“And the Keelson of creation is Love” Walt Whitman

Tomorrow I will have a exhibition opening of my paintings at the crawford gallery at Asheville school. Its called Obair na mBan ( women’s work) I am showing with the artist Hannah Seng. It is a far cry from the work of my younger days. The 20 years quest took me in all directions and digging in the earth was a good start and low and behold I found an empty cavern. Life’s circumstances led me right into it. And it was stark in the most terrifying way. I summoned so much strength to sit in it and wait. Waiting I did, till I found love was waiting there for me, all along.

“And the keelson of creation, is love” Walt Whitman

img_4228It struck me this one afternoon not so many weeks ago, just when the weather was beginning to change and the first gold edges were appearing on the greens, that I am indeed doing what I had wished to do a long time ago.

When I was a young student back in Ireland, I was filled with avidity for my chosen path. I had an ernest and determined approach. Decided on Art, I was all in. But the more I travelled that and the deeper I moved into those circles, I began to question it and my dreams became unsteady.

It was about 1997 studying Art in Galway on the west coast of Ireland, when I came across a catalogue of a show in London called Rites of Passage. Here there was new conceptual Art made in such a way as I could truly say, “ I wish I could do that”. I loved the work in it. All of it.
About the same time conceptual art was hitting a zenith, a kind of fluorescent flurry with the sensationalist young british artists. I loved it all too, the energy and the infectious enthusiasm of their work, their youth, their drive, one boundary breaking after another. I could identify with it, but there was a a kind of cavern in it for me, a sort of empty side I couldn’t figure out.

I was grappling with all this amidst my aspirations. The Rites of Passage show offered me a glimpse of hope to some extent, particularly by an essay in the back of the catalogue. It suggested Artists, (and please forgive my paraphrasing 20 years later) were acting shamans. They had picked up the torches of priests and holymen that may have become lack lustre in their ability to soulfully connect with their people. That an awakening to the hypocrisy in much religious movement was causing a shift back to communing more with Art.

Art had somehow lost its central role in helping us understand and be ourselves and relate to our community in assisting us to express the deeper issues of our lives. This would have been its role in tribal communities and in our own culture too before medicine and Art and spirituality parted ways. Art and spirituality were once a complete couple and interwoven for centuries. It suggested conceptual artists were now answering again a deep call in our culture to experience or reawaken our awareness of our living selves. They could be the great explorers of experience in the world, allowing us new windows in which to view the suffering and the pain and even the beauty in a secular space, unhindered by religious commitments and offering another way to comprehend our place in it all. Were they really doing that? Where?

My 19 year old me took this very much to heart. I was at ease with the sense of vocation, I felt such a calling in Art. I was studying and building a web of information between buddhism and feminism, suffism and christian mysticism. Fascinated too by art history relational and performance Art, I carried all this fire with me along  and under the strong influences of trending Art scenes.

Often I found myself very lonely in it and overwhelmed by my sense of purpose that didn’t quite fit the almost pop star status of the artist’s I was watching. I wanted to be open to new work but what felt meaningful was few and far between for me. I kept harkening back to the past for a more sincere* connection.

side note* sincere comes from the words san cere, meaning without wax , its an Italian term that comes from marble mining. High quality wax has no marks or breaks in it as the cheaper marble does. To make the cheaper marble look better the holes and defects are filled with wax, to make it look smooth.  The word sincere means literally, without wax, no cover ups.

The Rites of passage work stayed with me, and I wrote a thesis exploring the ideas. I was particularly interested in works that seemed more cathartic in nature and that these artists were offering us ways to navigate our own winding pathways of self discovery and  attempted comprehension of modern life.

A couple of years Later and about to show my work in Paris ( a great milestone in my young career) I had a real crisis of purpose. I had become very clever about Art making and a success, and that seemed to be jarring with my sense of vocation. It seemed a much more egoic pursuit then I meant it to be, and I had no idea how to make it differently. I was trying so hard to be engaged in creative process but understood very little about what that actually meant or felt like. I wanted answers but just found much more sophisticated questions. So what did I do? After my show, a duarational performance piece, with a fever and a throat infection, I abandoned Paris and went to the Pyrennees. I became, for two years at least, an archeologist.

20 years later, I am still digging, with my paint brush now, pencil and maybe these words too. I am in the park in West Asheville near the great French Broad River. Its a dark fall night. Cold chilly air moves around my cuffs as I write. I have my winter coat on, now ruined with paint ( some may say improved upon) from last winters cold studio days when I was careless with it. Its hockey practice. M, my daughter is working hard on the rink with the other kids. She calls to me avery 15 mins for her water bottle. Her hot breath makes smoke in the cool air. I love her determination and enthusiasm, it reminds me of someone……. The high way rings on the air at its constant pitch. This evening is quieter though, Summer’s rich orchestra of night sounds is getting softer each evening as we drop so willingly into the great Fall.

I think of my paintings at the show, shed from the studio like autumn’s leaves, leaving me, the tree where the roots are. I think about delivering them to the beautiful ground of Asheville School were I stopped the car for a moment to watch a gust of leaves spiral down in the goldening light, delivering themselves to the earth. I think of how much I love the leaves as each one of my paintings. Not because I think they are good or better  work for that matter but because they feel so completely “san cere” and are so entirely and tenderly formed in the deep hearts core of me. It’s true, I can’t tell you a more accurate version of events.

“I bring to the altar of dawn the quiet loyalty of breath” John O Donohue

I go to my studio in the Arts District five mornings a week. I light candles in the morning to my ancestors and I pray. Sometimes I say buddhist mantras, sometimes the Hail Mary or the angelus from my catholic schooling, sometimes I just talk to my deceased parents and first husband and tell them about my plans for the day and ask them how they all are. I look at myself in the mirror over the altar and thank myself for turning up again and again and for this me, right here in this breathing body, this mysterious first gift of life. Then I get stuck in watching the Art come out of me with a curious mind, seeing what my hand does and what my brush does when I hold it that way, and then this way….Its  deep meditation, not always but often. And then, I trust that what has formed is my hand taking part in creation, my leaves growing.

These years have been a real schooling. Finding my own rites of passage and forming my own rituals and what works for me. The circumstances of life answered so many of my youthful and urgent questions for me about Art making and creation. Holding the dying and giving birth blow away the dead wood of thoughts, leaving you a clean new slate to paint on. I learned to go within and look only there for answers. Answers come in all different shapes and sizes and now so often they appear on canvas for me and cannot be verbalized.

Here in the studio I am no priest, but I would like to share that I am having the most extraordinary connections with people who visit me here. My doors are generally open, work is for sale. Again and again I find I am making not only paintings but the relational Art too that I wished for. I am meeting, connecting and sharing this creative essence every day, and in the practice of that, its action is more apparent. The conversations and sharing of process are radically different to the Art world I had assumed I would be in. The lines of process and production are blurred and the relationships I am building in the community are interwoven into that. Buyers are coming back and telling me rich stories of what the work is doing for them in their lives. And in that moment my job feels complete. The creative energy that drew itself through my studio is now incorporated. I feel like the Artist in my vocation, as I wished to be, offering all kinds of windows into the mysteries and so very grateful.

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New work on canvas, a wild like of wisdom.

Thank you for reading

Deep love to you

 

Wild: A Coming of Age

I woke yesterday morning remembering. We lived in Wexford on the south sat coast of Ireland then. I was 9 or maybe 10. I was riding my pony along the sandy lane to the sea. It was summer I believe. The sun was at it’s zenith, no shadows of evening yet. It was warm for Ireland. We were nearing the beach and in a moment the long stretch of hazy blue horizon, broken only by two islands, would bare itself to us. The blue would take my breath away.

It was a five mile ride to the beach. I was hot, sweating beneath my black riding hat, my forehead slippy and salt dripping to my lips, in patched blue jeans, an old t-shirt and riding boots, my usual attire. I remember being alone, but wouldn’t have been. Joanna or Juliet, my sister’s would have been riding too.

The sea grasses were singing in the breeze. Sun-dried, they made a gentle music like reedy instruments, long wispy flows in waves out along the quilt of green and grey/blue grasslands before the sand dunes. They  came to crescendo with a chorus of sea birds calling. The Curlew’s call was my favored section, a melancholy call that pulled my heart strings, it does now to this day. Thirty years later and an Atlantic ocean away, I can here it in the deep core of me, reminding me of Dad and those islands where we scattered his ashes.

I was bracing myself. For when we would turn that corner and he caught the first site of that view, he would take off. My young body would not stand a chance in holding him back. Any discipline he had learned would be overwhelmed by the instinct to gallop that open space. I was nervous and smiling ear to ear. We had carried the anticipation the entire ride. He was sure to run. He did every time, I was counting on it.

My little hands grasped round the leather reins entwined with the coarseness of his rowan mane. I held on tight, grasping my thighs around his middle. Then up went his head with a side long glance, we were off. At break neck speed we galloped down the beach, his legs thundering beneath me, my hair rushing back behind me in a torrent, with the wind in my ears, loudly rushing past. I could barely look ahead into it, and had to turn my head to the side. To the right of me the sea, waves rushing in too and turning over. Underneath, ground passing in a blur of sands and shells and the thud and rhythm and me doing all I could to keep with him in that rhythm and not fall off. I could only surrender to the wildness. And surrender I did with yips and roars “Hahahahahha …Wooohooo ….. yeeeehaaaaa”. There we were wholly wild and free. Liberated at once from stable, home and school. He could have thrown me off but didn’t, not today.

My encounter’s with this freedom were plentiful as a child, and what of them now. They are ingrained, embodied memories of being alive, connected, full spirited. I want this for my children. A natural growing of strength with tests of courage, supported in freedom.

When he was run through he would veer right into the sea, and we would get a soaking. The cold seawater coming over the tops of my boots and cooling us off. His splashing steps throwing water up to my hands and face. It was a complete sensational experience, every part of it. And both of us thirsty and nothing to quench but salty water, we would have to wait the five miles home. When we were ready that is, to leave this kind of heaven. A full days work to get there and back. And what a reward.

This new work, is called Cailín Eala/ Swan Girl it is about coming of age, inspired by watching our youngest daughter coming to eleven, and all the great enthusiasm she has for growing up, and that unmistakable power of potential in her. This is her as I imagine in a couple of years time, readying to enter her womanhood, guided, safely enfolded by nature, with a  deep courage like a warrior and feminine gentleness alike, going forward naturally, true to herself and in balance with her world. I hope I can offer her lots of wild days and opportunities to feel so fully alive, even in this urban life.

maddy warrior 2

 

 

 

Deep Self- Portraiture

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Your face is this rich visage of your life, your memories mapped out in extraordinary hills and valleys, light and dark in its caves, shadowed and radiant in their palette. How often do you look at yourself intimately, not a fleeting glance, checking flaws, nor a passing judgement but a deep look into your own eyes, the contour of your unique countenance. How does it curve and where, how hard is the line of your chin, or soft in its form. Seeing your self in yourself, the deeper self. Slowly, carefully trace the ravines, the rivulets, where age and sun gazing and again, where cold’s embrace has made its mark. Where stories told and untold have lain their mark. Or where it is your cheeks have changed, mine have grown thinner from my blushing youthfulness. I look like my Grandmother Dorothy, now. I see her in me. But I am my father from the side, my profile, a replica of his. Which ancestor are you, and how many before you carried those marks? Think of how many may come facing the world like you.

In art college my sculpture professor would ask us to take turns sitting for each other to draw as we prepared to make clay busts of ourselves. In my turn he made great demonstrative gestures about the size of my nose, “look how it hooks out from this immense forehead, an unmistakably roman profile”. It was meant to be a compliment. His enthusiasm made it so. I would cringe, blush, squirm inside at this attention, being compared to roman generals. At eighteen one might not be so keen nor understand the beauty of a form, for form’s sake. I claimed it anyway. I was happy to claim my Father and his nose.

I have drawn and painted this face of mine for years since those classes in college, she/I am the model for woman in most of my works and even as illustrator. I may change her skin color and hair style or age for that matter, but the essence of her always remains. She appears again and again. I have become so familiar with the design of those lines.  A type of archetypal drawing of myself and woman has formed.

At times I have been embarrassed by how like me she is, concerned it was some kind of narcism. Yet in the same moment exhilarated by her unfolding on paper- and fascinated by my discomfort in aspects of myself and my delight in others. My time in college allowed some objective thought about my body which I am grateful for. I have grown very glad of this sort of accidental exploration of my awareness.

I have consistently make these visual biographies.  I have subtly but powerfully come to know this language of self -portraiture. It is a vivid interaction with my experience of being this self, being in this form, and the line of similar forms before me.

In depicting a new story, a new work as seen above fig 1. I found myself  reaching another level of this. I was making a large work, 5 ft by 4 ft (easily my largest piece of oil on canvas yet) painting of a woman bursting into flower. She was inspired by a story that belongs first to my husband. It is about an experience he had whilst on a meditation retreat, where in a moment he felt each of his cells had burst into flower in a powerful instant of love and self acceptance.

I was so moved by his experience and this telling. The imagery it brought to my mind’s eye, for days and weeks stayed ever close to my imagination. Coupled with my sense of a veritable opening in my own heart through the grieving process, a kind of lifting of deeper grief, the urge to express this sense of aliveness became irresistible. I wanted to paint life striving on into bloom under all kinds of duress, finding its essential way of taking form, so we can finally notice its beauty, and come into it’s presence.

I mapped her out on white canvas and the great odyssey of new work began. Soon she looked back at me from the canvas. The resemblance to me was there but I was not claiming her at first. I struggled on to paint her facial expression, I wanted her to be peaceful but strained, hurt but healing, suffering and accepting, dark and radiant, loving and kind in a sort of serious smile. A lot to ask of one face in one moment. All the while I had a concern it was too like me. I spent weeks changing her face around.I stopped finally, what is it? I stood back again and again to look and recorded each change I made on my phone flipping through them periodically to see if there felt like a progression, in some inexhaustible attempt to get her ” right”.

Then, I caught a glance of myself in the mirror. There she was staring back at me. But in the same breath, it dawned on me she was not. There was some of me in her. I looked again at the painting and saw that it was my mother. Then again and this time it was my sister Joanna. A shiver went down my spine as I checked my phone and all the changes I had made over the last couple of weeks. They all looked like family.Here I was a world away from home painting my family resemblance again and again.

I recognized something important to the process not fully formed. But in time I believe it is this. The ancestral line of my family was pouring out in the work. In a moment I went through all my sisters, grandmother’s and again to my mother. They were all represented. She was reflecting all of us in an essence. My hands had done their work, portraying life as I know it best from deep within the own well of my creation. It felt like a serene moment of integration.When I think of it now, I feel very human and connected. And for all my work and explorations in staying present with process and true to the source of inspiration, it felt like a breakthrough.

My work and self are utterly intermingled, my hands and tools are melded now.  The more time I spend in the studio the more my art becomes me and the more at ease I am becoming in that marriage. Some kind of peace has occurred these last few years in Asheville, giving my art the attention it asks of me finally. Time is such an essential part of fully engaging in creative process, it won’t be rushed.  Its been most, if not all my life that I feel a consistent yearning to draw and paint what I feel. This work seems an ultimate expression of that. And it started with a story as most of my paintings do, a beautiful story of earthing love.

I realized this year I will do anything for the muse, and the honor of being in it’s presence, listening to its call is essential. Watching what appears from your hands is vital. It is fragrant with magic but mostly it is Creation. What a wonderful way to be in conversation with creation.

Do look deeply into the eyes of your self, into the mysterious landscape of your face, it holds a thousand dreams and stories, many you may not know. They are gifted to you from the generations maybe seven thousand years of adventures.

 

 

 

 

 

Real Alchemy

“Empty your mind and Love the world” she says. Now isn’t that alchemy? I believe it is. Therese Fitzgerald said those words at the beginning of a silent retreat I attended a while ago at Southern Dharma Retreat Centre, back in the Spring in fact.Such simple lines there in black and white and I knew she was right, I think she always is. And It was the beginning of me finding my feet on the track again. Art/Life began to flow again. It is fluent now, and I am enjoying every moment that I can.

Transplanting us from one continent to another was hard to say the least. And here we are finally putting our roots down in this rich Appalachian soil. One can try to anticipate the journey, the work at the other side, and all the energy of adaptation. But there are many more things that cannot be anticipated that add to the heavy load of moving whilst life is happening all around you and making its demands.

There was an ineffable pull that brought me here. It was beyond the profound love I have for my American husband. Something inside me knew that it was an honorable risk. We don’t always take a leap for love alone but this one was to be taken. In my heart I knew there was a story to create together, to piece together our lives and make them a great work. We are now building a most beautiful book together. Its missing leaves and I wish there was parts that I could edit or mend but it is beautiful all the same and filled with adventure.

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I sat by the stream at Southern Dharma, having arrived so full of the worlds stresses, with a cacophony of thoughts. I lay down my burden. Doing my best to empty my mind in a way that made sense to me, and  most faithfully and patiently, …….and then there it was …..quietly then a sudden gushing of love…. and much more with it… understanding, compassion and all good things that the intelligence within life knows best. That intelligence had been hidden a while in the rocky leaps from Ireland but was ready and waiting for me to make space and indeed Love the world.

I would love to live as river does,

carried by the surprise

of its own unfolding

John O’ Donohue.

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These line drawings were made in the midst of that and as a result I have grown very fond of them. Being in nature, roused by its reflections of being awakened. Wrapped in being, somehow paying back what I owed for a year adrift, being so very present in my aliveness and loving it all.

I worried.  I always do, pulling away from inspiring places like that, that I can’t take it with me, integrate that into my everyday. It is integrated though by the very fact it was and I am. Even the trees arched in around me to say, ” We love you too! ”

Its Summer now.

Here I am adorned in Loves wrap

in hope, faith –

I spread it across canvas, felt and paper

allowing imagination its rightful place

It appears in strokes and color,

in brush and pen

held in the flame of a brilliant rose.

Spring in the Studio

” I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it has to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived”.  Henry David Thoreau.

 

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A woman came into my studio yesterday. She was interested in buying a print. She spent a long time considering it and asked me if I would explain to her why I painted it. I tried! I told her I was inspired by nature, that I trusted that above all else, as an intelligence and an aesthetic to work with. I said “making this work was begun a long time ago as I had lived, walked and sketched in the forest in Ireland”! This was not what she wanted to hear entirely, I saw the look in her eyes that what I said wasn’t enough for her. She thanked me and left.

What was I really trying to say to her??? What would have been the absolute truth? Perhaps that these works are my outpouring of experience in nature, my profound relationship with the seasons that drives me to paper and canvas and to carry them up hills and mountains, despite my fear of bears. And then down trails in all weathers to get closer to that wonderful essential energy of nature, to feel its utter presence fill my work.

Today she returned and again held the same print in her hands- asked me, “Why did you make this painting”? I stopped at the beginnings of my attempt and stood silently for some moments trying to draw up some relatable version of my truth for her. I noticed then that she was of asian heritage and I asked her where from, she was Vietnamese american. I asked her if she knew much about buddhism, and she did. I said then, “You know, its like meditation, this work comes from the same place as the bright silence, when you pray or meditate. This is my attempt to show that silence visually”. She smiled and asked me how much the bigger print was. It was double the price, but in moments she delightedly made it hers.

As she walked away I thought about how I struggle to find words for what I am doing, and why I am doing it. I have made so many attempts. I get caught up in it. I have such profound feelings about the role of artist in society and in this community, of my role right here in this present moment and what and why I am here. I have yet to find all the words to show what I do. This morning though I made some kind of vow to keep doing that( drawing the silence)  and somehow draw the words too- that it is as important a code for us to express this extraordinary experience of life as it is for me to paint it. The fact that it is not my first medium of choice only encourages me to practice.

If the forest is some kind of temple than this studio is my oratory, to both pray, celebrate and give notice to the passing of time. Having it open and welcoming people in gives me plenty of opportunity to try to communicate this work. And here again I find myself drawing it out. x E

 

 

 

 

Painting

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination ” Henry David Thoreau

IMG_6395The arrival of spring in full support 2015 oil on canvas

 

IMG_6396The turn of Autumn 2014 oil on canvas

IMG_6397I want to go home now 2015 Oil on canvas

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My own personal helicon 2015 oil on canvas