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...