“Curragh at Rest”, Oil on canvas,18″ x 16″
Another idyllic day out the West, last week before the terrible rain and flooding began, had me out on this beach, following my nose as had become my way, and finding the most beautiful places with hardly a soul about. This beach was at the end of a very long and narrow road lined with cottages and small homes, fields of sheep and cows, and always views that stretched off in all ways. When I got to this place it looked familiar, and later my sister reminded me that this is the same beach where we went to sketch 2 years ago, when a man went out in a small boat and came back with a dozen small mackerel, which he gave to us as his wife wouldn’t let them in the house. They went straight onto the barbecue when we returned to her house and they were the best mackerel ever, fresh and tasty and succulent. Mmmm….
The man arrived again this time, and his wife with the dog, and went out in the boat again, and the dog wouldn’t return home with the wife, despite much coaxing and encouraging, but rather stayed on the shore looking longingly at the man in his departing boat until he could be seen no longer. He then came and sat by me for the duration of this painting, and kept me company as so many of these Irish dogs do. Friendly lot they are. As are the people; the other encounter of the afternoon was a brother and his sister who were heading out to pick periwinkles as the tide was going out, and they were so open-hearted and welcoming and delightful. Good people.
“In Gorse Country, Rain Approaching”, Oil on canvas, 12″ x 16″
September in Wicklow has the hills ablaze, with the gorse a searing yellow and the purple heather a velvet carpet lit by strokes of sunlight flitting quickly in licks and swathes across the land. Close up the gorse flowers smell of honey; the delicate bright petals belie the branches upon which they spring, all prickly and scrubby and unbecoming, and a challenge to paint. They demanded artistic license, and they got it.
“Spells cast here…” Oil on canvas, 12″ x 16″
Not long after arriving in the bog a man and his (very handsome!) nephew arrived. They were there to gather the dried turf, making use of the sunny day that it was. It was their family land, had been their grandparents’ bog, and they welcomed us, warning us not to drive off the track or we would get stuck in the soft earth, and they got to work, lifting heavy bags of turf into their pick-up. They made light work of it, retuning a few times to gather more loads, and then upon their departure told us where the key for the gate at the end of the track was, inviting us to stay for as long as we liked.
Not long after another man arrived, and we got into a lovely conversation with him. Turns out that the first two men were his brother-in-law and nephew, and he was there to gather turf for his mother-in-law. We had a long chat in the sunshine, with plenty of good laughs, talking about the harbors of Connemara, and how the American ships took shelter in some of them during WW2, though noone is supposed to know, seeing how we were a neutral country, and had anyone told we well might have been heavily bombed. He spoke too of how the Celtic Tiger almost destroyed the soul of the Irish, as they became greedy and selfish and blinded by ambition, and though plenty have suffered since the Crash, it has restored us to our usual way of being, gentler and kinder and slower. More real. We shared stories of the effects of Hurricane Charlie, the one and only hurricane that came our way, hitting Ireland when I was about 18, and how so many bridges were destroyed by the rushing swells of water. The bridge at the bottom of our hill was swept away in a moment, and it was a heavy cut-stone bridge of at least 200 years, seemingly indestructible…We spoke of the beauty of the land, how there’s nothing to beat it on a sunny day, and how close to Paradise we all three were, standing there together in friendship. He was a truly lovely man, so warm and genuine and kind.
The West of Ireland has my heart, has a hold on me, and nowhere has that pull like the bog. As a child we went to the West most summers, and as an adult I continue to go whenever I can. This summer I had the great pleasure of going in the mobile studio, and having spent many days painting near my sister’s in south Galway, I headed north of Galway city with my mother to paint the West of my childhood memories.
Not wanting to spend too much time driving, we went east of the Corrib, new territory for both of us, and embarked on an adventure of discovery in search of beauty. It was everywhere, painting spots all around, and we found a track that led us into the heart of a bog, and what a day we had. Full sunshine, the first day of such heat they’d had out that way all summer, and because of it the turf was still stacked and drying, and being September the heather was in full bloom. So we had the combination of strong purples and rich umbers and the gold of marsh reeds, and bog cotton and marsh thistles speckled the landscape with carpets of flowers.
Sunday morning and a slow start, with nowhere in particular to go, but it’s not often I’m in the west of Ireland, and I wanted to be outdoors in all the beauty for the whole day, so off I went, back to The Commons. Once again I stopped to open the 5-bar gate leading into this special spot and was struck by how lovely the brook that runs beside the track is… I looked at it for quite some time, but left it and continued to The Commons, not wanting to block the narrow way with the mobile studio, i.e. the car and easel. Being Sunday I indulged myself with a non-working yoga session surrounded by gentle green mounds with distant sheep grazing, and rocky eddies not far away where curlews cried. I stretched out quietly and slowly. But the brook beckoned and I knew I HAD to paint that spot. Back I went to the brook.
It happened to be an afternoon of a very important sporting championship, that of Galway playing Kilkenny in the Hurling Finals, so I reckoned no farmer would be needing to pass this way for a few hours, so I took the risk and parked, blocking the wee boreen fully, and set up the easel and got to work. Sure enough, ’twas quiet and not a soul came by….
“The Commons, Kilcolgan, Galway”, Oil on canvas, 12″ x 16″
I saw a spit of land across the bay, windswept and green and empty of houses, and I wondered if I could get to it. Finding a track, I followed my nose and drove the car carefully down a very narrow lane and came to a gate beside a brook. A very good painting spot in itself, but I continued on and as the track petered out I found myself in a solitary heaven.
After painting I took a little nap, equipped as my mobile studio is with portable camping bed and blankets, to the lullaby of the breeze and the birds, and when I awoke went for a short walk around the area, meeting a pair of friendly horses and drinking in the beauty.
16″ x 20″, Oil on canvas
Yesterday afternoon’s work, parked on a cobblestone beach out in the West of Ireland, with the car facing the wind so I could set up behind it – it was almost warm and cosy under the boot door! And not a soul around but flocks of birds.
Of course the light changed immediately, and continued to do so, so I had to wing it…and then the tide was going out so stones appeared where there were none, and the water’s surface became an altogether different thing, initially being strewn with diamond-light sparkles, which is what attracted me, but then becoming a sludgy grey.
Still, with all of these uncontrollable challenges, the painting itself had to become only about stroke and mark and palette, and had to be left alone, and I rather like it : )