Every year around Christmas, the visual art group of which I am a member holds a fun exhibition. Each member can submit up to five pieces of art, along three guidelines: they can be no bigger than a postcard, they must not be signed (the buyer discovers the artist after purchase) and they must be for sale for €30. No more, no less. Of the €30, 10% goes to a Dublin children’s hospital. I submit five postcards every year, and have done for the last three years since it started. I think it’s a great exercise, because it’s a chance to do whatever you like: you can try something completely new, and the small size means there is no huge investment in time or materials.
This year, I did something different. I had recently bought some spectacular acrylic paint for a large commission and I was delighted with the intense colours and the creamy textures. In the prep for the large job I had become interested in using photo collages, or indeed using anything at all as part of a collage. And so, between the golds, the neons and the irresistible source material (I had bought a book about the early days of portrait postcards), I came up with some nice conceptual stuff that managed to look rather decorative at the same time…I was reminded of my own mantra, that art is a playground and that the best stuff is created when you are having fun. Well, I don’t know if it’s the best stuff, but it was lots of fun for me anyway.
All the people in the works are long dead: the photos I used were all taken in the 19th century.
Here are my five pieces. Each come with a story but you have to work them out for yourself.
If you speak Mandarin, you’ll know what’s in the speech bubble, and you might figure out that I was reflecting on something that happened in 1989.
If you speak Thai, you’ll understand the predicament of the dancing lady, and of women everywhere, since time began.
If you speak French (or have Google Translate somewhere) you’ll have a window into the romantic nature of the Tuareg.
The piece of the lad with the kudu isn’t about anything more meaningful than the startling beauty of the creatures, and how beautifully they are described in their Greek binomial.
And I’m just really moved by the aesthetic of the Maasai in Kenya, and fascinated by the way the men are, ever since I first read about them in Willard Price’s African Adventure, when I was about ten. The ostrich at the bottom is just to tell you that that’s what the Moran’s headdress is made of.
The opening on Thursday was very enjoyable. The walls of the Courthouse were covered in tiny pieces of art, in every medium you can think of from oil to acrylic, ceramic to felt, lino cut, gouache, watercolour and my collage. None was bigger than a postcard. I was serving wine, which was kind of unnecessary since anyone could help themselves, but I feel it is more decorous to be offered a glass. One of the members of Kava came up to me and told me she knew which postcards were mine.
“I’d know your aesthetic anywhere,” she said.
“Would you?” I said, surprised. “But I did something completely different from my usual approach!”
“I’d still know your work,” she said. “In fact I would be able to identify most of the work here.”
I was really impressed, and a little disappointed that my disguise was so transparent. Then after a while she checked with me to make sure she had been correct. She was wrong! Very wrong, in fact! She said she thought the ones she had thought were mine were very like my style. I agreed but only to be polite (she knows now, anyway!) – they were nothing like what I would do, which has left me a little uneasy. When you feel your voice is distinctive – unmistakable – and it’s clearly not, it gives you pause for thought.
A few pieces sold quickly (including all five of mine, to the same buyer, which makes me happy) but there is still some lovely art to be found. The Courthouse in Kinvara will be open this weekend and next if you would like to pop in – and all you will need is a very small bit of wall.