the contrasts of gray (rocks, sky, water, bare trees) with the golds and subtle greens of late autumn.
Although I feel a strong pull to the studio, re-entry into regular life after a long trip has its own demands. I have a huge to-do list of computer work, including finalizing my schedule for 2013 classes, and editing and fine-tuning a new website devoted to painting with cold wax medium that will go live sometime in December. After weeks in Ireland when I used my laptop only for photos and sporadic Facebook and blog posts (during trips to the outside world) it’s once again my constant companion. (I have to say I enjoyed that drastic reduction in computer time.) As is true for most artists trying to make a living, the challenge once again is balancing studio time with the rest of what it takes to run a career and keep things somewhat organized and moving ahead. I’m finding it hard to get back into this busy, efficient mode though after my idyllic and restful time in Ireland. Maybe a few more days of down time will help…
I actually have a few months now before teaching and the accompanying travel begins. This is a time during the winter that I try to set aside each year for my studio and for workshop preparation. Starting in February though, I have a full schedule.
I’d like to mention a couple of my Oil and Wax Workshops (both are intro level) that are coming up fairly soon, and are now open for registration. The first class of the year will be February 15-17 in Florida, at the Delray Beach Center for the Arts
. This is a lovely facility, and it is perfect timing for a winter escape to what promises to be a warm, charming Florida city. My workshop is part of a new program for the art center that features top level visiting artist/instructors. Click on the link above for more information if you’re interested in joining me there.
A few weeks later, I am scheduled to teach a four day workshop at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta (March 9-12) and from then on, my schedule is fully booked with workshops and residencies. (Please email me at email@example.com if you are not yet on my mailing list and you’d like to receive my 2013 schedule when it is ready in early January. Also please email me for more information about the Atlanta class, or to register.)
For now, though, I’m enjoying the pleasures of home after weeks away, the lingering post-Thanksgiving glow from visiting with family and friends, and the memories of Ireland that accompany me in the studio. It’s a time to pause and feel grateful, and to know that somehow, everything that needs to get done, will.
last days at cill rialaig
We are shrouded in mist and rain this morning—views of the islands and peninsula obscured. Lovely and atmospheric, though it’s not particularly encouraging me to take a morning walk. I’m enjoying just sitting by the fire and contemplating the time I’ve had here, full of gratitude for everything, including every person and situation that has brought me here. When I try to describe this experience, the superlatives that come to mind (amazing, fantastic, magical, incredible) fall short of conveying the depth, richness and beauty of my time here. I’ve often thought that for me, if I did not paint to process the experiences of life, I’d be living life on the surface only. I feel that very strongly here, and that my work is connecting me with the landscape in its colors, textures, mystery and atmosphere.
The surfaces of the paintings I’ve done here are for the most part quite worked over and layered, with an emphasis on complex visual texture. They are nothing like the quick, gestural work I imagined doing here--but in planning for an artist residency; it’s very hard to imagine ahead of time what will evolve. This is especially true if your intention is to respond to the experience, and what surrounds you. It is a lesson in the importance of following intuitive leads.
That lesson also played out in a road trip that my friend Janice Mason Steeves
and I just took to the adjacent Beara Peninsula. We learned so much…for one thing, that somehow, time and distance in Ireland are very different from what we are used to back home. According to google maps and my GPS, the trip over to Eyeries on the Beara (to see my friend Sally Bowker
who was on a retreat at Anam Cara) would take about 2 hours. So, our original plan was for a day trip on Saturday, arriving mid-morning, returning before dark, with perhaps a stop or two along the way to check out something of interest. In spite of our experience already on the very narrow, winding Irish roads, I was somehow picturing the timing of some similar trip back home that I make-- for example, a run into the Twin Cities for a visit and errands and back home in time for dinner.
Fortunately, before we left, we asked Jan’s visiting friend Mary Meighan
for some advice about the trip. (As an aside, Mary leads retreats in both Ireland and the US that focus on Celtic spirituality, and would be a wonderful resource for anyone interested in this aspect of Ireland. She finds that many writers and artists come away from her Celtic journeys with an enriched vision of the landscape and culture of the Celtic past, as well as connections with their own spirituality. While visiting at Cill Rialaig, she walked with Jan and I to the old monastic site above the residency houses, and gave to us a beautiful Celtic blessing as we gazed out over the sea. It was one of the most memorable moments I have had here. )
As Mary talked with us about our idea to go to the Beara peninsula, it became clear that we’d want to stay somewhere overnight on Saturday. The driving itself would probably take much longer than 2 hours, and there would be a lot to see along the way, including some megalithic stone circles. My first impulse was to go looking for wi-fi and research a place to stay for Saturday night, but Jan said, “No—let’s just let this trip evolve. No pre-planning,OK?” It took me a split second to shift gears and agree, but that is how we did it. I’m grateful now for that bit of wisdom about following intuition, because it made our trip far richer.
What followed was truly an adventure, and included not only the delightful visit with Sally, but a stop at the ancient Hag Stone of Beara, and an invitation to visit the studio of the Irish painter Charles Tyrrell
, whose work Jan and I both greatly admire. A generous and delightful man, he lives at the top of the steepest, most remote and narrow road imaginable…the drive alone was memorable, and the visit in his home and studio a gift. We also spent an hour or so at the beautiful Uragh stone circle near Kenmare. These stones are in the most tranquil, idyllic setting I have seen yet, overlooking a lake with a waterfall in the distance. To be among them in solitude and quiet was a deep, moving experience.
On a lighter note, our trip also included shopping in Kenmare (where I bought a gorgeous blue Aran knit sweater…and I literally never buy expensive clothing on impulse), several wonderful meals and stops for coffee, and visits to more than one pub for Guinness. By this point in my long description, perhaps you realize that our trip actually took more than one day and night. On Sunday we decided to extend it another day, and spent that night in Kenmare, arriving back at Cill Rialaig on Monday morning. On the last leg of the trip, we stopped to walk on the wide beach at Waterville to see if we could find the stone line drawing we’d made on the sand the week before, but of course, the sea had deposited it elsewhere.
I have to admit it was a challenge for me to let the travel flow, to say, “sure! Let’s keep going, and spend another day on the road…” But by the time we’d finished out visit with Charles Tyrrell and to the Uragh stones on Sunday it was late afternoon, and neither of us was up to finishing the treacherous drive back to Ballinskelligs in the dark, so that finalized the decision. (In places on that road, there is nothing but a low stone fence between the car and a steep plunge to the sea.) After a bit of internal resistance to staying on, I decided it to see it as another opportunity to let things flow and appreciate the moment. Looking back at those two days I see how one thing led to another and how things unfolded in just the right ways.
Tomorrow I’ll have to pack up my supplies to ship off, so this is my last full studio day. We leave Cill Rialaig Thursday morning to return our rental car, and spend the night in Killarney, and my plane takes off Friday morning for home. I’m savoring every moment of these last days.
day 12 at cill rialaig
I’m over half way through my time here at Cill Rialaig, already sad to see the end approaching. Each day begins with waking up in the loft bed, often before it is light outside, and emerging from the warm covers into the chill of the house. Coffee, stoking the wood/peat fire, some time with my journal or a good book, gradually warming up… I’m usually ready for the day at about the time the sun comes up. The light on the sea outside is an endless visual delight and never more so than at the beginning of the day—the sunrises are gorgeous. Sometimes I enjoy a solitary early morning walk, or other days I just start painting. The usual rhythm is to paint for most of the day, with breaks for food and a few little chores, and of course some time just sitting in front of the fire or writing in my journal. In the late afternoon my friend Janice Mason Steeves and I usually connect for a walk or other adventure (yesterday, we took a road trip to Valencia Island, returning at sunset where I took the photo above on the beach at St. Finian's Bay, with the Skellig Islands in the distance.) In the evenings we share dinner and a little wine, check out each other’s paintings and talk. Sometimes I work in the evening but the light is a bit dim, so it may be writing instead of painting.
While painting is always the main focus, the thread that ties each day to the next, it has also seemed important to explore this incredible landscape with its rocky seacoast, beaches and ancient monuments. A few days ago I hiked up over the steep hill above Cill Rialaig, where I had heard there were some standing stones form megalithic times. It was one of the most strenuous hikes I can remember—straight uphill, with no path other than where the cows have walked, over huge rocks and stone fences, through wet boggy places and rough patches of tall grass and gorse bushes. (Speaking from experience, I do not recommend falling into gorse bushes.) Finally at the top of the hill, I spotted them in the distance, four standing stones against the stark field. To come upon them in silence and alone was an unforgettable experience. Then, in typical Irish manner, it suddenly began to pour, and the wind was intense. As I headed back down the hill a double rainbow appeared over the stones, but so briefly I couldn’t capture it in a photo. I like this one though:
In this wild, beautiful place, the interaction of art and life is seamless—the experiences out walking and exploring play out in my work in both conscious and unconscious ways. Most of my paintings here are somber and muted in color, reflecting the November landscape, with textures inspired by the rocks, the patchy fields and the constantly changing atmosphere.
I’m working in mixed media on paper on a fairly small scale—mostly 14”x11.” I sometimes wonder what I can do with all these paintings on paper, which will be expensive to frame or otherwise present, but this format is the most practical way to do a lot of work here, so I don’t think about it much. Life here, with its intense focus and simplicity, seems far away from the world of sales and galleries and other aspect of making a living as an artist. Perhaps this work is just for the moment, for myself--a personal record of the experience.