“Clay, where it comes from, its texture, how it feels, its colour when fired. No tools between the clay and my hands.
The presence of form. The place between asymmetry and symmetry. Creativity as fluid and flexible. The alchemy of fire.
Purity and lucidity of colour. Clay’s simplicity and the sophistication of glass and precious metals.
Paring down to essentials. Discarding the unnecessary. No rush. Time for excellence. The work always speaks for itself”
ON THE MAKING OF 42 DRAWINGS FOR THE PARK HOTEL KENMARE, 2021
What was your aim for this commission?
I imagined this setting as a place of both personal relaxation, conversation and connection. My vision was to make something which had both strong individual elements and which also could be read as a harmonious whole. Also I wanted it to sit comfortably within the room, and balance the existing design elements.
What are the drawings inspired by and how did you achieve this?
The beauty of the Kerry and West Cork landscape and its ancient and living history are my inspiration. I have been living here for almost 50 years now, during which I have made many outdoor sketches. and these thirty six drawings have arisen from those sketches. They are made with a water-soluble wax pastel which gives no option to erase a line. I choose this directness as it requires an acute awareness of the line’s rhythm and composition within the borders of the drawing.
What techniques did you use?
I used 44inch wide rolls of 300gsm hot pressed 100% cotton paper by Arches which I dampened with water and made lines with a black water-soluble wax pastel by Caran D’Ache. The damp paper gave a good pigment density to the lines and enough bleed at the edges to give some softness. It also created a visual connection between the line’s edge and the paper’s texture.
Once I had a reasonable number of completed drawings I made a mockup of one of the panels and chose those that worked best together. I then repeated this process with each panel, creating new drawings as I progressed, and relating each panel one to the other.
How much time did it take to complete this project?
Aside from time on planning and presentation over seven months, it was two month’s full studio work.
Why have you given titles to these artworks?
The drawings can stand on their own unnamed, seen individually or as a group. However words also can add layers of connection between us and the subject.
A CREATIVE VOYAGE, 2018
"I’ll start with four thoughts that give a bounce to my creative confidence: in art there are no rules, it’s OK to make bad art, not too much thinking, and we all have unlimited creative ability!
So how do I go about my creative work?
I start either with the bones of an idea or without an idea. The bones I glean from the loose sketches that I make in the landscape or from images that arise in my mind. These can be the starting point, but what really works best for me is to let go and to allow the initial marks to determine the subsequent marks — or I may just leap in, make one mark, and take it from there — this is the “bungee jump approach," stepping off the edge into the unknown. If I preconceive an end too precisely I find that I lose my connection with the hands-on open-eyed process of making, and the result lacks life — same goes for trying to replicate work.
I just love experimenting and working with the unexpected. This is why I am so much at home with the ceramic process. As in alchemy, which is the transformation of the ordinary into the precious, the power of the great heat in the kiln changes the black and white mineral oxides into a myriad of colours and softens and moves lines. Always exciting, though nothing ever turns out as I expected. It is the subsequent balancing of the unexpected, even the apparent ugly, with line and colours added that brings the work to a point of resolution where there is harmony, and the work sings and resonates.
This is not all plain sailing! Being faced repeatedly with not knowing what to do does require the tenacity to look at the unresolved with as much openess as possible. It is out of this openness that a resolution appears. Then I can add a mark, a colour, and into the kiln again.Then there’s another discipline of looking, maybe another edit, and so on until it sings or else until it’s all becoming too obsessive whereupon I abandon it, and confine it to a pot hole in the road.
It’s tough going and paradoxically both dead easy and dead difficult, but my god it’s so good to be doing this!"
INTRODUCTION TO SOLO EXHIBITION AT CATHERINE HAMMOND GALLERY 2016
"Because this is the centenary of the Easter Uprising and the year in which I have reached three score and ten years, I have used as the starting point for this collection of more than 25 ceramic plates and sculpture an exploration of Ireland’s elemental landscape, the human attributes within it, and our evolution from mythological beginnings through early Christianity to the present.
Theme is my starting point for transforming material into art in that it determines the first marks. Then after the first marks it is the marks themselves that are the principal motivators in the creative journey, their relationship to one another, to the spaces between, and to the physical form in which they are contained. It is as if the work is determined by itself rather than by the theme or any expectations that I started out with.
Whilst the theme inhabits this collection of work, like a rhythm or pulse, with its variations and titles and stories, it would be a missed opportunity to view the work primarily from a literal perspective.
My own experience is that art happens when a living energy enters the work. It then becomes something that arrests or at least slows down a stormy mind and continues to do so.
I choose to work in ceramics because of the very uncertainty of the development of colour and surface through the process of heat in the kiln. Thus the selection of colour and surface composition is through experience and a process of visualization. Nothing is as I expect. Sometimes wonderful, mostly needing adjustment and re-firings until life inhabits the object.
To enjoy this collection most fully please look first, free of titles or meanings, and thereafter the stories contained".
ILLUSTRATING IRISHNESS in NEW CERAMICS 5/16 - edited by Nigel Atkins ISSN 1860-1049, 2016
"2016 is the centenary of the Easter Rising, the founding rebellion that paved the way to the War of Independence, and also, by the way, marks my seventieth birthday. All these years I've lived in Ireland apart four years in the Australian outback and six months in the Libyan desert. The intensity of this Irish experience has ceaselessly inspired me to explore my relationship to this country, to closely examine what might constitute Irishness, and to consider my work in terms which must nevertheless exist beyond the bounds of nationality.
My family name is from Normandy and my ancestors lived for many years in England before they arrived in Dublin in the 1880s. My family are non-Catholics in a country that was for many years defined by the Catholic Church. My parents encouraged me to depend on my own wits and creativity and dissuaded me from entering the world of commerce. Hearing my speech many Irish mistake me for English. I am an outsider, and yet I feel the warmth of home in this land and among its people, and more and more a resonance with its fabulous creativity.
For the last forty-four years, I have lived on the tip of the Beara peninsula, the western frontier of Europe, the rocky mountains behind me and the vastness of the ocean before me. It is very elemental. Atlantic storms come straight in here with no barrier, waves crashing against our coast to end a journey of thousands of miles. The weather is raw and ever-changing. It is rough living but there is a softness in the sheltered places and in the people who live here. This elemental Ireland predates mankind and it is out of this that our language and our ways of expressing ourselves have mostly arisen.
My way of working is largely through the domestication of unpredictability rather than through logically following an idea. I trained as a geologist, not as an artist, and I have developed my work with clay, colours and heat through a process of continuing experimentation. It would be a mistake to assess my work by taking a too literal approach to the titles I may use, or indeed to the subject matter, because in my experience, even though I may well start off with a title in mind, once the making process is engaged, other self-generating forces come into play. The first marks in the clay become the principal motivators for those that follow. A line laid down dictates where the next should be. And then the question of colour, or the chromatic play between colours, becomes one of permanent interplay where fickle transformations due to the heat of the kiln may need to be reworked and re-fired until I'm satisfied. To ensure surprise, that vital ingredient for keeping all artists on their creative toes, many of my materials have been chosen for their unpredictability. That way, the firing process participates in the creative act, occasionally wonderfully, but more often rather less so. Usually there is the suggestion of a way forward, probably one I would not have anticipated. So when the kiln door opens, my first rule is to give each piece a good space of silence in which to look. At this stage, the importance of the initial subject loses its precedence to the reality of what now is.
I am not so interested in words on art unless they open doors, unless they lead on a journey to where art exists in a space beyond the words. I am currently reading the essays of the Catalan artist Antoni Tapies and he writes about the need for the artist to work from an inner quietness and how he can thus offer the observer an experience that reaches beyond the conceptual. I find that living and working here in remote rural Ireland, far from the bustle and stimulants of the city, is perfect for this.
So to return to my reflections on what defines Irishness, I sense that this unspoken connection between the land and the elements, if only by its immensity, is the essential uniting current that underlies all else. There lies the foundation, on which has been constructed a way of being that finds its roots in the unresolved battle between our bloodwashed Pre-Christian values, when prowess was the proper subject of bards, and the Early Christian spirit of interdependence and God in all things. In Ireland, this bringing together of environmental might and historical succession is cultural fusion at work, a welding of man to place, of hardness to softness with all the inescapable force of an Atlantic undertow. This is the energy I know. This is energy I like.
How do I work? Like many artists, I need my own space, both in my head and physically. I've always had to compose myself before starting a new piece but, because of the importance I attach to this exploration of Irishness, which I knew would lead to a snow-ball accumulation of ideas, I decided to go on a "studio retreat" starting in early January and running, if all goes according to plan, until the end of the summer. This means enjoying continuity and minimum distractions.
In preparation for this series of figurative works, I have reread a lot of our myths and much of our national history, making drawings of the imagery that comes to me from this. These drawings are imagined, mixing imagery anchored in the verifiable with fantasies that spring into my mind as by-products of my source material. Living here on this weather-beleaguered "western frontier", the details of what I see when I step outside, when I can, also seep into my being. I try to maintain the quietness and discipline that will let all of this emerge in my work".
IN CONVERSATION WITH ELEANOR FLEGG, Radio Interview, 2009
“Why do we make things anyway? Why do we put things out in the world? Is it to make money? I think that’s a dangerous one. Obviously you have to make a living, somehow, but I don’t think that money should ever drive it. I think that if money becomes the prime motivation for doing what we’re doing, we’ve lost it somehow. It has to be more on the basis of enlivening other’s lives. It probably comes back to the question of what is art. What’s it all about – that process when you work in our studio? What are you actually doing it for? You are certainly doing it for that moment when the sense of separation between yourself and what you are doing dissolves. Those moments don’t happen very often, but they do happen. Once you’ve felt that, that creativity, where there is no separation and everything just happens automatically – that’s why we continue to do it. It’s to connect more and more with that space. So the motivation is probably the same as a spiritual path. Some people would hate to call it a spiritual path. But probably, most creative people, that’s why they do it.”