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I am an Irish ceramic artist based near Ballinasloe County Galway in the Republic of Ireland and have a particular interest in tactile art. I studied at the National Collage of Art and Design Dublin. Since then I have exhibited my ceramic's and drawing in numerous galleries and festivals throughout Ireland and the UK as well as in Belgium. In 1994 I travelled to Japan to participate in touch-art projects in schools for the blind and galleries. In the autumn of that year I was invited as Artist in Residence and Teacher to the Richard Attenborough Centre at the University of Leicester. In 1998 I completed Post Graduate Certificate in Education at Bretton Hall College of the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire. Shortly after, I set up my studio outside Ballinasloe, so that I could continue to develop both my ceramics and drawing while pursuing my research in touch art through leading workshops and seminars.
Combining the tactile and visual
I have a particular interest in combining the tactile and visual in my art. This began while I was a student at the National College of Art and Design Dublin, where I studied for a degree in Craft Design majoring in ceramics from 1989-93. The greatest challenge I faced during that time was finding an accommodation for my visual impairment in my work, a way forward that would allow me the opportunity to reflect on my environment more accurately. What emerged was a tactile art based loosely on the principles of massage techniques as forms of mark making applied to a series of architectural ceramics and installations. It was also around this time that I began to work with charcoal in my drawing. A medium that allowed me the opportunity to create images in volumes rather than in line.
A Tactile Installation
My more recent ceramic work has been inspired by the Japanese screen because of its potential for creating a type of mural that could be felt and viewed from both sides. These curtain like structures comprise individual pieces of clay. Each a unique feature modelled by the hands and which rests comfortably in them.
Artist in Residence
In September 1994 I took up the position of Artist in Residence and Teacher in the Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts at the University of Leicester. While working at the Centre I was involved in a wide range of projects. These included one-to-one teaching of students with physically and sensory disabilities at the Centre; Introductory Studies students at Loughborough College of Art and Design; visually impaired students and their support teachers at Babington Community College Leicester (an integrated school for visually impaired students in Leicestershire); an adult education course 'Touch as a Way of Making Sculpture' at the University and research for a publication profiling professional artists who have a visual impairment. This publication 'Artists at Work' was published in February 1998 and accompanied by an exhibition of the artist's work at the Richard Attenborough Centre. In addition I also investigated how the Centre could use the Internet.
As Artist in Residence I completed an installation 'My Hands on You' which was exhibited at the University in June-July 1995. In August/September 1996 I completed work for a group show at the Department of Arts Culture and the Gaeltacht which was organised by the APIC Centre Dublin. In addition, in November 1996 I my first one man show at the Diarama Gallery on the invitation of London Disability Arts Forum. In July of 1997 I exhibited a series of charcoal drawings 'From the Red Train' and in 1998 'Images from my Place Tactile & Visual' at the Brideswell International Celtic Festival.
Conferences & Seminars
I have also spoken at a number of conferences and seminars both in the UK and Ireland, including the 'National Arts and Disability Conference', Dublin, November 94; 'History/Theory/Practice', Nenee College, Northampton, November 94; 'Art and the Visually Impaired', Roehampton Institute, London, May 95; 'Images of Art, Images of Disability', Skill Conference, Sunderland, June 95; 'Against the Odds, Art Education and Special Educational Needs', Bretton Hall College of the University of Leeds, April 96; 'Visual Impairment and Art' PGCE Art and Design students, Bretton Hall College, November 97; Projects for the Blind, Balham, London, December 97; Hereward College, Coventry, February 1998; The London Institute, November 1998; Guest Speaker, AGM of Northern Ireland Arts & Disability Forum, Lisnaskea, May 1999; Arts Intervention Conference, Dublin, February 2000; London Institute, July 2000; and Arts & Disability Awards 2001, Media Launch, Belfast, June 2001.
Touch Exhibitions & Research
In the year between graduating and taking up the position at the Richard Attenborough Centre I was involved in a number of exhibitions - 'Celebrating Difference', City Arts Centre, Dublin, September 93 (which then travelled until January 95); 'Touch' at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, November 93; and the 'Very Special Arts International Festival', Royal Museum Brussels, May 94. During this time I sought funding from the Irish Arts Council and the National Rehabilitation Board of Ireland for a research trip to Japan in May-June 94, to take part in touch workshops, visit schools for the blind and touch exhibitions.
PGCE Art & Design Secondary Teaching
In September 97 I embarked on further study at Bretton Hall College of the University of Leeds and in June 1998 completed my Post-Graduate Certificate in Education, in Secondary Art & Design teaching. During my study I taught at two very different schools in West Yorkshire, Outwood Grange, Wakefield a large 11-19 mixed suburban comprehensive with Sixth Form and Thornhill High School, Dewsbury an 11-16 mixed comprehensive with a sizeable multicultural catchment.
Landscapes in Charcoal
Drawing has always played a part in my work, particularly in the early years as a design tool. My interest in a tactile approach to sculpture and use of a camera has had a significant impact on the way I draw. My preferred drawing media is charcoal. Using a coloured paper such as orange, green, blue etc, I cover it in layers of charcoal then using a putty rubber begin rubbing back the charcoal to reveal the highlights in the landscape I am trying to describe. Sometimes I will use cotton wool to apply light dustings of powdered charcoal to achieve a softer gradation in tones. The use of coloured papers to draw on has been a feature of my work for several years and is very much influenced by my experimentation with filters in photography. I am also intrigued by the fact that I often see one colour in a landscape. My first one-man show of charcoals took place at the Rothwell Gallery, Athlone in September 1999.
Celtic Links Cultural Bursary
In June 1999 I visited the Scottish Highlands as part of the Celtic Links Transnational Arts and Cultural Bursary. Guest of Art Link an organisation that promotes and encourages access to the arts for people with disabilities across the Highlands, I led a series of workshops on drawing and touch sculpture. In addition I also mounted two exhibitions of my landscape drawing. Again In May 2000, I returned when 'Journey' a collaborative exhibition of work by artists from the Highlands and County Roscommon was visiting the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.
Leader II Funding
In addition to receiving support under the Celtic Links from the Mid-south Roscommon Rural Development Company, I have recently been awarded Leader II funding administered by the same organisation, for the development of a ceramics studio near Ballinasloe, the further expansion of this web site as a domain name and the promotion of my activities as an exhibiting artist, workshop leader and seminar speaker.
From my own experience in education, I have developed a steady interest in assisting other visually impaired people who are in education. In 1999 I was elected to the Executive Committee of ABAPSTAS, the Association of Blind and Partially Sighted Teachers and Students. In March 2000 I assumed responsibility for the associations' bulletin and was elected to that position of Bulletin Editor at the Swansea conference in September. At that same conference I was elected to represent ABAPSTAS on the UK Disability Forum for Europe until 2003.
Arts & Disability Awards Ireland
In July 2000 I received a substantial boost to my artistic career with an award from the Arts and Disability Awards Ireland - the first year of this innovative new awards scheme available to artists both in the North and South of Ireland. The award was used for further research and development of my large scale tactile sculpture in ceramics. Initially the research took the form models and finished work of exhibition standard. This research has resulted in participation in 'The Body in Mind' at the Richard Attenborough Centre Leicester University and two one man shows 'Seeing it Both Ways' at the City Arts Centre Dublin and the Clotworthy Arts Centre Antrim. The awards are jointly funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and An Chomhairle Ealaion the Irish Arts Council, and the scheme was administered by the Arts and Disability Forum, based in Belfast.
The Set Design
In an initiative partly funded by the Arts Council of Ireland, myself and artist Jacqueline Carey were invited to participate in the designing of the set for Knocknashee under the direction of Robert Lane. The purpose of the indicative was to add to our skills as artists and encourage our creative potential in a new discipline. My chief responsibility was the creation of design drawings for the landscape which was an important element of the sets' background. The style of the landscape was based very much on my current work in charcoal and used to full effect to enhance the changing mood in the play. The drawings were scaled up by specialist landscape/set designer Jack Kirwan.
Seeing it Both Ways
This is a collection of my most recent work in clay and charcoal. While the techniques I use in the sculpture and landscapes appear complementary, the subject matter sets them at opposite ends of the tactile and visual spectrum. Clay has always allowed me the opportunity to explore and continue to refine my sense of touch, while in charcoal I am using high contrast to create landscapes of almost photographic like quality.