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my month in irelandThere's a change that happens shortly before you leave a place that you love. A feeling of nostalgia sets even though your'e still there...you miss it already and know it will be a long time until you are back. Today I'm almost done with my stay as an artist in residence at Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ballycastle, County Mayo, Ireland, packing up and reflecting on my time here, having those goodbye feelings. I fly home in 3 days after a short stay in Dublin. By now, the landscape here in North Mayo has become familiar --the lanes and back roads, the hiking trails, the beaches, the fields, the old walls, the spectacular, wild coastline. But every time I come here (this is the sixth time) I still discover new places. This visit, I came upon the tide pools near the Stella Maris pier just a few miles from Ballycastle and spent an hour or so there marveling at these small worlds of texture, shape and color.
Tide Pool, near Ballycastle
Even though my work overall has been evolving away from specific landscape references, when I'm here the landscape and seascape always assert themselves in what I paint. But in fact the bolder shapes in my new work have their origins in the cliffs and rocks I've seen on previous residencies here; I appreciate being back at the source and seeing the continuity.
at Benwee Head
I came here in March with an idea about exploring an intersection between painting and printmaking, something that has been in the back of my mind for several years, and which I've played with a bit at home without much success. My plan was to start with prints (drypoint, carborundum, and monotype) and then add layers of cold wax and oil in ways that would allow both media to contribute to the final piece. My first attempts here, like my previous ones at home, weren't very successful. In addition to some technical issues that I had to work out, I couldn't figure out how to handle the paint application. Either the layers of paint quickly obliterated the prints, or the bits of print that did show through became so precious they got in the way of developing the work as a whole. I needed to find that delicate sweet spot in which both the print and the paint had a voice.
print/cold wax/oil 10"x8"
It can be a frustrating process to work out a new idea or technique. But here, there is a lovely calmness to each day, no rush, no pressure, and the process as it unfolded seemed interesting, rather than difficult or discouraging. I ended up with five pieces that I considered successful, and will keep exploring this path once I'm back home.
As I start to clean and pack, I'm pleased with my work here and feel that the ideas I've been working with in recent months have taken another step forward. I'm excited to see what will happen when can work again on a larger scale in my home studio (I do sometimes feel constrained when on residency by suitcase-sized surfaces.)
oil/cold wax on paper, 16"x12"
my studio space at Ballinglen with finished work
In other ways too this has been a good and satisfying time. During my first week here, I taught a workshop to a very compatible, fun, and competent group of artists. I had caught a cold and was feeling a little less than wonderful, but they were all kind and compassionate and we carried on.
workshop group at Benwee Head
As for my residency time, this has been one of the most enjoyable I've experienced. The other artists here have been wonderful--congenial and generous, those with cars often inviting those of us without on various outings, and there have been lots of casual chats and evening get-togethers with food and wine. I've had some deep conversations about my work, other people's work, and things we all have in common as artists. I love spending time with people who understand what it means to be seriously focused on art, but are also up for fun and adventure. At the same time, we have all respected each other's needs for studio time and solitude. It's kind of a perfect little world...some of us here joke about the Ballinglen Bubble--the feeling of happily floating through our days, mostly oblivious to the outside world.
Michael Geddis and Eva Isaksen, artists in residence at Ballinglen
Happily, I'll be back next year at this same time, experiencing the early Irish spring (or maybe, as was the case this year, a few weeks of lingering winter). For now I need to turn to my typically messy studio and the need to clean, organize and pack. My bubble hasn't quite burst, but I do feel it gently descending toward solid ground.
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