The Art of the Heart

Opening of The Art of the Heart (C) (002)


Denise with Tipperary County Council Leas-Chathaoirleach, Cllr. Roger Kennedy; Cliona Maher; and Brendan Nyhan, President of Clonmel Rotary Club, at the opening of ‘Art of the Heart’


I was delighted when Cliona Maher, Manager at South Tipperary Arts Centre, invited me, last August, to curate an exhibition around Tipperary artists, which would be opened at the Arts Centre in early December.

My readers will know, from a previous blog, that I invited Cliona to launch my blog at Greenville last June and since then we have kept in contact. I am so happy to be part of this exhibition and to see Tipperary, as a county, promoted through our arts centres, like South Tipperary Arts Centre. I am grateful to Cliona for acknowledging my very deep interest in the arts, in particular the visual arts, in Tipperary.

This blog is an outline of what I said in my opening talk last Friday, December 1st, before the exhibition was formally opened by Tipperary County Council Leas-Chathaoirleach, Cllr. Roger Kennedy.

I began by explaining all the things I am not!

I am not an art historian, nor an art critic. I am not an artist and I have no training in arts administration!

However, I am a visual person and I actually find it hard to easily translate into language what I might like about a piece of work. Something will jump out at me, attract me or speak to me in an art piece.

The collection of work which constitutes ‘The Art of the Heart’ exhibition is an expression of that. Some of the artists featured here I have already interviewed for my blog like Ciarnad Ryan and Andy Whelan.  I intend to blog in the months ahead about the others, so this is a brief introduction into how I came to know the artists selected, and what attracted me to their works.

Dóirín Saurus

I am going to start with Dóirín Saurus because I became more familiar with her work through researching for the exhibition. There is also the fact that Dóirín works with clay, so we will begin in the soil of the earth and end in the blue skies, when I discuss Mary Finn’s work.

As a fan of Frida Kahlo, it is obvious Dóirín’s famous teapots, named after the eccentric Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (please note there is a celebration of Kahlo due to happen at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2018 which I very much hope to get to would grab my eye.

The painterly nature of the designs and the vibrant colours she uses, perched so magisterially on the teapot’s gold legs, begs the viewer to come and observe more closely.

Dóirín does not want her ceramic works to be just objects to admire – she wants us to sit around her teapot and share a cup of tea – so her art has a practical, as well as an artistic value.

Her ‘Children of Eve’ piece is a wonderful, playful object, bejeweled by the gold heart at the center.

I look forward to going to Dóirín’s studio in Fethard soon and seeing more of her work and learning more of the techniques she uses.

Andy Whelan

Moving from Dóirín to the other side of Tipperary – Andy Whelan’s studio is outside Nenagh.

I met Andy at a Craft Fair in the Abbey Court Hotel Nenagh some time back and have visited his work spaces at his home on numerous occasions.

Andy works with wood, another natural material close to the earth, like clay. He can use many different types of wood in creating his designs, but for this exhibition we have selected pieces from his bog oak series.

These sculptural gems are made from a material that can boast a 5,000 year old history. Think about that. ‘If this wood could talk what tales it could tell……’

And while in this context we are asked to enjoy how Andy has transformed the pieces into sculptural art, they are not intended to intimidate.

It is easy to see the lakes around his home are very much part of what has inspired him when he goes to shape, sand and polish this wood. ‘Bird in Flight’, or a ‘Tall Ship’ are scenes Andy almost certainly has photographed and then uses the images to inform the sculptural creations.

Like Dóirín ‘s objects, Andy wants us to touch them and admire them, up close and personal. They have, after all, a resilient and amazing Irish history.

Noel Long

Some time ago, I popped into a little gallery space and shop in the village of Moneygall and was immediately drawn to a painting they had hanging on the wall. The incredible attention to detail, the vivid greens, were alive and vibrant on the canvas, and I eagerly wanted to know who the artist was.

I was told that Noel Long came from Cashel and I made contact with Noel in the weeks after.

We have a stunning example of Noel’s work hanging in our dining room, a piece that captures the idea of looking through trees and creates the sense of being surrounded by leaves and nature.

‘Summer’s Meadow’ is a similar scene from rural Ireland, as are the other pieces that are part of the exhibition, depicting both the nature of the agricultural world, and the huge importance of nature and our environment. In a world where some of our political leaders have shown blatant disregard for the environment – to have artists, like Noel, capturing it so brightly, in their work, is very important. It gives us hope.

Marie O Driscoll

Many years ago I was involved in organising a celebration of Tipperary at LIT Thurles. The event also included an art exhibition and this was when I first came to know of Marie O Driscoll’s work.

However, more recently, I came to see a solo exhibition Marie had as part of this year’s Cashel Arts Festival. I was dazzled by the colourful exhibition on entering Cashel’s public library and the thing that jumped out at me that night was the cultural diversity that Marie had captured in her work.

At one level, we might ask ‘Is the artist showing us how, perhaps, a child might see the world, when, as in ‘Baile Beag’ we look back at the town or village we grew up in as a child? Or, from another perspective, Marie could be seen as the ‘artist as traveler’ (an anthropologist of sorts?) capturing what she sees as she explores different cultural and ethnic traditions and depicting the vividness of those encounters on the canvas to help us ask questions.

Either way, the work is intricate and vibrant and even though Marie is based in Holland (though originally from Thurles), I know her heart was with us in Clonmel last Friday evening.

Gerry Davis

Gerry Davis had a solo exhibition at the Source Arts Centre this year and we went along as I was not familiar with Gerry’s career or work.

For me, I think Gerry captures brilliantly what it is like to be an artist struggling to make ends meet. His work is documenting, through his art, the spaces artists inhabit.

Gerry is based at the Wickham Street Studios in Limerick. When you look at Gerry’s work you might think, it can’t be easy getting out of bed and into the studio every day, doing what a professional artist is obliged to do, if they are ever going to succeed with their vocation.  They cannot be sure they will have any remuneration at the end of the week or month or year, for their efforts.

So there is a starkness to Gerry’s creations – it is telling a story, not just about the creative process itself, but about the anxieties that must be present in pursuing such a life, with determination.

Gerry, however, recently won the Hennessy Portrait Prize and we can feel confident that he has indeed a great future ahead, as the works illustrate. The moral of the story is, stick with it – and hope people will support your efforts.

Ciarnad Ryan

I met Ciarnad Ryan at an exhibition of her works at Damer House Gallery Roscrea and I must commend Patricia Hurl and Therry Rudin for what they have achieved there. Through them, I have been to a number of wonderful exhibitions and the one featuring Ciarnad certainly stands out to me.

Ciarnad was showing some paintings from her Wolf Dog series and we have another wonderful example of that as part of this South Tipperary Arts Centre exhibition. I recently told the story of this series of works by Ciarnad, in my blog, for those of my readers who want to refresh their memories.

In brief, this is series that captures what it means to feel at home, to be safe in one’s own space or territory and also makes us reflect what it might mean to be taken away from that place or space, where we fit in or where the world around us is understandable.

Ciarnad likes to ‘paint what she knows’. This series depicts the alternative, in some respects. She has also done some wonderful work looking at memory and context. We see as part of this exhibition her latest series which documents sheds in the winter time, places that might seem derelict and of little value, yet from another angle may be places that once had a throbbing hearth, or were made with stones by hands that had no voice or artistic expression. I also love Ciarnad’s ‘dripping technique’ against the grey canvas and the splashes of colour that captures some of the ideas mentioned above.

Philip Ryan

It seems like a long time ago now since I met Philip Ryan – probably close to 15 years ago when he came into my boutique, cafe and little gallery in Nenagh ‘The Business’.

I have followed Philip’s career for several years now and we have pieces by Philip at Greenville. Philip, I think, is an artist who wants us to ask the ‘big’ questions, the ‘deep’ questions, when we study his art: what is the meaning of life? What is the nature of our social interactions – are they ephemeral and fleeting or profound and lasting? Where can we express our real selves? What is the real self?

‘Diver’ and ‘Floater’ both, I think, follow in this vein, but Philip also works in other genres.  We have a powerful example of a painting he did of the Devil’s Bit Mountain at Greenville, which could be considered both an abstract and a landscape painting. Philip has captured both in one, pushing even, in technique, the boundaries he explores through his art.

Mary Finn

You will notice how I have mentioned on so many occasions coming across the works of these artists when they exhibit locally. This goes to show the importance of spaces like South Tipperary Arts Centre and the others I have mentioned above, in promoting and celebrating our Tipperary artists.

So where did I come across Mary Finn’s work?

Seosamh and I were at a performance at the Source Arts Centre in Thurles one evening and we went into their cafe for a glass of wine before the show. Both of us were immediately impressed by a collection of works on display, and one in particular caught our eyes.

This was a painting in Mary’s Windmill series, where, against a blue background, Mary imposes these huge modern objects, the windmills, that transform the skyscape, and yet they have a type of elegance and beauty about them, as one imagines how they turn gracefully in the wind.

I mentioned earlier Noel Long’s use of the colour green. When I think of Mary Finn I think of her use of blue – the many shades and subtleties she can get across on the canvas. I also think of the power of the female spirit in her works – ‘Walking in  Knockmealdowns Tipperary’ is a good example of this and so also is ‘Eden’.

I think that is a good way to end this blog and it was how I concluded my talk at South Tipperary Arts Centre last Friday night. I had begun talking about clay as a material and I ended talking about the blue blue sky…and the power, the emotion, the vulnerability, of the female spirit.

When Cliona asked me to be involved in curating this exhibition last August, what I did not realise was that a towering female presence was about to depart from my life. From the lives of many people whom I love. My mother, Mary, died on September 29th after a short illness. It was difficult to agree to continue with curating the exhibition, currently on show at the Arts Centre after that traumatic loss- but I am so glad that I did. I feel so proud of all the artists who are part of this spectacular exhibition ‘The Art of the Heart’. They give us a sample of what talent is out there – in Tipperary.

My mother was in my broken heart, every step of the way these past difficult weeks. This is in part my tribute to her, and to her remarkable female spirit.

‘The Art of the Heart’ will run until January 6th at South Tipperary Arts Centre, Nelson Street, Clonmel, Open from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday. Call 052 612 7877 for more details’

4 thoughts on “The Art of the Heart

  1. Nice blog post, Denise. As a Rotarian since 1980, I was pleased that the Clonmel Rotary Club was involved in the exhibit opening.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s