Taking apart my studio still feels like the best thing I have done in a few years though there have been no real changes in my life, nothing rushing into the vacuum yet but while re-hanging some of the paintings in my house-paintings mostly by others-I suddenly got a grá to hang one or two of my own, ones that have been languishing in boxes for the past few years.
A couple of them are from an exhibition I did back in 2008 based on a month-long solo drive in the United States for my fortieth birthday. I had wanted to go into the desert. Maybe I wanted a break from life, maybe I wanted answers.
I took hundreds of pictures on the trip and when I got home I could see the possibility of a show in it. I did not think it would be popular in fact I thought it would be a bit twee but I knew I wanted to paint those pictures, I wanted to capture the loneliness of a world where there’s no-one to distract you and the hurt of being quite alone and also how in the most mundane and unexpected moments there is something like peace. I called the show Road Trip.
Because of their personal nature I am quite attached to some of these pictures, some more than others. A younger artist I met around this time could not understand my emotional attachment to some of my work and though he was a little sneery about it I realised he was right in that it is important to let ones work go.
Still there are one or two that are special. This one, Desert Inn Barstow, is my favourite I think, though the ‘favourite’ doesn’t quite cut it. There are many words caught up in it:loneliness, hurt, vastness, sorrow, fear, love.
I painted these pictures from photographs but though they seem to be faithful renditions of reality there was always a subtle shift(sometimes not so subtle)that occurred in the painting.
I was a week into my trip when I took the photo the painting is based on. I had stayed in camp sites and hostels but this was my first ever Motel an exciting thing for an Irish person whose childhood was spent watching American TV shows. A Motel!
I took this photo because I loved the dry folded mountains that faded to purple in the evenings and marvelled at how like they were to our own greener mountains but it is in the painting of it that other things become apparent.
The viewer is in a darkened room looking out into the light, a spectator not a participant. Is it fear that holds her there?Or something else?
We see the shadows are lengthening outside as we also see the shadows lengthen in our own lives as we stand in those shadows and wonder how it is that we have missed everything.
The view seems still, calm but then you see the word ‘rage’ for surely underneath the melancholy there is rage or I hoped there was because if there is no anger there is no hope, no energy to keep pushing forward on the journey. But this rage it is tightly cornered in its angry red box, still kept in check, not yet given free rein. (It is of course part of the word ‘Garage’)
There are other things here too, little nods to other parts of me. Lettering is something that is in my genes from my great uncles who carved the letters on the gravestones of the people of Roscrea in Tipperary. I started my own artistic life as a sign writer and so there is lettering and along side the ‘rage’ there is even a ‘Welcome’ from the world outside, maybe it is not such a hostile place after all?
I like old Still Lifes from the Renaissance period including the Memento Mori painted to remind us of our mortality and though a plastic bottle of water never featured in one that’s what was in my thoughts when I painted that bottle against a dark background, transparent, barely there, something I had forgotten but that’s what I see there now.
And of course water is vital in the desert, to go out there without water would surely mean death?
Beside it lies a guide-book , impossible to read, impossible to know where to go next.
The hood of the white car outside is the car I rented, my chariot through the desert.