thoughts from ballinglen, county mayo
Nearing the halfway point in my Fellowship at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo, Ireland, I'm reflecting on influences on my painting and changes that have been evolving since moving into this studio almost two weeks ago. I'm thinking and wondering, but really too much in the middle of it all to make any real pronouncements. However, here is some of what is feeding my work that I can clearly identify:
...my previous posts from Ballinglen have been about the impact of the landscape, and I continue to respond every day to sights around Ballycastle as well as memories and photos of coastal areas I saw on day trips with my workshop class in my first week here. I plan to rent a car to revisit some of these places (or find new ones) when my friend Kate visits early in November. Below is a small painting in response to the rocky cliffs and wild surf in the area near Carrowteige.
But it is not all the dramatic coastal images that are feeding my work. It is also the quiet, everyday textures and colors of brambly hedges and bog colors, beautiful cloudy skies and stone fences. With some paintings, I'm thinking about specific imagery; with others it is a mixture of various impressions and essences. I notice that when I am painting during an artist's residency, my work tends to reference specific aspects of the landscape more so than when I am at home---there is a cycle of gathering and processing the unique qualities of a place when I am there, and then bringing them into a wider context back in my own studio.
Another influence has been seeing a number of local ancient sites
: I've had the opportunity to visit 5 or 6 neolithic and bronze age sites around Ballycastle, including Ceide Fields (where extensive remnants of neolithic stone boundary fences have been excavated) and standing stones and various types of tombs. And the last day that my class was in session, we went to the fascinating Easky Beach, where there are endless fossil remains of sea creatures embedded in the rocks. The painting below is in response to what we saw at Easky:
And of course, since I am surrounded by the art of past Fellows at Ballinglen, and have access to a wonderful library of art books and exhibit catalogs, I am paying attention to how other artists
have interpreted this landscape and experience. In many cases there is a pull toward minimalism, understandable when you see the simplicity and strength of the shapes of coastal rocks and the grid of the farm fields.
While I love and appreciate minimalism, I find my own response heading in the opposite direction, toward an abundance of rich, detailed texture. However, I have also been using areas of simple color and flat planes in some of my paintings, as in the one below:
Besides the permanent collection and library at Ballinglen, there is also a gallery to which residents have 24/hour access. On display right now is an intriguing exhibit by Irish artist Nuala Clarke
, called "a drawing for everything." Approximately 300 abstract drawings are hanging, most of them on identical 7" square pieces of paper and composed within a circle.
I find myself often wandering through the exhibit, intrigued by the variation of her compositions. Nuala's work has been inspiring to me to explore new ways of dividing the space in my works and to introduce more definite shapes. (As an aside, she will be teaching a workshop
in December at Ballinglen on Abstraction, and I am sure it will be excellent.)
Another artist I have had the privilege of meeting at Ballinglen is Eddie Kennedy,
who came up to see my studio when he was here for Nuala's opening. I had been painting and re-painting the same piece all day and laughed a little at being frustrated by that. He said that something he had learned when doing an artist's residency was that the best use of time is to just keep moving, not to get too caught up in any one painting. This advice has also influenced me in the past week--I keep exploring and pushing, and am OK with putting something aside that isn't working. While I rarely totally abandon anything, there will be time once I leave for going back into the ones that fight back. In the meantime, there is so much to explore...
I am a week into my own painting time at Ballinglen Arts Foundation
in County Mayo, Ireland. It's very quiet here now in contrast to the camaraderie and intensity of the seven-day Oil&Wax Workshop that I taught here when I first arrived. The workshop was a great success, with plenty of time for day trips, drawing exercises, slide talks, and enjoying each others company at meals and at the pub. Most importantly the week provided enough time for the paintings to unfold and the process to be understood, and for the experiences in the dramatic and beautiful North Mayo landscape to be processed through the artist's work. (If this sounds appealing, plans are underway for two sessions next October/November--both an intro class and an advanced level--so if you are interested and not yet on my mailing list, please sign on here
, and you'll receive info with my winter newsletter.)
Above are several of the paintings I've done in my first week here, and they speak of the richness of the experience so far, and of my emotional response to the landscape. There are changes happening in my work--starker contrasts, and stronger colors, including some that are outside my usual range.
I'm feeling so moved and intrigued by this place and very grateful to have a month ahead to explore. The landscape right around the village is mostly gentle green farmland--rich with texture and color--and similar to what I know from previous trips to Ireland. But North Mayo also has some very distinctive geography. There is extensive bog land, soft and quiet, and stark with few trees. Along the coast this landscape ends abruptly at the edge of spectacular sea cliffs, ancient rock incredibly varied in its forms and colors. For example, near Ballycastle (where Ballinglen is located) is Downpatrick Head, a spectacular sea-stack that separated from the mainland about 1400 AD. Below are a few photos that show the character of this wild, rugged coast as well as the more gentle aspects of the countryside.
Here is a photo taken at the fossil beach at Easky, which we visited on the last day of the workshop:
Although these are specific images, my process while painting is an intuitive search through memories and emotions arising from experiencing this place. When the painting goes well, I'm intrigued by the mystery of this process--the way the essence of my experience comes through without conscious effort to express it.
I have been quite literally in another world for the past week and just woke up to the fact that I have neglected this blog since shortly before leaving for Ireland. We are nearing the end of the week-long Oil&Wax Workshop at Ballinglen Arts Foundation
, and it has been an incredibly fun and rewarding experience. Ten artists have gathered here from as far away as Australia, and including artists from Denmark, Sweden, the US and Canada, and Ireland. I have enjoyed the opportunity to present class over a period of seven days, which allows time for drawing, more slide presentations, and several trips out to see the surrounding, spectacular landscape. Below are some photos from our field trips to Moyne Abbey, Belderrig, and Benwee Head near Carrowteigh.
I will post more later about the class and my Fellowship period ahead (six more weeks to paint and enjoy!)