2021 crept in under grey skies and the pandemic had not gone away, in fact it had caught us all even more firmly in its grip. Any alternative focus that lifts the eyes and the mind is a worthy pursuit and so when the Kerry County Council Arts Office Newsletter arrived in my inbox the end of January, just for the pure undiluted distraction, I read everything in minuscule.
Cill Rialaig is an artist retreat centre located on a remote headland on the Iveragh Peninsula, in County Kerry. Founded by the inimitable Dr Noelle Campbell Sharp, it has been a haven for several decades now for those who need space to check-in on their own creativity. Her main aim has been to develop and maintain a space into which artists can retreat, from Ireland and abroad, where they can flourish, away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world.
Professional artists, who are resident in Kerry, the on line newsletter informed its readers, are eligible to apply for a residency stay at Cill Rialaig, the application deadline, mid-February.
Meanwhile, I knew I had been falling back into the world where I shun risk. I had begun to drop myself into that place where suspense only happened on a Saturday night when I was watching Tommy Tierney, trying to figure out his guests on RTE TV. Life had become a quiet watering hole.
I was choosing to stick with all the devils I knew. Could I unhinge myself? I figure there was no harm in trying and so I put my application together. Just doing that much, I found myself already less conservative and already less calcified, as I played with the thought that perhaps I might be lucky enough to be awarded a residency. I refused to listen to the voices in my head that had the power to fill me with fear and dread. Instead the deepest part of myself spurred me on to believe that my own innate creativity, which everyone of us has an equal measure but perhaps don’t tap into it, wanted to hold tight, to survive, to revolt against inertia.
When a reply eventually came to my inbox, I was humbled and deeply pleased to be offered a three-week residency at Cill Rialaig. It begins mid-April and runs into May. I heart sings. I cannot measure the gratitude that I feel.
Cill Rialaig, I shall, very soon now, hold myself in among your remote cliff top spaces and await what inward journeys shall uncover themselves.
My journey into the visual arts has been a relatively recent step. I’ve always loved exploring the connections between ideas, people, things we come across in the everyday.
The whole notion of taking a theme, dipping in and out, going deeper into the familiar and seeking out variations and things that had once seemed the same, has always been attractive to me. I love spotting patterns. I think my eye likes the repetition and the rhythm.
Although I don’t write music, this is probably the same deep sense of attraction that creates music. Maybe the best music is written by those who can fall into step and synchronise with the natural rhythm of their own hearts, creating melody as they go. I like the thought!
In March 2019, my eldest son obliged me when he used his own mobile phone to digitise my art work in the early morning light. It was not long after the sun had risen over Co Clare across the breath of the Shannon Estuary from the window of our sitting room and just before he ran out the door to go football training on the beach at Beale Strand.
With that digitised file, I applied to exhibit at Feile na Bealtaine, the eclectic Dingle Arts Festival that happens annually in the beautiful West Kerry town. This was the very first time I was dipping a toe into the visual arts scene and was entirely thrilled that my work was accepted. I was bringing 20 art items, the series based on birds. Creating my own Haiga series, bringing my own composed haiku poetry and simple imagery into the same art space, in keeping with the links each of the 20 birds had to the Ogham Alphabet, my little exhibition was located in The Gazebo, close to An Diseart Arts Centre and behind Dingle’s beautiful Catholic Church. I was in my element! It’s true to say that I will forever treasure the remarks and comments that people placed in the little ledger in the exhibition space. Their words were gold to me. In terms of gratitude, there are no boundaries.
Successful again with an application early in 2020, I was due to bring a new series of Haiga Art, this time based on 20 native Irish trees, to Feile na Bealtaine. As we all know so well now, Covid 19 restrictions cancelled pretty much everything last year.
I would like to acknowledge the generosity of the committee at that festival who, while not obliged to do so, still chose to give artists who were due to exhibit at the festival, a monetary sum. I received €100, though I did not go because the festival never happened. My mother always reminded me to never deny anyone’s goodness and in keeping with that notion, I just want to note it here. Not every festival committee takes the same approach and fair play to the Feile na Bealtaine crew in charge.
I have submitted again for 2021, this time with a series on Irish Wildflower Haiga. The organisers hope the festival can go ahead in compliance with restrictions. Keeping everything outdoors and visual arts and screens et cetera for social distancing will be entirely possible. Whether my artwork happens to be part of the festival are not, I really admire the committee’s strong determination to allow and facilitate the vibrant arts community to unleash itself in Dingle for the May bank holiday weekend 2021. All the best!
It was not at all my conscious intention to create a new haiga series during those quiet days of March, April, May and June when I, like everyone else, took strolls within the 2 km and later 5 km range of my home. A reflective mode seemed to switch itself into motion, fragments of poetry came slowly, played a while and formed themselves around the wildflowers which I had collected here in County Kerry. There seemed to be all the time in the world to script in calligraphy.
When Maire Logue, the artistic Director at St John’s Theatre & Arts Centre in Listowel, Co Kerry asked if she could come visit the room in Tarbert where I had created and hung them, little did I think she would be so charmed by the style of haiga I had created.
In no time, Martin Cleary had digitised the work and Paul Shannon had produced the art print formats. Jimmy Deenihan kindly and readily agreed to launch the exhibition series at St John’s in a Covid safe environment.
Blessed to be surrounded by energising and positive persons, I am very pleased to invite you to come along and see the haiga series that I am about to hang on the old, beautiful walls of St John’s today.
The formal launch, with wine/water/refreshments takes place on Friday 31st, 7 pm to 9 pm and the exhibition runs for the month of August.