'Seeing it Both Ways'
A tactile and visual artist, 'Seeing it Both Ways' is a collection of my recent work in clay and charcoal. While the techniques I use in my 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.
In my work in high-fired hand built stoneware ceramics I use a tactile set of references as a source of inspiration and as a means to work directly with the plastic clay to build up surfaces for touching. Using a conventional mural as my base for working on, I have also extended this to curtain like structures similar to the Japanese screen. People are encouraged to experience by touch bringing alive their tactile aesthetic that all people possess.
Working intuitively with the clay I evolved a way of handling the material very similar to the way a masseur would work in holistic massage, eyes closed, relaxed and concentrated on treating the surface in its many different aspects but also as a whole. This tactile vocabulary, is inspired both by massage in the way its applied and the individual strokes such as hacking, thumb rolling, etc. While a non-visual form of mark making in the clay, it is a way of working that has a visual as well as a tactile aesthetic. I don't really have a visual image as I work and prefer the stoneware to show its' natural colour, using iron oxide to emphasise form. However, learning to work in this way has taken time. Sound and music often prompt visual images. Combining my tactile motifs and percussion in this most recent sculpture I have been able to use rhythm to suggest the way I apply my techniques.
My interest in what I like to call tactile art evolved 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, 1989-93. It was during this time, I realised I best related to clay through touch. Since then I have used different methods to further refine this tactile vocabulary. Not just by exploring my own making techniques but by exploring these ideas with others in a variety of teaching roles, including my artists residency at the Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts at Leicester University, 1994-996, and numerous workshops.
This exhibition includes a video installation which documents a two-week trip to the Scottish Highlands, eight days of workshops held in secondary schools and in centres for visually impaired children and young people and adults with learning disabilities in Ross & Cromarty. Supported by Mid-South Roscommon Rural Development Company and Hi-Arts under a Leader II cultural exchange, I was partnered with Art Link Highlands. Part of Art Link's brief is the registering of people working in the visual, creative and performing arts that are interested in leading activities for disabled people. A number of these artists attended the workshops as assistance while using the opportunity to extend their own skills.
The aim of the workshops was to encourage participation in the arts for all and across the ability range. The participants were involved in producing a collaborative tactile wall mural. The workshops focused on developing participant's tactile awareness both as a means for making and appreciating sculpture. On occasion working blindfolded; participants used natural objects and percussion to create texture and forms in clay using touch.
This new collection of tactile sculpture was supported by the 2000 Arts & Disability Awards Ireland scheme. The awards are jointly funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and An Chomhairle Ealaion the Irish Arts Council, and were administered by the Arts and Disability Forum based in Belfast.
My drawing in many respects is the complete opposite of my work in ceramics. On one level there is a similarity between the way I manipulate clay and charcoal, in that I like to work both materials with my hands. Whereas, my sculpture is about excluding visual images so I can focus on a tactile aesthetic. My drawing would not exist were it not for me continually recording and evaluating the landscape in a visual way.
Charcoal is my preferred drawing media. It allows me to create images using volumes and forms rather than line, working towards the detail. 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 or my fingers 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. The single colour is also a device I use to describe the mood I wish to create in a landscape. So for me, once the paper is chosen, that area of colour is in fact the first mark and not a blank sheet which I draw on.
I am always collecting images, everywhere I go I take photographs. A major part of the drawings in this exhibition are based on train journeys, such as the Kyle Railway that links Inverness to the Scottish west cost at Kyle of Lochalish, traditionally the port that joins the highlands with the Isle of Skye. This trip formed part of my work in Scotland which was supported by the Leader II cultural exchange. The Bernina Express connects Tirano in northern Italy with St Moritz in Switzerland crossing the Alps at 7,381 ft, in the shadow of Mt Bernina. In all my drawings I endeavour to record contrasts, be they contrasts between light and dark or changes in landscape, weather or mood. Sometimes I choose to isolate these elements and present them through a series of drawings. In other instances my collected images, serve as a starting point for a simplifying a landscape.
28 June 2001
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