Ireland Visit 2016
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
I am currently in my room at the Leenane Hotel in Connemara. I arrived yesterday afternoon on a Connemara Tour bus. I will be here for almost a week – leaving on Monday, September 26 to return to Galway and then back to Ballyvaughan the following day. This week I will be enjoying a quiet restful time of reading, reflection, drawing and painting.
Looking back to last week – two artist friends from The Netherlands arrived on Monday, September 12th to spend a week with me working on a Burren Landscape Immersion Project. Hannah Kockx from Amsterdam and Doet Boersma from Leeuwarden arrived around noon on Monday to start an active and intense week of landscape exploration and artwork creation. This was Hannah’s first visit to Ireland while Doet had visited Ireland at least 3 times before including a 6 week stay as an Artist in Residence at the local Burren College of Art in 2007. The landscape exploration started Monday afternoon with a walk along the Ballyvaughan seaside, along its two piers, the Ballyvaughan Bird Hide and then a drive out for a shoreline exploration of an area known as the Rynne.
Tuesday, September 13th the exploration continued with a morning walking inland mountain landscape excursion including entering the interior of the mountain at Aillwee Cave.
In the afternoon we explored the limestone pavement of the shoreline of Gleninagh.
Ireland Visit 2016
Friday, September 9, 2016
I arrived in Ireland yesterday morning, Friday September 9th. All 3 of the flights I had to take to get here were perfect – boarded on time, departed on time and arrived on time. It was overcast and rainy when I arrived in Ballyvaughan – Breada and her helper, Angela were just finishing up with their guests’ breakfasts. Breada greeted me with a strong cup of coffee. Because I did not get any sleep to speak of on the flights I decided to take a nap. I awoke after a couple of hours to partly cloudy skies.
Before I walked into the village to buy some things and have a late lunch I spent some time reading a book I found on one of Meadowfield’s bookshelves “Stones of Adoration: Sacred Stones and Mystic Mystic Megaliths of Ireland” by Christine Zucchelli, The Collins Press, Cork (West Link Park, Doughcloyne, Wilson), 2007.
The introduction of the book intrigued me and I found that some of the information helped provide a type of “foundation” for my thoughts regarding the piece of artwork “Back to the Garden” I’m in the process of creating for the February 2017 ALCHEMY exhibition at the Richmond Center for the Visual Arts at Western Michigan University.
About Sacred Landscapes . . .
“In numerous cultures all over the world, adorable or highly revered stones and stone monuments form integral parts of what we can describe as “sacred landscapes”. Other prominent aspects of these spiritual landscapes would be sacred trees, waters, islands or mountains. The term sacred is used here to denote a spiritual or religious significance, and does not necessarily appear in its Christian understanding. Generally spoken, sacred features of the landscape come into being when humans acknowledge the presence of an “anima loci”, the spirit or the essence of a place. The nature of the “anima loci” is determined by the concept of beliefs that prevails within a society. With history being a continuous process of cultural development and change, the spiritual and religious concepts develop and change as well, and so does the definition of what is considered sacred for a particular reason. A perfect mirror for the changing perceptions of sacredness is folklore, because it is conservative by its nature yet also absorbs new ideas and influences from outside, and likewise adapts older ideas to new situations.
“The earliest spiritual concept is the animistic tradition, which regards all natural features as spirited, animated parts of the earth. Where the earth is seen as the body of her creator, natural features in the landscape are regarded as body parts of the creating earth mother or earth goddess. This concept predates formal religions, and would still surface in the oral tradition of stones that walk about or speak. When polytheistic religions emerged, the earth mother manifested herself in the shape of various goddesses; male deities appeared by their sides, usually presided over by a father god; sacred stones and stone monuments became interpreted as homes of goddesses and gods. Monotheistic religions finally identify sacred sites as places chosen and blessed by members of the hold family, or by saints and prophets.”
The image on the left is a preliminary composite study of “Back to the Garden” where I have incorporated the female figure with images of flora. The above information challenged me to pose the question, “should I consider including additional features of the landscape in this composition?”
I continued on into the books first chapter entitled “Goddess, Hags, and Fairy Queens”—
“The goddess is understood as the life giving force and at the same time as the reaper, embodying the cycle of birth death and regeneration. She is the creator of the earth, and the earth is seen as her body. Mountains and hills are taken for her belly and breasts, caves for her womb and pillars for her navel.”
Many scholarly documents tell us that megalithic structures started being build in Ireland around 3,800 BCE and that the importance of fertile land, combined with the cult of the ancestors who took possession of a territory, had initiated the development of megaliths.
One such megalithic structures is known as “The Hag’s Chair” in Loughcrew, County Meath.The image on the left of “The Hag’s Chair” appears on page 4 of the book.
I immediately noticed the carvings on this megalith and saw that they were very similar to the spiral engravings I have seen on the kerbstones of Newgrange Passage Tomb in County Meath when I visited the site in 2006.
I would like to find out if there are any theories as to the meaning of the engravings – the guides at Newgrange on the day I visited could give us no information about them.
On page 17 of this book there is this information:
“The most common motifs are spirals, which are generally taken as symbols of the constant flow of energy and the cycle of life, and accordingly fir representations of the earth goddess; concentric circles and cup-marks, widely believed to symbolize the sun, or else the navel from which all life comes; zigzag lines standing for water; triangles and serpentine lines, again represent the earth mother.”
Limited Edition Book: August 30, 2016
The design and production of a limited edition book is part of the ALCHEMY Initiative. The book will be a compendium of original works by ALCHEMY’s artists and writers around the theme, alchemy. The artists and writers who submit work for the this book have been asked to include a ‘statement’ to accompany the work.
I have submitted 2 pieces. The first is entitled ‘Divine Complexity‘. It is 12″ X 12″ and was created using encaustic, oil pastel, tucshe and digital media
Before the beginning of time – mixtures of water, hydrogen, methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide were exposed to various forms of energy.
400 million years ago the first vascular plant appeared – evolving another 40 million years until trees covered areas of planet Earth.
My second submission is entitled ‘Conversion‘. It is also 12″ X 12″ and was created using encaustic, oil pastel, tucshe and digital media.
Someone posted a photograph of a tree on Facebook – tagging me with a comment expressing their thoughts about how it would inspire me.
The process of seeing a photograph of a tree – the image floating in my mind and mingling with my soul to finally appear as “Conversion” – the moment of ignition that creates transformation in a living thing.
Exhibition Piece: August 28, 2016
I am encouraged with what has been happening as I work more on the composition of this artwork. This is a preliminary figure study and below is my first try at putting things together for this full figure composition. Although I am somewhat happy with the pose – I now think the model’s right hand should be in front of the figure resting on her belly.
Currently I’m thinking that there will be plant life throughout the entire composition – we will see how that turns out. The circles and lines that appear in red are from a medieval diagram of the proportions of the male figure. I plan to adjust that to align with the model’s figure proportion when I have her completely drawn out. For now I’m calling this composition “In The Garden”.
I will be leaving for Ireland on Thursday, September 8th. While I’m in Ireland I will be doing more drawings of plant life for this composition. The portion of the plant life drawings I have already finished are from photos I took in a hazel forest when I was in Ireland before.
Workshops: Encaustic Play Date
The Alchemy Exhibition will take place in the Netzorg & Kerr Gallery, Richmond Center for Visual Arts at Western Michigan University during the months of February through May 2017. The specifications of the artwork is that it must somehow relate to the Alchemy Initiative and not exceed 24″ in width. A loose description of the Alchemy Initiative appears immediately below – it is taken from the project’s blog.
ALCHEMY is about process. As writers and artists, we trust that through process we will be lead to the gold, the transformations that take us to new understandings of ourselves as makers. The initial ALCHEMY involves workshops and demonstrations by Kalamazoo community members as we fortify our grasp of the chemical, psychological, and practical aspects of this complex theme. From these investigations we will generate works, then invite our audience to step into the creations we have imagined in the gallery, on the page, and in public presentations. A good collaboration takes chemistry, our initiative strives for more: we want alchemy.
The Alchemy participants are encourage to do research, attend the initiative’s sponsored workshops, participate in discussions and demonstrations and explore the many varied possibilities that may relate to the topic of Alchemy.
The workshops started in January of 2016 during the winter and early spring months were held during the evenings. Because of my nightly teaching schedule I was not able to participate in the workshops until the semester ended in early May. I am finding that the workshops and discussions that I have been able to attend have been successful in inspiring me.
My academic research has consisted of the exploration of what Joseph Campbell had to say about alchemy in his book, Pathways To Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation, New World Library, Novato, CA 2004.
Now, the alchemists always had the feeling that they were helping nature to bring forth gold from the gross metal, but what they were really interested in was not so much raw gold as the GOLD OF THE SPIRIT.
This caught my interest so I decided to read more of what Campbell had to say and found more interesting concepts that refers to artists and poets. (The Power Of Myth, Anchor Books, New York, NY, 1988) . . .
Bill Moyers asks, “Who interprets the divinity inherent in nature for us today? Who are our shamans? Who interprets unseen things for us?” Camplbell answers, “It is the function of the artist (poets) to do this. The artist is the one who communicates myth for today. But he has to be an artist who understands mythology and humanity and isn’t simply a sociologist with a program for you.”
This discussion of the “divinity of nature” is something that related so well with what I strive to communicate in my artwork I started taking notes and read more.
Moyers, “Scientists are beginning to talk quite openly about the GAIA principle.” Campbell, “There you are, the whole planet as an organism.” Moyer, “Mother Earth. Will new myths come from this image?” Campbell, “Well, something might. You can’t predict what a myth is going to be any more than you can predict what you’re going to dream tonight. Myths and dreams come from the same place. They come from realizations of some kind that have then to find expression in symbolic form. And the only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet, not the city, not these people, but the planet, and everybody on it.”
The discussion went on . . .
Moyers, “So you suggest that from the begins the new myth of our time?” Campbell, “Yes, this is the ground of what the myth is to be. It’s already here: the eye of reason, not of my nationality; the eye of reason, not my religious community; the eye of reason, not my linguistic community. Do you see? And this would be the philosophy for the planet, not for this group, that group, or the other group.”
For reasons for which I am not totally sure – this was enough to inspire me to start doing some exploration. I’m seeing GAIA in this – I am beginning to intermingle plant forms and in this exploration may add other things.
This has led me to decide to work on a series of foliage drawings to incorporate into this concept (see below). Also, I am thinking of giving the drawing of the woman more information – complete her face, hair and figure (and perhaps include a child). The drawings in the piece above are all graphite on paper. They were scanned and layered together digitally. The color was added digitally.
Below is the progress of a one of several foliage drawings.
I’m am honored to have been invited by artist Sydnee Peters to participate in a project entitled ALCHEMY: An Artists & Writers Initiative. The project consists of a collaboration of over 50 Kalamazoo area visual artists and poets that will result in a Print Suite – a set of broadsides whereby an artist teams up with a poet to create a limited edition print suite; a soft bound book that will showcase of work of both the artists and writers – as well as information about the initiative itself; an artwork exhibition in the Netzorg & Kerr Gallery, Richmond Center for Visual Arts (RCVA), from February to May 2017; and poetry readings.
As one of the visual artists I am to contribute to the Print Suite, the Published Book and the 2017 Exhibition.
Ireland Visit 2015
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Again I took up my work space in the dining room in Meadowfield. The day was cool so a good day to work inside. I worked all day – skipping lunch so I decided that I would treat myself to a dinner at L’Arco, Ballyvaughan’s Italian restaurant. I phoned to make a reservation for one. I had a wonderful and tasty dinner of their lasagna .
After dinner I returned to Meadowfield and learned from Michael, that a local woman I knew had passed away this last February. Her name was Helen MacCarthy and it seems she died of a heart attack without any apparent previous health problems. I remember Helen from visits to Greene’s and hearing her lovely voice singing along with Sean Tyrrell.
I ended the evening with a conversation with two of Meadowfield’s guests – two ladies from England. We sat around the fire in the sitting room talking about things like how to made a Yorkshire pudding, the making of the Irish white and black pudding, and why one should only butcher animals during the months that have an “r” in them.
Ireland Visit 2015
Saturday, August 22, 2015
I woke early and packed up my remaining belongings in preparation of my trip back to Ballyvaughan via Galway. Anna was to come to give me a lift with my bags into the village so I could catch the 11:05 Citylink bus. As I was waiting for her to arrive I spent my time doing a little reading – once when I looked up I saw a beautiful bright rainbow over my mountain. I rushed to get my iPhone and went outside to get a photo. The rainbow had faded by the time I was able to photograph it -but I was able to get a hint of it.
When Anna arrived she drove me the short way to the village of Letterfrack so I didn’t have to carry my bulky bags on the narrow highly traveled road. This was something I really appreciated. There was a young couple with very large backpacks waiting for the bus – they were having a lively conversation in German. There were two others, two men – one in his twenties smoking cigarettes and a man older than myself. The older gentlemen spoke to me about being happy about the warm sunshine and how lovely the wildflowers were near to where we were waiting.
The bus stop was near the entrance to the Galway & Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) school of furniture design. The main building of the school was originally the manor house of James and Mary Ellis and after that the Letterfrack Industrial School – both of which I wrote about in my post of August 20th.
The bus arrived on time and our first stop was Clifton. We had a half-hour layover so the bus driver could have his lunch – which he ate on the bus. Some of the passengers got off the bus to explore during the layover. I stayed on the bus and was thankful that I did for many new passengers got on after the bus driver’s break -taking over the seats that the first passengers had claimed for themselves. It was a beautiful day to drive back through Connemara to Galway. I took advantage of my window seat by taking some photographs of the landscape as we traveled.
The sun was shinning in Galway when we arrived shortly before 2:00 pm. I walked the short distance from the Citylink bus station to the Bus Eireann station – I was unexpectedly surprised to find that a bus was leaving for Ballyvaughan at 3:00 pm (I had expected that I would have to wait until 6:00). This gave me just enough time to visit a nearby ATM for more Euros so I could pay Breada for my B&B stay for the next week and pay Thomas for taking me to Shannon airport on the upcoming Thursday.
I boarded the bus a little before 3:00 – the bus ride through the Burren was a pleasant one. When I got off the bus in Ballyvaughan it was raining a little – I put the hood up on my jacket and walked the short way to Meadowfield. When I arrived Breada, Michael and two of their guests were in the sitting room conversing around the fire – I was invited to join them. After I put my bags in my room and dried off a bit I went back and took a seat by the nice warm fire. The guests (Jim and Sandy) were from Florida and I think some sort of relation to Breada (via Boston – maybe) although they had never known about each other. We had a very nice conversation and somehow along the way got on the topic of art – they related that the woman, Sandy, had been sitting next to Andrew Wyeth during some kind of dinner function in relation to Jim’s place of business. As it turned out they had met and talked with him more than once.
I had my dinner at Logue’s Lodge – when I returned Breada and Michael were in the sitting room by the fire and asked if I would like a glass of wine -I replied in the affirmative. I went to my room to put my coat away and when I returned to the sitting room there in front of a chair by the fire was a an opened bottle of red wine and a crystal wine glass.
Ireland Visit 2015
Friday, August 21, 2015
I woke to a hard rain – this is my last full day in Connemara for tomorrow I catch an early bus to Galway and then go onto Ballyvaughan. I spent most of the day working to finish the painting. I finished it around 4:30 pm.
I am happy with it. – My original frustrations were mostly with what I was striving to convey with watercolor. The bogs are dark and heavy and have hundreds and thousands of years of history in them. Also, there is a lot of water in them – seeing they were created from the climate turning from moderate to very raining and the soil becoming waterlogged. When you think of it perhaps watercolor is exactly the medium I should be using. Although when one usually sees a watercolor painting it is quite light and airy – and I’m striving to convey something much different – something ancient.
I thought of starting a new watercolor painting – perhaps something that would take me less time.
Yesterday evening I found a little book tucked inside of a basket in the sitting room of Fushia. It was titled “The Naturalist’s View” and was a published lecture by Cilian Roden who is an ecologist living in County Galway. This is what Rodon describes a naturalist:
“They have a conscious or unconscious need to be in contact with the world that exists outside the world of business, politics, fashion, relationships and family. Animals, plants and landscape give them an emotional sheet anchor, and they are happier and more contented people because of it. This contentment, this feeling of being in the right place when up on a mountain or far offshore watching whales, or indeed collecting copepods and other plankton on High Island is almost a contemplative activity. Afterwords, some write a scientific paper to register the experience, others add to their list of new species seen or make drawings or photos, but these are of secondary importance. The central purpose is to refresh one’s spirit, to come in contact with something that extends beyond the human. The naturalist is aware that people and society are not self-contained. This awareness can color their character and give them a very different sense of proportion.“
Rodon goes on to say this about how the world works:
“Peering backwards through time, through the layers of rock under our feet, we can read the planet’s history. The boulder beds high up in the Twelve Bens tell of an ancient ice age, the unusual shells at the tip of Rossroe, on the southern shore of Killary Harbor, show that once Connemara was part of America. The strange fossils of fish and fern-like trees in the quarry at Kiltorcan, County Kilkenny, the amphibian tracks crossing the rocks on Valentia Island, County Kerry, suggest that living organisms have changed mightily since much of Ireland was a dry desert near the center of a long vanished continent. And then at the end of this story, we ourselves appear, related obviously to all the other living forms that are found on the planet, with the same chemistry, the same genes (almost), the same needs for food, air and water, the same transience.But what does it all mean? I’m not sure I know, but I can’t help quoting the lady who remarked to American writer Annie Dillard. “Seems like we’re just put down here, don’t nobody know why.” *
“Nonetheless, we live well on this planet: sunlight gives us all our food; mountains, forests and clouds work to give us clean drinkable water, soil absorbs and recycles our wastes; all the plants of the earth and seas produce the oxygen we breathe in and absorb the waste carbon dioxide we breathe out. From the description you might picture the natural world as a vast system of solar panels and air conditioners, pipes and waste treatment plants, with us stuck in the middle – a sort of global-scale industrial life-support system. But it is not like that at all: nature is achingly beautiful, although again we haven’t a clue why.”
*Dillard, Annie, Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek (London: Picador, 1976)
The rain stopped in the early afternoon but it wasn’t until about 5:00 that I came to a point to take my last walk in Connemara. I walked the short distance to Ballynakill Harbor to see that the tide was out. Among the salty scent of sea air I could also smell the fragrance of burning turf. I looked around and saw smoke coming from the chimney of a nearby house.
I returned to Fushia to prepare my dinner and organize and pack up my things for tomorrow’s departure. As I looked out of the sitting room window I marveled at what it would be like to live your life in one of these houses right on the edge of this harbor with the beauty of Connemara all around you. It is true that in years past Connemara was a hard place to live but the 21st century tourist trade has given it a thriving economy. I came across John O’Donahue’s words about tourism in Ireland:
“The rain is never far away here! I welcome it because one of my fears is the way the government relentlessly nurtures the tourist industry. Ireland is a small county and if the tourist numbers aren’t modified it could be overrun. Voyeuristic commercial tourism can do a lot of damage. The English scientist Rupert Sheldrake was asked what single change he would recommend for the new millennium that could make a difference to the world. His reply was that every tourist should become a pilgrim.”