Arts Intervention Conference

Jurys Hotel

Dublin 23 February 2000

My name is Pádraig Naughton and I am a tactile and visual artist with studio near Ballinasloe in south county Roscommon. As well as my interests in sculpture that is made and can be appreciated by touch and capturing light in the landscape in my drawing. I also have a keen interest in research into issues concerning art and visual impairment and integrated education.

A former student of the National College of Art and Design I graduated with a degree in Craft Design majoring in Ceramics in 1993. My degree studies were very much influenced by my personal need to find a comfortable accommidation for my visual impairment within my course work. This led me on to research art that was being created by visually impaired people. In 1994 this research took me to Japan where I participated in touch-art workshops in schools for the blind and galleries. In autumn of that year I was invited to become artist in residence and teacher to the Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts at the University of Leicester, where I worked for two years. In 1998 I completed a Post-graduate Certificate in Education in Art and Design secondary teaching at Bretton Hall College of the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire. In August 1999 I was elected to the Executive of ABAPSTAS the Association of Blind and Partially Sighted Teachers and Students a UK based organisation.

Since graduating I have exhibited my sculpture and drawings at numerous galleries and festivals throughout Ireland as well as the UK and in Belgium. In the early years I very much concentrated on exploring the use of touch in sculpture. This is my degree show piece. A large tactile architectural wall mural measuring 22 x 4.5 ft. Here I was experimenting with massage techniques/strokes as forms of mark making creating a set of non-visual motifs. Structurally this was a difficult piece to assemble and move owing to its shier size and weight. Consequently, during my residency at the Richard Attenborough Centre, I set about making work with smaller individual pieces. 'My Hands on You' was the result. A Japanese like screen that allowed the audience to walk through and around a curtain of clay pieces suspended on ropes. Each piece was small enough so that its tactile motifs could be appreciated in the hand.

Drawing has always run along side my ceramics. My favourite drawing material is without doubt, charcoal. For me it has a sculptural quality and is sympathetic to the way I see, allowing me the opportunity to create in volumes and contrast. Initially my drawing was reflecting my interest in tactile form; especially the way light could be used to suggest these forms. As time progressed I became more interested in exploring how light worked in the natural landscape. The use of coloured papers for working up a charcoal image lets me choose an ambience for my landscape and a high contrast base to work on. This approach has been influenced by my interest in the use of filters in photography.

At the Arts and Disability Conference in November 1994, in my talk I reflected on whether my position was that of an 'Artist with a Disability or a Disabled Artist'. Through my experience of the last six years I now firmly believe that I am an artist who's work is influenced by my visual impairment. As a student and in the first year or two of my career, I was concerned with how I related to my environment and finding ways of working that suited my visual impairment. On completing my teacher training I decided to return and settle in Ireland permanently. As a consequence I have become more concerned about the logistics of functioning as an independent artist in a semi-rural environment. It was a stroke of good fortune that within a few months of returning that I came into contact with the Mid-South Roscommon Rural Development Company who were responsible for the allocation of Leader II funding in my region of county Roscommon.

The notion of defining my activities as an artist as that of a 'small business'. at first was a little strange. However, the consequence of placing all my ideas within the covers of a Business Plan have served as a very strong foundation for my future as an independent artists. At the core of my plan was the desire to create a career that was not reliant on me travelling/commuting on a daily basis. On top of that I wanted to consolidate my experience. Giving myself sufficient time in the studio while also being involved in education, leading workshops and seminars, as well as continuing my research into art and visual impairment. In practical terms my Business Plan formed the basis for my application for Leader II funding, which resulted in me being awarded the top level of Employment Grant. This has allowed me to set up my ceramics studio, develop my internet web site and assist in the mounting and framing of work for exhibition.

As an artist you will find yourself assuming many different roles. You maybe a studio based artist, a teacher, trainer or an exhibition organiser to mention but a few. In all these roles you can make a difference, primarily through your creative process/skills but additionally by your experience as a person with a disability. However, integration and the trust that people will afford you to educate them or their children in schools or visitors to galleries etc., can only be expected when you have acquired the skills and experience. In my opinion disability is not experience enough you must have a competency in your subject. The truth is that there is a growing need for well qualified people with disabilities to provide an informed perspective. Reflecting on my short career so far I am firmly convinced that these opportunities will materialise as a result of individuals dedication, professionalism, skills and qualifications.

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