Posted by: jeanne | October 18, 2010

back from ireland, sniff

okay, i’m back from my trip to kerry, suffering (for having left at all) with a chest cold.  my photos, transferred off my sister’s camera in dublin, don’t read on this computer here at home, so there’s 1300 photos and several hundred 30-second clips that i don’t have access to.  so my story is, sadly for the moment, bare of any visual illustration.

it’s the fairies.

or, because i suspect a computer problem, the gremlins.

the weather, for september, was gloriously warm and dry, and altho i did little rain dances at times to try bringing on a real blow, the rain when it came over the hill was soft thank god.  it misted a bunch, over bolus head, and i could always see pretty much what was happening with the mist by looking across the bay at a similar rounded peak with the same kind of little fuzz of cloud over it, shedding cloudlets toward the bay that quickly grew to tropical height (that is, not as big as they have to get to rain here in georgia), and pissed all over a wee tiny spot in the water, while the rest of the bay basked, glowed, in glorious irish sunshine.

you’ll have to see the panoramas i took of the daily weather conditions.  i’d start at the east end of the bay and sweep slowly south and west, until at 30 seconds the camera was focusing on the bulk of bolus head and the little road along the edge where the village sits snugly.  the weather changed hourly, so i took hourly panoramas, sometimes.  but since you can’t see them yet, have a look at someone else’s work.

in this part of ireland – the edge of the ocean with next stop america – there’s the land, which doesn’t change.  not fast; not usually, not until the fairies start moving things.  then there’s the sky, and the clouds, and the rain, and the ocean, and the breaking waves.  these five forms of water interact in endless ways, and each little thing about all this water means something, is full of information – about the weather, the tides, the wind, conditions hundreds of miles away, the coming winter season – all these things perfectly obvious to anything living in all that water, but tantalizingly obscured from me.

who remained mournfully dry most of the time.

except for when i went tramping down to the rocks thru several farmers’ fields, one quite steep and wet, with clumps of reeds guarded by great huge spiders i apologized to and went around.  that’s when i remembered about bogland.  bogs can be as steep and well-drained looking as you like, and still be deep pockets of bogwater ready to swallow your foot.  so my sox got wet, and the leg of my pants.

my sister’s pants, actually, since all my clothes were borrowed, except for my artist’s apron.  i ended up wearing the apron from dawn to dark most days, even while eating, because i’m just a slob when it comes to pretty colors – they all end up on my clothes, whether they’re cadmium yellow or guinness brown.

i was there for a little over three weeks – the first week with a load of friends stopping by, when i worked while they toured, or napped, or wandered the mountain, and then two weeks totally alone, with all my thoughts and habits gathered around me.  and it’s really a good thing that i had company at first.  i had come out with a cold, and it took the first week – of sleeping late and being quiet and sipping on guinness in the sunny space against the cottage – until i was rested enough from travelling to think about what i wanted to do.

i brought all my art supplies with me, and this was only possible because i’d broken them down into their constituent parts.  i brought a roll of linen and stretchers to put them on, rather than ready-to-paint canvas, which wouldn’t have fit in my suitcase.  i brought dry pigments and a range of binders instead of tubed paints.  and this is a good thing, because sometimes oil paints get confiscated in security because they pose a serious threat – they could spontaneously combust in your luggage and set the plane on fire.  so they take them out of your luggage and toss them into the bin if they feel like it; there are stories going around among artists who fly out of england particularly about hundreds of pounds worth of oil paints going into the trashcan at the airport.

i had all my art supplies laid out on the big paint-encrusted work table in the cottage on the edge of the mountain at the back of beyond (see picture, oops), and i had several choices of what to do first.

there was my real work, the exciting, place-inspired creativity i was there to swoon into, the work that would take me into the flowing place where magic is real.

and there was the other work.  the donation to the project for having me; it’s traditional and quite a pleasure, because i have to leave them something good, something that will sell, and something that will say something about me to others.  that’s not a toss-off painting.  then there were the little paintings i was going to do, ostensibly to sell at willie rae’s or donna van gogh’s here at home.  usually, however, these are the things i give to people i love, so they never get into the stores.

here’s one of them.  handmade watercolor on homemade clayboard, beeswax varnish.  the stove.

i also did the typical tourist view of the village, standing at one end and looking down the row of cottages toward ballinskelligs.  that was for my sister.

and then i saw what the artist in the next cottage was doing with wool she’d found further up the road from our village.  she was taking the merest veil of sheep’s wool and making fine, lacy shapes while binding the wool to a paper substrate.   like fairy mantles, i thought.  delicate, delightful.

so i took the idea and ran with it.  that’s what artists do.  ooh, what a cool thing to do with a hank of wool, i thought.  i can do that.

only i used more wool, a thicker lump teased out into a wave, like i’d been seeing on the rocks below day after day.  the swell surges toward the rocks, the water turns manganese blue and white and crashes into the rocks, spuming into spray and foam that washes back out to sea over the incoming waves.

wool, applied with wax and pigments to hardboard.  the very same idea, but done my way.  it’s all good.

so i went up the hill and collected all the wool i could find that wasn’t totally entangled with more sheep shit than i wanted to pick out.  i avoided harvesting the wool off the dead sheep up the mountain, but it was molding anyway.  it must have been up there a few seasons.  agile as hell, but if they get stuck on their backs they can’t get back up, and will die, their eyes and livers picked out by the gray crows.  isn’t art picturesque and romantic?

it took several washes to get my new wool clean, then i hung it on the line outside and let it bleach in the sun.  in the end i had about half a pound of good quality raw wool.

when the caretakers saw my wool drying they had terse things to say about the droppings and the maggots, and i was more careful in disinfecting it because of that.  locals wouldn’t touch wool found lumped over the side of the road.

i also collected a mess of local flowers.  what’s blooming in kerry in september?  why, every damned thing.  gorse and heather and fuscia, pincushion flowers and liatris and even honeysuckle, foxglove and lilies and crocosmia.  bees were buzzing every moment of the day.  i pressed the flowers and will use them to embed into little oil paintings of the rock walls, with wax.

there’s all sorts of more.  i’ll be reporting more specifically on my time in future posts, as soon as i get my photos retrieved, and i’ll be showing all my paintings over on my fabric blog, and i’ll have some advice for anyone wanting to stay at cill rialaig.

so stay tuned, and i’ll try to get over this cold and fix the damned computer.



  1. […] last residency was in september of 2010, when i was in kerry by myself for three weeks.  i got loads done, and proceeded, for several months afterwards, with […]


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