Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Material Matters- Jim Turner

For the third feature of our Material Matters series, I spoke with Rossmore based ceramic artist Jim Turner. Jim used to be a board member here at the West Cork Arts Centre, with several of his exhibitions also having been featured here. Jim specialises in clay but is also proficient with other materials. He has successfully exhibited internationally, from the United States to Germany and of course on Irish soil. Most recently with a successful exhibition in China. 

These days Jim focuses primarily on his and his wife Etain's studio, Rossmore Pottery. Jim and his wife have been makers in West Cork for 40 years. I asked Jim about his beginnings here. 

''I first arrived delivering a yacht into Crosshaven in 1969. The next 10 years were spent finishing my degree in London, working in various pottery's from France to Connemara, interspersed with yacht deliveries. I met my wife in the Alderney Pottery. Things were totally different back then really. My wife and I started off by buying a ruined old farmhouse and piggery, which we converted into the studio workshop. I was working on a building site at the time so most of my time was spent either working or renovating the workshop. Once the workshop was done, we started off by making chimney pots as there was a big demand for them at the time. We also made pottery for craft shops when we could. We made a name for ourselves through that work which lead to requests from places like Blarney Woolen Mills. Those businesses requested a range of pottery from us in all shapes and sizes as that was what was popular in the 80s. That kept us very busy for a long time. For nearly 20 years in fact. There were times where we just wanted to work on one-off sculptures but at the same time we needed to make money so selling in bulk kept us afloat really. With that money, we eventually were able to afford a studio in the 90s. Demand wasn't as high around that time but I was teaching Sculpture and Ceramics in Rossa College back then which freed us up to be more selective with what we worked on in our studio". 

Jim and Etain are still making things to this day. Etain adds designs to the decorative ceramics Jim makes. As he is now 'retired', Jim says he has more time to 'play around with materials and experiment'. This involves adding such materials as cellulose, perlite, vermiculite, sawdust, wood shavings, various organic materials and even cement and metals to different clay mixes, for making sculptural ceramics. Jim spoke about the level of demand for his work these days, especially considering the Covid-19 restrictions.

"I mainly do commissions these days. We don't make as much money as we used to but I'm a pensioner so that doesn't matter as much" Jim laughed. "I also have more time to play around with materials and to experiment. I'm in the 'danger zone', so I spend most of my time indoors anyway so the lockdown hasn't really affected me as much. Well, I was working on a show and that had to be postponed unfortunately but what can you do? I have had more time to research further into subjects I find interesting. Like at the moment I have been reading up on the scientist John Stewart Bell and am planning on making sculptures about him and his work. It's been really interesting and enjoyable to learn about him and doing it at my own pace has been great. I'll be continuing to research that and other subjects over the Winter so ill see what comes of that. I've also been experimenting with paper clay recently and I'm hoping to display some of the work I'm doing with that in the Members and Friends show in the Art Centre next year". 

Jim has often worked collaboratively. He has recently completed a collaborative exhibition with artist and writer Brian Lalor entitled 'The Fertile Crescent' which was on display in the Blue House Gallery in Schull. In this work, Jim and Brian turned their attention to the tragedy in the Middle East where the ruins of the civilisations of the past were being destroyed. For this exhibition, Jim made a series of cylinder seals, which involved inscribing a clay roller used to impress calligraphy on to a clay tablet. 

Jim's experience with creating is self-evident in his work. I asked Jim about what's different about being a maker these days compared to when he began.

"The whole thing has changed completely. The bad side of it is that you are now charged for having a studio. For example, I have a photographer friend that used to work out of a room in his own house for many years. Then one day all of a sudden he is being charged for that room as it is now classified as a studio. Then at the same time, I know some painters who arent charged at all so the whole thing seems totally arbitrary which doesn't make sense to me.

 On the positive side of it, workshops for makers in many different disciplines became popular in the 2010s which is great. We try to host a workshop every year, through the society of Cork Potters with an international leader. This helps with the running costs of the studio. Social distancing precludes the event this year. There are so many people doing it now. I like that there are more people interested in becoming makers because obviously, it's something I love to do. The work being created these days is of a far more artistic bent which is great to see".

To view any of Jim's past or future work please visit:

WCAC acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council and Cork County Council

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Material Matters - Michael Ray

For the second week of our Material Matters series, we are featuring Castlefreke based visual artist Michael Ray. Michael has been connected with both the West Cork Arts Centre and the Arts for Health team for almost twenty years. He has displayed at the Centre many times and has also visited hospitals around Cork, working with patients to create a variety of work as part of the Arts for Health team.


Michael is renowned for his work with glass, successfully exhibiting his work around the world.  Yet, during the lockdown, Michael's primary focus turned to wood. I asked Michael what he has been working on recently.

"Well during the lockdown I suddenly got a really bad toothache" Michael laughed. "I wasn't able to go to the dentist with it so it became very difficult to live with. To distract myself from the pain I would go out to my shed and start crafting. Hacking away at the wood kind of took me to another place and became a sort of therapeutic relief. I wasn't making anything specific at first but I eventually realised what I was making looked like teeth and that's primarily what I have been working on lately".

Michael has an impressive ability to work with a variety of materials. Wood and glass are wildly different materials so I was interested to learn about his process with wood and what that feels like to work with.


"I first look for a piece of wood that is still growing. I like to work with greenwood because you're able to interact with it in interesting ways. It moves and changes shape dynamically so you have to be adaptable. I'll take a small branch, usually the size of a fire log, and cut it into an appropriate length. I strip the bark from it as I go. The making process starts by shaping the 'legs' of the piece which end up as the roots of the tooth. I'll rough out three of these using an adze and gouge. These legs can be anywhere up to two feet in length. Once I have those done I decide if I'm going to hollow out the main bulk of the tooth or leave it mostly solid. If I decide to hollow it out I’ll use a hook knife, which is sort of like an ice cream scoop but extremely sharp. This allows me to make curved cuts into the wood. Once that is done I'll apply a finish to the piece. I might use a blowtorch to create a charred surface to the piece, to make the wood split, and from there, apply metal leaf or a wax to keep it all smooth and sealed. I may also burnish the wood which presses the fibres down and helps the wood shine. The final product can look very animated, almost like it’s about to move off. It's a very organic process. You have to adapt to the wood and sometimes the wood can present unexpected opportunities such as knots and the directional changes in growth rings.

With glass, you have a very clear picture of what you want the piece to look like. You can’t be as prescriptive with wood which makes it a creative challenge but that's what I like about it. some of my process’s go against traditional crafting conventions of making something perfect. The destructive qualities of heat for instance, can turn the whole process on its head and allows for something new and unexpected to happen".


As the project is still ongoing, Michael isn't sure if this work will become public just yet but if you are interested in learning more about Michael's glass work, you can see examples on his website

WCAC acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council and Cork County Council

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Material Matters- Anne Harrington Rees

My name is Gavin Buckley. I work as part of the front of house staff at Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre. I also write a weekly blog about the latest events happening in and around the Centre. Over the next four weeks, I will be interviewing four West Cork-based makers. All four are long-standing members of the West Cork Arts Centre and have a keen interest in the qualities of material and form in their work. This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rossmore based designer Anne Harrington Rees.  Before ever meeting her, I knew that Anne worked with the Arts for Health Team for many years, working with the hospital residents of Dunmanway, Clonakilty and elsewhere. 

I had never met Anne in person until she invited me to chat with her at her stall in the Skibbereen Farmer's Market. Anne's stall bloomed with vivid colours across the variety of her collection. Neatly displayed there was a selection of tea towels, wall hangings and cushions. Besides the notable colours, what stood out were the designs inlaid upon them. On one item you would see an intricate pattern of leaves with a striking flower at their heart. On the next, a multi-layered and multi-coloured graphic of a moth spread radiantly across the material. I was immediately eager to learn more about the work and the person behind them so I asked Anne about her background with crafting. 

"I've always loved creating. I remember as a child my mother and grandmother taught me how to sew and I used to practice by sewing dresses for my dolls. Ever since then, and as I grew up, I've been making things. I even made my wedding dress for example. But besides crafting, I have always been interested in the environment and the nature we have around us. My passion for both is what has led to this current work". 

Anne would go on to tell of a life wholly immersed in both crafting and nature. In terms of education, Anne has a Higher National Diploma in Design Crafts as well as a degree in Landscape Horticulture. Some of her earliest professional endeavours were spent crafting small coiled hand baskets which she would later go on to display in her first exhibition. This was only the beginning of her success as she went on to win several crafting competitions both in Ireland and the UK. Besides that, she was a Horticulture lecturer in the UK for several years and even had her own garden maintenance business for a time. 

It was clear that Anne cares a great deal about the environment. I asked her what brought this about. "There were many influences. I was brought up in the countryside. I was always out hunting for blackberries or walking the dogs. We used to grow vegetables in the garden, and my dad would always know the names of every plant.  Besides that, my husband is an Ecologist and he used to work in a nature reserve where I would help him do bird surveys from time to time. Because I was involved in all of these things, I became aware of the problems facing the natural world. Today, I do my best to raise awareness of these issues because we need to mind what is in the world around us. I think if people don't know about the problems, then they won't know how to protect the environment around them and start doing positive things for it". 

Anne primarily focuses on selling at markets these days. I asked Anne about the process behind what she has been making lately. "Well it usually starts with me just going for a walk with my dogs and I'll end up spotting things. An insect on a leaf, a budding flower, things like that. I'll take a photo of whatever I find interesting. Later on, I'll lay out all the photos I've taken that day or from any day really. From there I'll sketch an image based on patterns I like in the photos. I'll then scan my sketch into my computer where I add colour using editing software. I also may add further layers on the computer, like the leaf patterns. Once I'm happy with the completed image I'll save it and send it to an Irish based printing company. I feel it's important to support Irish businesses. They then print my image onto the towels or hangings or whatever I like. It's all fair trade or organic materials too. Once I get them back I must fold them, package them and get them ready for display. That's it. They are then ready for selling at the markets".

Anne's passion for nature and crafting truly comes across in her wonderful work. To see for yourself, you can always find Anne on a Saturday afternoon in Skibbereen Farmer's Market. Alternatively, some of her work is for sale in Green Dot in Clonakilty. All of her work is also available for purchase at

WCAC acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council and Cork County Council

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Sounds From Inside

This week I spoke to musicians Liz Clark and Justin Grounds about their efforts to bring music back into peoples lives despite the lockdown. While distinctly different musicians Liz and Justin have both worked for many years on the Arts for Health Partnership Programme as core artist team members and have community collaboration at the heart of their work. Liz a singer-songwriter, originally from Colorado whose work is folk-influenced, has originated projects such as Starling Song Project ( and is also director of Uillinn based Skibbereen Community Choir.

Justin is a classically trained violinist whose recent projects include Last Dance, ( with dancer Inma Pavon and Embracing the Universe, a new oratorio performed by a special Community Choir and 7 musicians at Uillinn this time last year, for Skibbereen Arts Festival.

I first spoke to Justin Grounds about what he has been getting up to recently. Justin is currently in the early process of composing new work  'Isolation 20'. While very much a work in progress, the plan so far is to first find a diverse range of 20 musicians from around Cork. Justin will then call them individually to discuss their experience of the lockdown and how they have been coping with it. After this discussion, Justin will ask them to compose a brief bit of music which attempts to capture their individual experience of the lockdown. Justin will then take those individual sounds and compose a melody from all of the collective sources to make a cohesive work. 

After composing, the work will be installed in the gallery. The idea is that you can walk into a space and see 20 separate speakers spread out across the room with a portrait of each project participant above them. The listener can then go up to each speaker and hear the individual sound or else stand in the middle of the room to hear the collective sounds harmonizing together as one. Justin intends the installation to be experienced by one visitor or one household at a time, to underline the feeling of isolation. All going well, this will take place at Uillinn in early 2021.

More generally, Justin spoke of the ups and downs he's had when making music during the lockdown. ''The lockdown has of course been challenging in some ways but it has also opened up more opportunities to learn. I've been able to make music with people from all over the world who have been missing creating music together. Unfortunately, the joy of playing live in a room together has diminished with the current restrictions but the collaborative element has been great. I've been able to see people bring their music together in really interesting ways''.

I was also able to speak with Liz Clark about her work with Skibbereen Community Choir. The choir has been around for 3 years now and has members from all age groups and backgrounds. Typically Liz will pick a requested song from one of the members and then organize them to meet once a week so that they can sing the chosen song. In the past, they have sung anything from Crosby, Stills and Nash, to Neil Young, to Joni Mitchell, and even The Waterboys. These meetups usually take place at the West Cork Arts Centre but recent restrictions have made that impossible and the Choir had to be put on hold. Then, not long after Covid-19 hit, Liz would hear the awful news that her mother had contracted the virus. This was naturally a huge concern for Liz but fortunately, her mother went on to make a full recovery. Even during such a scary time, Liz said music helped her through it. She missed making music, and the people she made it with. She decided to reach out to her fellow choir members and like many others, they took to Zoom. Some members of the choir were unused to the technology involved which prevented everyone from joining which saddened Liz as she didn't want anyone to miss out. The members that could join were initially faced with the impracticality of singing together over an internet call. Liz said the latency issue was a huge problem because the delay in receiving sound would have everyone's voices out of sync. Singing and hearing your own voice louder than everyone else's took adjusting to as well she mentioned.

A clever solution was reached where everyone would mute themselves except for Liz. She would then start singing and people would join in while recording themselves on their phones. The participants would then send Liz their recordings for her to sync up using audio editing software and once it was successfully edited, she would send it to everyone involved. Liz had prior experience in sound editing which stood to her but there was still a lot of time and effort involved. It was hard for me to imagine the difficulty involved in perfectly syncing up audio from multiple recordings. When I mentioned this to Liz she said ''it was never going to be perfect but that was never really the point. The soul of this choir is wellbeing, and the music almost comes second. Singing feels good, especially when we do it together. Just being able to engage with everyone again was wonderful. It might only be something small but being able to help people cope during these difficult times makes a big difference in my opinion.''

To keep up to date with Liz and Justin's work, please visit these websites:

WCAC acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council and Cork County Council

Isolation20 - This project is supported by Cork County Council through the Creative Ireland Programme - further information from and  

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Looking Forward to a Monday Morning

I have been racked with anxiety for years now. It wasn't that long ago when I had no job, my physical health was declining, and I had no idea where I was going with my life. It got to the point where some days I would be afraid to go to the shop for fear of having an anxiety attack. It was a legitimate fear because some days that would really happen.

These days, I'm not so bad. I now have some weapons to bring to the fight against my own mind: Consistency, friendly social interaction, an evolving perspective, and above all else, a sense of purpose. All of those things, and much more besides, were provided to me through my experience working at West Cork Arts Centre.

It's almost been a year and a half since I walked into the job interview at Uillinn. As you can imagine, I wasn't brimming with confidence. I mostly said what you'd expect, telling them about my work experience, and spouting the usual keywords like ''initiative'' and ''punctuality''. It was near the end of that interview that I felt I obliged to tell them the truth about my anxiety. The hard truth of it was that I was worried that there might be some days that I might freak out and need to leave suddenly so I could go home and get my mind together. Who doesn't want an employee who is likely to leave their job at a moment's notice? Well, the interview team at Uillinn seemingly didn't because I didn't get the job. At least not on the spot. They called me a few days later and offered me the position.

I was thrilled. I can't tell you how much I appreciated that one small bit of faith and understanding.

The most stand out memories of my first few weeks there were of getting to know the people I was working with. They were then, and still are to this day, an extraordinary group of people. I'm not just saying that because they may be reading this, I honestly believe it. Even though I could write an essay about the qualities of the people at the Centre I won't because if you know these people, you know what I'm talking about.

On a more practical level, they've trusted me to do podcasting like I mentioned but also to write this blog, both of which I had a big interest in even outside of work. Every day, I'm privileged to meet artists from all sorts of backgrounds, talents, and perspectives. I get to meet people who are involved in the amazing and inspiring Arts for Health programme. I'm able to see the processes and final execution of so many different forms of incredible artforms. I even answer the phone from time to time! Honestly, though, I couldn't ask for a better environment. Ultimately because of the job, the artists, and the people I work with, my anxiety barely gets a word in these days.

Unfortunately, the lockdown restrictions required the closing of many doors for the last few months but as of this week, the Centre's doors are reopened.  With the necessary health and safety guidelines in place, things will work a little differently for the foreseeable future. I asked some of my coworkers how they felt about going back.

One of them said that they are "looking forward to the sounds of people in the Arts Centre, it makes the art come alive."

Another staff member saw both the up and downsides: ''Initially, I was excited to see everyone I work with and grateful for the extensive guidelines about Covid for staff and the public.  But now if I'm honest I have mixed feelings because it's possible there can't be as much interaction with staff and the public so the sense of isolation is still there.''.

Personally, I have been looking forward to getting back into the working routine again. The health and safety precautions are going to take a small bit of adjusting to but I'm eager to see what the new normal will be. I'm mostly looking forward to seeing all the people involved there because they add so much to my life. If you don't believe my appraisal of the people there or the range of beautiful work on the walls then don't take my word for it and come see for yourself.

WCAC acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council and Cork County Council

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Inside Out

One of the first faces I was greeted with when I initially began working at West Cork Arts Centre was that of Tomasz Madajczak. On that day and to this day, Tomasz always makes time to greet you by name and ask you how you are doing. A friendly, welcoming, and near-constant presence in the Centre, when Tomasz isn't working on his studio practice, he's heading one of a number of one-off workshops or durational projects with people of all ages in the community. One of the programmes he is long associated with is Art Club. Art Club is a place for both children and young teenagers from all over West Cork to gather together and investigate visual arts, collaborating in creating all kinds of creative projects. 

Recently I have been back in the centre after the lockdown to prepare for reopening. Naturally, Tomasz was in the building with a new batch of young people working experimentally on something new. This initiative I was to learn, was a recently made art collective exploring a project titled 'Inside Out'. When I asked Tomasz about it he said that his daughter had been mentioning a lack of activities for teenagers to do in Skibbereen, made worse by recent restrictions. Tomasz then asked her if she and her friends would be interested in meeting up to do a once-off art workshop of sorts. They all agreed, and indeed it soon developed to include more and so 'Inside Out' was formed. Tomasz said it was great that the young people were already close friends because it makes for a more productive, exciting, and open environment for creating. 
I asked Tomasz about what they typically get up to. He explained that last week they began by sitting in silence. The aim of this was to take a moment to gather their thoughts and understand what feelings they are bringing into the day. This allowed Tomasz to get a feel for the group and see what might be appropriate to do on that day. They then had a discussion with everyone sitting in a circle. They discussed a variety of topics ranging from emotions, dreams, politics, self-awareness, or anything else that organically came to mind. Tomasz hopes this will create an environment in which the young people can have a ''deep, psychological look inside themselves and from there see how they truly perceive themselves and the world around them''. It was brilliant to see Tomasz strive to communicate with them with such equal respect. I remember when I was in school, I had a huge appreciation for teachers who would listen, respect and take the time to understand you as a person. 

Tomasz has a careful and considered approach to facilitating groups, he avoids telling them what they should do or how they should do it. This he says ''allows more freedom to create how they want. Sometimes too much structure can take away from the excitement of creating''. I could also appreciate this approach and it reminded me of when I got my first guitar. When I first had it, you couldn't get it out of my hands. I was always playing it and experimenting with it. I soon got proper lessons but that ended up killing my enjoyment because to me it became a chore where I had to practice this specific song and have it ready at a certain time of the week. Killing the excitement of creating is something Tomasz seems acutely aware of. 
So the group gather their thoughts, discuss those thoughts, and then express them using whatever materials they wish. As you can imagine, what gets created is rich in expression and comes from a deeply personal place. You can see some of the pictures attached to this blog for examples.

Afterwards, the group discuss what they have made and get into detail about the process of how they made it. Tomasz then lends his experienced opinion to their work, encouraging even further development. They then return to their home lives after what one teenager described as an ''insightful, creative, and fun experience''. 
Tomasz has described the group as ''open, responsive, and respectful'' and you can tell he finds the experience rewarding and inspiring to his own studio practice. 
My take on it (and I'm not just saying this as an employee) is that it’s great to see that the Art Centre and artists like Tomasz providing opportunities like this for the community. I've been living in Skibbereen for many years now and anything that can brighten peoples days like this is well appreciated, especially during present circumstances. 
To learn more about Tomasz Madajzcak, Uillinn West Cork Art Centre, and the activities they both provide, please visit:

WCAC acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council and Cork County Council

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Emerging From the Cocoon.

This week I had the pleasure of speaking with West Cork-based contemporary dance artist Tara Brandel. Tara is a founding member of Croí Glan. Croí Glan is a professional dance company based in Cork that creates performances with diverse bodies producing cutting edge work that tours nationally and internationally. Their current project 'Tilt' features composer Niall O' Carroll, street dancer Nicholas Nwosu, Irish dancer Oran Leong, and Tanya Turner in her first outing with the company. This project aims to delve into the struggle we all face in our present lives. Tara kindly took the time to speak with me about the ups and downs of preparing for such a performance during the lockdown. 

Although overall, Tara took a positive outlook to recent restrictions, she did mention some difficulties. For example, recent projects she had been working on had to be cancelled for obvious health and safety reasons. This uncertainty still looms over her present work as it remains unclear whether the lockdown restrictions will continue to loosen or if they will revert to prior limitations. Incorporating social distancing into a dance performance also seemed far too daunting at first. Tara then spoke about the potential effect on her mental health of not being able to dance and create, but here is where she drew positives. 

Highlighting her appreciation for having a space to create at Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre, Tara felt that she needed "to keep dancing and to stay creative". She continued: "I could do some work from home to keep fit and active but leaving home and going to a new space helps me keep focused and it's generally more stimulating”. 

Prior to lockdown, Croí Glan had been awarded a ‘Dance Production Studio Award’ to develop ‘Tilt’. The residency was planned for April, but due to restrictions, the studio was closed during this period. The residency was then rescheduled for 28 June with extra days added to support artists living nearby during restricted movement. (for more details on applying for this award go to )

Tara spoke about her appreciation of having a studio where she could prepare: ‘I felt fortunate to have access to the dance studio at West Cork Arts Centre. When I first arrived there, it was a quiet and isolated experience. I was working alone and the town itself was subdued. But as time passed and restrictions eased, I was able to have the other members of the project come to visit and the town became livelier. In a way, the process felt like coming out of a cocoon". On what few benefits the lockdown can bring to her creativity, Tara said that she appreciated having more time to get comfortable with all the workings of the project and felt less pressure overall. Her confidence and readiness improved as a result. 

The performance will feature a pole in the centre of a space with which the dancers will perform in and around. Circling, separating, and coming together in beautiful and ponderous synchronicity. 

When asked what she hopes people will take from the performance, Tara aims "to show that humans from a range of diversities can rise from a fragile place and come together triumphantly yet tenderly. I hope to create a metaphorical performance concerning the instability of the world and its changing times". 

After our conversation, I couldn't help but look forward to the performance. Tara’s enthusiastic approach to the project was wonderful to see. It seems to be building into an engaging and meaningful display. The performance itself, hosted by Uillinn and supported by Cork County Council, will take place at an outdoor location on September 18th in Skibbereen, all going well. Please keep an eye on the West Cork Art Centre website or Social Media for future updates on the performance.

WCAC acknowledges the financial support of the Arts Council and Cork County Council