About my work

Persephone and the Greeks

Persephone is the working title of an ongoing series of works based on the Greek story of Demeter and Persephone.

Demeter was the goddess of the earth and Persephone was her daughter. Together they took care of the land and saw to it that all the forces of nature combined to provide enough crops to feed the people. And that worked fine until Hades Lord of the underworld decided to steal Persephone and keep her in his domain. She eventually became queen of the underworld but not without rancour all round.

I went from Greece to Sicily searching for the stories. I wandered through amazing Athenian museums, and read the Odyssey while in a Sicilian hospital, recovering from an accident. But I came back with Orpheus and Icarus, some new writing, and a broken hip.

Orpheus, especially and his journey to Hades inspired. Orpheus was a poet and could sing I think like a nightingale….or Leonard Cohen with a real golden voice. He could move mountains it is said.
Good enough for me.

The paintings are journeys down the Styx with Orpheus, Icarus and some of my favourite people.
They have become more narrative but not too literal I hope. There needs to be room for others to find a space and to make their own connection. This journey belongs to everyone. But emotions belong to each of us differently.

Recently too I have added sculpture —installation really, to my practice.
The windows of the mill asked me to notice them. Windows are excellent metaphors for many things, but big sills like these don’t talk to you every day. As Charon said to Orpheus 'I am blest'.
Everything relates to everything else.

This series has occupied me intermittently for several years. I am looking forward to finishing it but fear that might never happen, or that it might. Several layers of relevance keep pushing their way to the top and another work suggests itself.
I will go on. I must go on, as Beckett has it.

April 2019

Text for WEST show 2015. Griffin Gallery London

This series represents a narrative about my mother. My mother came from the west of Ireland, and moved to Dublin to have her family. She was busy and hugely creative, and clothed all her nine children in a range of crochet and knitted outfits throughout our childhood. Later she made blankets for us and our children...so many they had to be stored away. Recently I unfolded one of these to find that moths had made inroads and the blanket was held together by coloured threads. Beautiful still. This work is a response.

I washed the remains and hung them out to dry. They looked like ancient prayer flags. Or one of those Donegal tweed Irish landscapes we had in our hall.

The title of Westering Ho is a slip of the memory. Westering Home was a song sung by us all on the way to Kerry on our holidays.The Irish version begins " Trasna na dúnta, dul siar dul siar- across the waves, going west, going west...) I lived near Westward Ho in Devon for a short time..hence the slip.

The rest of the work follows from this.

Curlew is for my mother. Those are her hills that she talked about in her old age. She would have liked to have been buried there but it was not possible. This is a kind of recompense.The curlew flies up and makes its plaintive sound like a breath released.

Landscape With Flag and Stacks are responses to these two pieces.

Ireland is a land of colour..not just green. Every county has its colours and they are displayed proudly at borders and houses. Even road signs have been altered to local colours!

Stacks could be bales of turf, dry stone walls or bundles of wool.My mother chose the colours.

Death of an Alchemist is a response to the death of a good friend..an artist who has inspired and encouraged me over many years. She was a was wonderful woman, an alchemist in her own way.

May 2016

My current work is made of text, written in reverse and worked like knitted landscapes. The paintings are rooted in song, poetry, philosophy and politics. They are that constant inner dialogue.

I have come to this way of working by way of bookmaking and narrative painting. The illuminated manuscript is a big part of Irish art heritage and I have consciously referred to it in my work over the years. I have dispensed with the figure, at least in the recent paintings, so that the marks made by the text can be contemplated without distraction. The term ‘illumination ‘ has the sense of enhancing with colour and precious metal, as well as enlightening the mind.

Words are both the drawing and the painting. They become a composite image through careful filtering processes that create colour luminosity.

I have worked with glass for several years and have noted how colour and light can influence an image. Several visits to India and Australia too have left their legacy. Colour and light are so precious in our part of the world that we want to hold their qualities, keep them close.

The constant layering of painted words seems to hide the precious light. Sometimes a brooding darkness evolves through this process but at others reworking and erasing let the light tones break through. The words are stripped of complete legibility so that the marks become a veil through which colours layer and fade, creating depth with sudden changes in radiance.

The verbal dialogue becomes a visual one.

I am happy to work in different media. Bookmaking is a joy and allows me to work with inks and watercolour on a small scale. Here I can create stories and narratives, use the figure, create allegories and make poetry on a more intimate scale.

All of my work methods can constitute an installation, big or small. The space at the Steam Museum by the Thames became a painted landscape honouring the workers, engineers and artists who use and have used the space. White Room in Kilkenny 2008 was inspired by a Wordsworth poem about life before birth as well as the traditional Sacred Heart image, so much a part of Irish culture.

My current work On a Roll enlarges the bookmaking idea at a time when books are struggling for their visibility. It is a book and a scroll and a space for ideas to be posited, argued with and recorded. It is an illuminated thesis, a book of ideas, a physical object taking up space and demanding to be noticed.

Other works have their own stories.

August 2011