a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
The Nature of Things
My work can be located in the relationship between nature and paint. I describe myself as a contemporary landscape painter but I have also spent years working on Sheela-na-gigs in a very representational and figurative aspect. But whether it’s a Sheela goddess or a Cill Dara Bogland my painting is always an emotional response to what I see and it’s something I’m compelled to do. My daily visits to my studio are the most consistent and constant routine of my life.
My painting journey has brought me in contact with some wonderful people
some of whom became lifelong friends and supporters.
Patricia Monaghan was one such dear friend and she found me through Sheelana-gigs back in 1997. “The Hag in the Iron Wood” brought us together. Patricia came to see the original painting I did of this Carne Castle carving and also the silk screen print version I did of her.
Of all my Sheelas I think this one is one of the most powerful personalities. She is sexy and nasty in a “don’t mess with me way”. I think her hunched up shoulders give her this as well as her typical Sheela like pose of squatting legs and hands pointing to her vulva. Marija Gimbutas described her as a frog goddess in her correspondence with me during my original research and work with Sheela-na-gigs. Gimbutas said my hag reminded her of the frog goddess of Catal Huyuk (ancient Anatolia, modern day Turkey). I was very flattered and honoured by her comments. This Sheela print has been very special, being part of many exhibitions. Her fiery background of reds and golds enhances her darkness. Spirals and lozenges connect her to the language of the goddess and add to her mystery. She is protection and fertility. She is also the maiden, mother crone…..life death and rebirth… a symbol of the cycle of life. She reminds us of where we have come from and where we are going…..but ultimately she continues to inspire and empower all who are open to her.
This painting is connected to both my goddess and landscape worlds. It’s abstract in its composition and is very rich in texture and colour. The concept came from the Fire temple of St. Bridget over in Kildare Town, Co. Kildare along with a large flight of imagination. The fires are being relit after hundreds of years on February 1st, Bridget’s feast day. My painting is homage to this festive tradition. There is great contrast between the realms of light and dark. The fire is cleansing and a form of regeneration. But there is a landscape here too. I have used this motif for many of my bog paintings and here under the orange/gold horizon is one of my typical bog pools.
Diving deep into the waters and sea caves of Hook Head is where I found inspiration for this painting and indeed an entire series. I called the series “Passages” and it was to influence my work for several years. The rock formations around Slade Harbour and Hook Head are so powerful and dramatic and under the water there are hundreds of caves. They have been eroded by time and tide. The rhythm and movement of tides and weather create patterns and shapes. “Sensitive Chaos” is my exploration of this theme as it’s a wonderful collaboration between science and art. Water changes everything. It can both destroy and renew, as with painting, struggle and redemption. The movement and patterns left in its wake engages me completely.
“At the Coast” is a painting I did in situ so it’s fairly representational. It’s the Wexford Coast again, not far from my favourite Hook.
I like to think I capture the essence of the place on a typical Irish summer day. Lush green grass sweeps to the edge of the cliff which in turn rises majestically out of the blueness. Deep dark blue in the foreground, broken here and there with white waves, moving up to a haze and light blue where sea and sky meet at the horizon. When I look at this painting, I’m right back there…. on the Coast.
“Sunset” is from the same area as “At the Coast” but is in total contrast. The palette is an explosion of reds, orchres and orange. The reds and golds of the sky is absorbed and reflected back on to the rock face. I’ve built up the texture of the painting layer by layer with brush and palette knife. There is a spiritualism in this painting that happens in some of my work some of the time. The mood is meditative and some of the shapes and colours add to the depth of this. One friend described seeing something different every time he looked at this painting. Another said she felt the warmth of the sunset colours and that the feeling stayed with her for days. Compliments like these mean a lot to me, because we want our work to affect others. Art is about making connections and feeling and experiencing life. Art flows from the deepest source of life.
Occasionally I paint a painting that almost paints itself. Something magical happens and I’m never quite sure what or how. I relinquish control and let the painting happen. “After Full Moon” 1 and 2 are such pieces. Once again the form structure started off from the giant cliffs and rocks of Hook Head. I had been walking late at night around the Lighthouse and there was a full moon but also some cloud so the landscape was obscured when the moon was hidden but illuminated by silvery light when the clouds moved off. “After Full Moon 1” has quite dark moody colours that lend themselves to the mood and mystery of that night and my memory of it. “After Full Moon 2” is brighter. Both paintings are in the more abstract vein that I love to explore. I haven’t been able to part with these paintings yet because I feel there are more paintings to come from them. Larger more abstract paintings. When I’m working away in my studio and the paint flows as it did with these paintings and I’m in the zone of mark making…… There is no greater joy……
Every so often one gets a commission that is a joy to do. The “Apple Tree Portrait” was one such job for me. From the moment my dear friends Michael and Patricia gave me the photographs of their amazing apple tree that’s on their property in Wisconsin I was intrigued, challenged and hooked. I got to know this wonderful tree initially by making sketches of its twisting branches. Each drawing was a joyous discovery of shape and line. When I started my first painting studies they became pieces in their own right but my attempts to make them into larger paintings failed every time. I went back to looking at the tree representationally….. hence my decision to call it a portrait.
The apple tree had a marvellous shape to fill the entire canvas. Its twisted central area was like a giant womb for me and I so enjoyed trying a variety of colours as I filled it in and grew its strong branches out and out till the edge of my canvas.
I worked on this painting on and off for nearly a year. It went through many manifestations of colour and texture. The beauty and the struggle with oil paints is that you can scrape off and continually start over. Some of my previous layers are evident as ripples of paint that weren’t quite scraped off. I like these and feel they often add to the painting; giving it a skin so to speak. One of my favourite painters, Frank Auerbach said something like “every layer can be another poem”. Patricia and I were in touch as to the progress and completion and it was working out that I would have the painting ready by her and Michael’s next trip to Ireland. My only worry was that they might not like it.
I needn’t have had any fears. I will never forget the day Michael and Patricia came to the studio to see their painting. Meeting the painting was a joyful and emotional event; Michael and Patricia loved it instantly.
For the purpose of this journal, I’m also showing you a “golden glow” version that my photographer came up with using a special filter which gives the tree a more ancient feel. It remains one of my favourite pieces that I have done to date.
There is a mood and spirit in the Irish landscape that I feel strongly connected to, and I try to express this in my painting. I would like to think that my ideas and development as an artist are moving forward, changing, like Nature. Nature and Paint sustain me on my ever growing journey.
Fiona Marron is a leading artist in Ireland and a friend of Patricia Monaghan and Michael McDermott. Her themes are found in nature and its cross with memory. The painting sits at Brigit Rest, the site of Black Earth Institute retreats. Fiona will be featured in the next issue of About Place, Earth Spirit, Society-Inspired by Patricia Monaghan. More about her can be seen at www.fionamarron.com.