Memories of my grandmother always intertwine with fuchsia, memories of so many bushes of them all over her garden, and now that my mother, her daughter, lives in the same garden, Gaga lives on in the shadows and skirts of these fairy flowers.
The garden expresses both of them as Mum plants new little fancy ones, and tends Gaga’s older larger classic ones. Today I sat in the same garden and painted their fuchsias…
The Esplanade Hotel
Beginning in the late 1700’s, the seaside resort of Bray became THE destination for Dubliners escaping city-life; after WW2 the English came to escape rationing, and business boomed with the railway bringing people to the town of Turkish baths and the ever-lovely sea. The Promenade is lined with hotels of really lovely Georgian architecture, and the above is one of them. The top-destination status didn’t last, however, when air travel became accessible, and by my adolescence it was as depressed a town as any other in Ireland…
As a teenager the place seemed limited, but once I had flown far from the place I began to see what a treasure it truly is, and every year I return my appreciation grows. Perfectly located between Dublin and the countryside, there’s no end of things to do, and magnificent walks high above the Prom from Bray Head along the coastal cliffs are a must-do….
Rain on the Promenade
Not a commonly held opinion, as it has a reputation for being uncouth and working class, but what is wrong with that? Better than being pretentious, I tell my daughters, who see many of the people walking on the Promenade as poorly-dressed and overweight, and wonder why I love Bray so much. Rather than seeing the people as unsophisticated, I see them as regular people with families and friends, walking out in sunshine or showers, taking in the majesty and beauty of the sea, drawn to the immense power of it in a very natural human way. Above the skies are huge, and beyond the view stretches past the coastal peninsulas towards infinity.
The above sketch was done where people gather, outside a row of chippers and ice-cream vendors, and on this particular day the skies were grey and looming. As I was finishing up, raindrops fell on the paper to add an authentic atmosphere to the piece! I liked how the colors of the beach balls and signage were doing their best to dispel the gloom….
In My Parents’ Garden #1
Plein Air oils have been my focus all summer, but yesterday the sun was shining and my mother’s garden was so very colorful, resplendent with blossoms, so doing quicker lighter watercolor work was more responsive to the essence of this sun-filtered garden. Sitting at the garden table and once again enjoying one of my favorite flowers, the agapanthus, was how the afternoon passed…
…and that was after the most wonderful morning hike up to Bray Head and beyond with my daughter and mother; three generations passing through copses of old fairy trees and ancient oaks with wild mushrooms at their roots, to a steep shale pathway leading to Bray Head, the hill after which Bray was named, and a place that has a view that goes on forever. Along a meandering cliff path surrounded by heathers and gorse we went, the Wicklow hills in all their purple and gold patchwork splendor to the west, and the view across the sea and all the way to Wales to the east. Way below, over the indigo sea, a shimmering rainbow arched, its echo misty and magical, and a single yacht, tiny in the distance, sailed towards it. The land that is Somewhere over the Rainbow exists, right here in Bray!
In My Parents’ Garden #2
Purple Loosestrife, watercolor 16″ x 20″
The remains of Hurricane Bertha was blowing around Ireland a few days ago, and a mighty cold wind she brought with her. In the early morning I went for a stepping-out power walk along Bray Seafront in bright sunshine, brilliant white clouds skidding across the clean blue sky in super-fast motion, white-caps whipped up on the sea, and everything sparkling light and looking spanking new. In wind like this there’ll be no painting outdoors, I thought to myself, but when I returned to the house Mum was packing up a picnic, full of enthusiasm to paint plein air, so off we went…. I carried my watercolors instead of the oils as I knew a canvas on an easel would blow away in moments, and when we arrived at our special spot near Kilmacanogue the only place sheltered from this blustery cold breeze was in a copse of trees amongst hosts of magnificent Purple Loosestrife flowers. Layered in clothes and a windbreaker anorak I got to work, and the above is one of the pieces inspired by these most lovely of flowers, graceful and weirdly wonderful.
Mum painting with watercolor
As we worked a friendly neighborhood lady came out on the little narrow road to warn us of the local tractor man who would run us down if we weren’t careful… but he never turned up, and nor did any other car pass during the many hours we were there – it really is a lovely spot, hidden and yet with the most magnificent views, and of course an abundance of these purple flowers, golden gorse, heathers and rowan trees bedecked with red berries.
She went on to tell us many a story, including one of a mutual acquaintance who supposedly stole a statue of the Virgin Mary from the tinkers, painted her up and placed her in a favored spot in her garden, and then invited friends to come by on a saint’s feast day to offer the Virgin flowers and votive candles, sweet foods and prayers. Also invited were some Muslims working in Dublin who were initially unsure of the proceedings, but who soon got into the spirit of things and began to strip, dance and ululate. And another story of the same lady who held a potato party and invited friends and strangers to come by and dig beds and plant potatoes in her garden, but one hard-working participant was quietly asked not to return as the host had taken a dislike to her unassuming ways…Before long this talkative local was joined by her friend, and the conversation turned to artists and actresses, auctions and world adventures, all on this little boreen of a road surrounded by swaying purple flowers. I feel this is a magical mystical land, and many paintings are being born, mostly in my heart so we’ll see of they ever manifest, but one of this day’s encounters must surely develop….I can see it and feel it. Upon my return to Jamaica I will try to paint it.
Oil on canvas, 24″ x 18″
Having so enjoyed painting the first piece, and the day being still young, as 4 in the afternoon leaves you with another 6 hours of daylight in Ireland in the summer, there was plenty of time to do another painting. So around the little Ballyhack harbor I walked and saw many boats that’d make fine paintings, but either the spot was taken up by another painter, or the pull of these two was strong as back I went to them, looking at them from another angle. They do make a nice couple…
Had such fun painting away… being outside for prolonged periods and recording what’s in front of you, or at least doing an impression of it, is such a natural way to be. If I were a sailor or a builder I suppose equal amounts of time would be spent outdoors, but this is my choice, and then there’s the lovely memory to show for it.
On the way home, through the beautiful countryside of County Wexford, listening to contemporary trad on my favorite radio station LyricFM, after a satisfying day of painting heaven on earth, giving thanks… : )
Ballyhack Boats #1
Just had a life-changing experience, and one I would recommend to anyone interested in drawing or painting. My dear sister Roisin has been telling me for years to go outside and paint, known as Plein Air Painting in the art world, and man was she ever right! It’s a multi-sensory pursuit, and one that is infinitely satisfying. My mother and I just spent 7 days in Wexford, in the sunny south-east of Ireland, painting with roughly 150 other artists at various venues around the county. Organized by a local group named Art in the Open, they have to be the most relaxed yet well-organized people, friendly and welcoming, and mad about plein air!
From fishing villages such as Ballyhack, to the ancient village of Graignemanagh, to Huntington Castle set in the most magical gardens I have ever seen, to Courtown beach and plenty more besides, we set up our easels daily and got to work. The fun of plein air is that you are OUTSIDE! So sun, showers, breeze, insects, interested locals, questioning kids and dogs, all is a part of it, the most memorable of all probably being the wind that did its best to blow my easel away, but as you hold your canvas with one hand and paint with the other, precious controlled brush strokes haven’t a chance and what happens is fun and surprising! The piece above was painted very quickly indeed as the sun was out, but it was so blustery I expected rain and the light to change – a constant occurrence – and I also thought the tide might be on its way in soon….