I must admit I was ignorant about many aspects of the artistic process before I began working at the Art Centre. Abstract art in particular tended to fly over my head. I'd often see blocks of colour on a canvas, and I couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to represent or if it was even supposed to represent anything. When I asked some of my colleagues for their opinions on such art, I learned of some different perspectives.
One of them said she imagines the artwork as if it was on her wall at home; whether it would match the colour scheme of her house and if it could help bring the room together. Another colleague said they find that style of art very relaxing and found that there was a meditative quality to the seemingly minimalistic design of the piece. These ideas began a process of awakening in me and taught me how to appreciate and find quality in all styles of art.
Through the blogs and podcasts I produce for the art centre, I have been able to speak to dozens of artists from different fields of expertise. A question I often ask is ‘How did you come up with the work you are creating?’ The responses I get are nearly always fascinating. Some artists have had their ideas for decades, formulating and tweaking their work until it has gone from assimilated dream to a manifested work of art on the canvas in front of them. Others work straight from a feeling and the process becomes almost a therapeutic and/or cathartic experience, helping them come to terms with any of the emotions that span the range of our human existence. Others still are interested in honing in on areas of everyday life we tend to ignore. The crack on a pavement, the colour shift when looking through a window on a bright day, the intricate detail of a water droplet when you zoom in. As you can imagine, it can be exceedingly difficult to verbalise all the work and personal input required to make a work of art.
I’ll put it like this: a painting of a banana is very rarely just a painting of a banana. Not exactly a genius insight I know but the truth nonetheless.
Moving on. Many of the artists I have spoken to are on a residency program. This essentially means they have a private room in the centre where they can work on their ideas. Sometimes these ideas are coming to fruition for display in an upcoming exhibition. Sometimes there is no idea, and they are hoping to use their time in residency to formulate a new project. The room itself almost represents the creative mind. A blank empty room that soon explodes with colour and material. One idea on one wall, a totally different idea on another. As time passes you see these ideas blend, evolve and some can be abandoned entirely.
It was in one of these rooms that I met Róisín Lewis for a chat. Róisín was, at the time, one of our artists in residence.Roisin in the creative process.
Such is the quality of Roisin’s work that she has exhibited both locally and internationally. Róisín is a Dublin based artist. After graduating from NCAD in 1996 with a 1st Class Honours Degree in Fine Art, Róisín went on to pursue postgraduate studies in fine art at the University of Ulster and in multimedia systems at Trinity College Dublin. She has had solo exhibitions at Pallas Projects, Kevin Kavanagh Gallery and Ashford Gallery in Dublin, at the Proposition Gallery and the Old Museum Arts Centre in Belfast, and at the Roscommon Arts Centre. Her work has been included in a number of international exhibitions including the Drawing Centre, New York, The Berkeley Art Museum, California and Yanagisawa Gallery, Tokyo.
I walked into the room where Róisín was conducting her residency. Every corner of the room was filled with materials of every colour. From wool to flowers to penicils of every shade. Róisín was clearly immersed in the developmental/ creative stage of her residency. She had 4 or 5 ideas all going at once. On one corner of one wall, she had a small pencil drawing which consisted of a block of lines in different shades of many colours. Naturally, I didn’t understand its meaning at first. Then I got talking to Róisín about her process.
Róisín it turned out, was exploring an idea of blending scientific statistics with nature to create something hybrid, something new. The block of coloured lines on the wall was an example of this idea being explored. The story behind that particular idea was intriguing.
Róisín had been living outside of Skibbereen for her residency time. Every morning she would cycle several miles into town to get to the Art Centre. In doing this every day she started noticing the wealth of colours that would blur past her as she moved along. Eventually, she began to slow down to properly appreciate what she was seeing. The bulk of the colours were from late summer flowers, holding onto their last vibrancy before the Fall. Within a patch of a few feet, there could be a dozen different colours. Róisín wished to know the name of these plants, so she bought a book on the names of local flora and began studying. Fuschia, Ragwort, Foxglove, Montbretia, etc. This led to her being able to associate certain plants with certain colours. Shades of Yellow, Carmine, Magenta and many more besides. Progressing on from this, Róisín would record herself calling out the names of every plant she would see on her cycle into town. On a journey of several miles, this audio recording became significantly longer, so Róisín started compiling all of the data on her laptop. Soon enough she had a road map drawn with the colours of each flower along that virtual road on the screen in front of her. On top of this Róisín had been measuring her heart rate to add even more data for her to consider. Each hill a peak of her pulse beats, represented by certain flower colours. Then a relaxed heartbeat downhill with colours coming thick and fast as she glided by. This overall idea then spawned into having a block of coloured lines on a small canvas. Each colour representing the changing colour of the nature she saw on her everyday step by step journey into town.
So not just a vague, abstract block of colour on a canvas. An extremely meticulous, well researched and disciplined process in order to create something simple-looking but beautifully complex. I found that to be amazing and it opened my eyes even further to what goes into the artistic process. Again, a painting of a banana is very rarely just a painting of a banana.
Bear in mind this was just one idea Róisín had going on. An idea that could be advanced, melded or scrapped entirely. One idea in one room in one corner of the world. Róisín had earned another fan by the time I had left that room.
If you would like to see what Róisíns past and future work looks like, then please visit her website at http://www.roisinlewis.com/