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I have just opened an art exhibition in Gort Library, Co. Galway, which will run until 17th October. “Beyond the N18: Hidden Kilcolgan” is an exhibition of landscapes painted on location along the small part the west coast of Ireland where I live.
For most people, Kilcolgan is a not-very-attractive pit stop on the busy N18 road that you are obliged to take if you want to travel from Galway to Limerick. The village of Kilcolgan doesn’t have any pretty shopfronts. No bunting festoons the roadside. There’s no village green for quaint fêtes and no pedestrian crossing, so traffic is fast. You might stop to refuel in the petrol station, and the people who run the local convenience store next door are very friendly and have an excellent butchers, but you’d never know that if you’re just passing through. And if you somehow find yourself in Kilcolgan in the small hours, you’ll see massive lorries pulled in for the night, eerily silent as their drivers break their journey at the truck stop outside a diner. I often cycle to Kilcolgan for supplies or just to get an ice cream with the kids, but the whooshing traffic makes it an unrestful experience.
Turn off the N18 towards my house and you’re in a different world. The transition to peace is instantaneous. One minute it’s traffic fumes and noise, the next it’s sunshine and birdsong and hedgerows and meadowsweet. I live about a mile and a half from the village and when I need a break from work I head off, either on foot or on my bicycle, with my portable stool and all my painting kit stuffed into my backpack. Without exception I find something that just cries out to be painted – in fact there are far too many things that I’ve made a mental note to paint – and we’re talking about an area only a square mile or two in area. Roads are narrow and winding: it’s a common occurrence to find yourself reversing to allow someone to pass, which makes for many grumbles or warm smiles, depending on how much the driver of the other car appreciates your efforts (or whether you know them).
Beyond my house the road climbs as it turns until it reaches the ruins of Tyrone House, majestic and yet forlorn (and, apparently, haunted) on its hilltop setting. It used to be master of all it surveyed, and in its heyday in the early 19th century was known as having the best views of the setting sun in all of Europe. Now the road cuts right in front of the front entrance – a point made to let the old order know they were no longer in charge? I suspect so. The ruins are full of loud caws of rooks, which does nothing to dispel the desolate air and reputation for being haunted. I don’t believe in superstitious nonsense BUT twice I have felt very spooked by Tyrone House: once when I was painting inside on my own at twilight (of course it was spooky, you might say, but the previous evening I had done the same and felt very peaceful). I didn’t cast a backward glance as I walked quickly home that night. The other time I felt uneasy was when I stayed too long in a neighbour’s house. Night fell and I had no lights on my bicycle, and so had to cycle home in the dark. As the great sinister shape of the ruined mansion loomed above me in the dark, I lost my courage and nearly phoned my husband to come and get me…a distance of about a hundred yards. My hairdresser told me he had once seen a “horrible, evil face” at an upstairs window…anyway, if you’re curious you can watch the video of me painting in Tyrone House, when I wasn’t spooked as my husband was the one making the film. It’s under the “Sketching Tips” and “You Tube Art Demos” bit on this website.
Once you get past Tyrone House the road sweeps down again and from there it’s about two miles to Killeenaran Quay, the roads lined with hedgrows and cottages, and acres of fields of cattle, sheep and horses. I know it rains a lot in the west of Ireland but somehow I never seem to get caught in any rain showers. As Killeenaran draws close, the houses and cottages on either side of the road become more familiar as I have sat with a cup of tea or a glass of wine in many of them – and I’ve even painted some of them. Then the road splits in two. Take the right fork and you’re on the last stretch to Killeenaran, with Brandy Bay lying on your right, so utterly different at high and low tide. The painting “Tribute to Clive James” was made on the shore of Brandy Bay. At last you come to Killeenaran Quay itself, and there’s always someone doing something there, from carrying out the heavy daily labour of collecting oysters at low tide to simply standing and gazing out to sea. There are dolphins in the bay just off the coast – which I’ve yet to see – and the deserted Island Eddy is a short hop away at high tide, a fifteen minute walk at the lowest tide four times a year. The last inhabitant of the island left in the early 1980s.
So this is the very small part of south Galway that I’ve presented in this exhibition. There are two outliers – the petrol pump and the Galway Hookers – which don’t rightly belong in the collection, having been painted in Oranmore and Kinvara respectively, but they’re not far from Kilcolgan and they’re there now anyway, for better or worse.
For those of you who can’t make it to Galway, here’s the exhibition – virtual style. My aim is to give you a taste of the beauty of the area where I’m fortunate enough to live…although ask me in three months’ time, when the colour has been whipped out of the landscape by freezing wind and rain and it’s an ordeal just to make it to the end of the drive and I will have a different attitude to my home of fourteen years.
Kilcolgan in May
Giclée, 1/40 (2015)
There is nothing like Kilcolgan in the month of May. Every moment spent outdoors – if it’s not freezing – makes you full of joy to be alive. This view of the Kilcolgan River was drawn during my daily walk (which clearly stopped for a while) and was painted as a thank-you for a particularly enjoyable barbecue given by neighbours who are dear friends and who put a lot of effort into showing us all a really good time. I love the May blossom on the trees at this time of year and I count the days until it return, as we all do here, to a greater or lesser extent.
Leaking Sunlight: Outside Tyrone House
Giclée, 1/50 (2015)
This wheelbarrow lies just outside the entrance to the ruined Tyrone House and belongs to a man named Steven, who keeps the place tidy . I wasn’t getting on well with my sketch of the ruin, but when I saw this wheelbarrow literally leaking sunlight it was the obvious choice of subject. Steven still puts this wheelbarrow to use and I’m sure it does the job well – as long as he’s not intending to transport sunlight around.
Tribute to the Poet Clive James
Giclée, 1/40 (2015)
I stumbled across the poetry of Clive James and was moved to tears. His poetry is like modern Shakespeare. No blank verse here (although I’m sure he does that beautifully too). I had an irresistible urge to make a tribute for him, and so I painted this. I sent it to his agent’s office in Loindon, who assured me he would get it. Although I know the man is gravely ill, and although I specifically told him I didn’t want to put him to the effort of writing back to me, I’m still unreasonably disappointed that it wasn’t acknowledged (even though he didn’t ask for it and is very ill and so on).
Killeenaran, Co. Galway
Giclée, 1/40 (2014)
In July 2014 I bought Felix Scheinberger’s “Urban Watercolour Sketching”. Felix is a terrific, inspirational artist from Berlin and in his book he encourages wanton use of colour. I painted this in August at Killeenaran Quay, shortly after reading Felix’s book. I wouldn’t say my use of colour was wanton, but it was considerably freer than a couple of months earlier. These boats are always there but this day they were lying in perfect harmony.
Moran’s at the Weir
Giclée, 1/200 (2013)
I sat behind this wall and painted what I saw during an unseasonally hot and sunny fortnight in October 2013. The tide was coming in fast and water was beginning to creep up to the other side of the wall. I heard a giant splash and looked up, but I missed whatever had made the splash. More loud splashes followed but only when I was looking down. Finally I saw what was making the splashes – great big salmon were coming in on the flood. I wished I could stay there forever. Then I remembered that I could, as this spot is about two minutes’ walk from my house.
Giclée, 1/50 (2014)
This is Mícheál Kelly who is the second of three generations of the family who produce delicious native oysters here in Kilcolgan, and export them all over the world. This is Mícheál at low tide in Killeenaran, where he is every day from September to April, hail, rain or snow, or in our case, terrifying storm. You can see Felix Scheinberger’s influence here: look at my joyous use of orange and blue.
Cruinniú na mBád, Kinvara
Giclée, 1/100 (2015)
At Cruinniú na mBád in Kinvara. I am not sure I captured the incredible beauty of the Galway Hookers, the traditional boats which race every year in this late-summer festival. I included this one in the exhibition because I figured it might be popular, and anyway I like the limited palette.
Bridge at Killeenaran
Giclée, 1/50 (2015)
I love the contrast of light and gloom in this painting of the bridge at Killeenaran Quay. I looked up just as a woman and her daughter were walking along the opposite bank and I liked the way they were perfectly framed by the bridge.
Out of Gas
Giclée, 1/200 (2015)
There’s not much of a story to this one, and it’s really a bit of an outlier in this exhibition: it is on the coast road outside Oranmore and was once a place for people to refuel. It takes me back to my childhood when all the petrol pumps looked like this – minus the rust – and as a seven-year-old I collected shiny plastic cards of African animals that shimmered when you moved them. They went in a big scrapbook produced by BP. I wish I was seven again.
Stone Wall with Brambles
Giclée, 4/200 (2004)
I painted this picture in 2004 when my youngest child was just six months old. I had two other children under five at the time and it was impossible to get out and paint. Although I lived in a virtual shack at the time, the setting was lovely, and in utter frustration I opened the door and drew exactly what I saw. I was reminded that there was more to me than a milk-machine and baby-minder, beautiful though being those things is.
Well, Co. Galway
Giclée, 1/200 (2015)
I didn’t know of the existence of this well until my daughter told me that she had come across it while out exploring in the fields with her pals. That’s one of the reasons why my exhibition is called Hidden Kilcolgan. I think this well is beautiful, with the limited colours and still water. It was rejected by the RHA Open Exhibition earlier this year, and someone on the panel, whom I happen to know, told me my problem is that I don’t take myself seriously. After calming down (which took about a week) it occurred to me that one of the problems with a lot of contemporary artists is that they take themselves too seriously, and their subjects – and being true to them – not nearly seriously enough.
Killeenaran in April
Giclée, 1/40 (2015)
This is Killeenaran Quay, which is about five minutes’ cycle ride from me. It’s where I go when I need to get a breath of fresh air. I love this image because I painted it in early April and it reminded me that the awful winter was over, and spring would return, as it always does.
View from Tyrone House
Ink and Watercolour (2012)
I sat inside the the entrance to the ruined Tyrone House to paint this and froze, despite the warm June sunshine outside. I like to think of the selfish, unloved people who lived here being gone forever, and how the land that the ruin overlooks is now owned and managed by kind and gentle people, which I know because I know them. The road that leads from the N18 past my house to the ruins of Tyrone House used to be their private avenue, and apparently if you were walking along when one of the lords of the manor passed (not on foot, naturally) you had to turn away and face into the woods.
Some of these paintings are available as limited edition giclée prints in the online shop, and even if Gort isn’t in your locale, we can send them to you anywhere in the world. If the one you like isn’t in the shop, please get in touch at roisincurepictures(at)gmail.com and we’ll arrange to send the one you like to you.