back in ballycastle
Last year, one of the students on my workshops here at Ballinglen Arts Foundation
said to me, "Clearly, Ireland is your happy place." She was right; during my residency time here (between the two workshops I teach) I feel enveloped in the simple joys of owning my days, painting and walking, being who I am. It is an idyllic time, free of responsibilities and to-do lists, in what I think must be one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. I feel tremendous gratitude for all that brings me back here year after year--the people at Ballinglen, my students, and of course the support and understanding of my family.
There is a subtle shift in my attitude that I notice after I have been here a week or so. A relaxation, a letting go of the urge to push and make things happen. Being still, just looking at things, noticing things. Enjoying the solitude as well as the company of the lovely people who come and go here.
This is my third autumn at Ballinglen, and each time I feel drawn to different aspects of the landscape. In 2013, it was the drama of the wild seacoast. Last year, while out walking with my brother who is a wetlands ecologist, it was the rich colors and textures of the tapestry of bog plants. This time I find myself looking closely at the hedgerows that line every small road and create the grid of farm fields in the landscape, densely woven walls of plant life that form around stone and wire farm fences, like vertical gardens. Thick with thorns and stinging nettles, they are formidable barriers, but beautiful in the richness of their colors and textures, Blackberry vines with ripe berries appearing, gorse with its yellow flowers, wild roses hung with bulbous red hips, fuchsia in bloom, ivy, morning glories and numerous ferns and grasses. Many plants have dried and gone to seed, while others are still vibrant with leaves and flowers.
The hedgerows form craggy shapes against the sky, their various plant forms intertwined and densely, complexly matted. Though their colors are stunning at this time of year, I see the hedges in my mind as line and shape, the variety of plant life compressed into rough outlines. For the past few days I've been walking the back roads observing and photographing them. I've noticed that along certain lanes they have been hacked back with some merciless hedge-cutting machine, but mostly they grow freely, wildly. I wonder in what ways they will influence the work I do here, or when I'm back home.
While my particular focus seems to shift from year to year, what has moved me in the past continues to do so. I'm still delighted by the sea and the bog. It feels to me that my experience in this place builds upon itself and grows richer each time, and that every year my awareness becomes a little bit more subtle and fine-tuned.
A couple of small paintings on paper from my first days in the studio:
More to follow!