Monday, July 21, 2014

Two Friends/ Two Irish Residencies--Part 2

As promised a few months back, we continue our conversation about two artist residencies that we experienced together in Ireland--the first at Tyrone Guthrie Center in County Monahan in 2011, and the second, the topic of today's post, at the Cill Rialaig Project in County Kerry for three weeks in October/November 2012. This remote residency is located in one of the most spectacular and rugged areas of Ireland. The following description is from the website of the Cill Rialaig Art Centre, which houses a cafe and gallery associated with the Project, and through which information and applications may be obtained about the residency (there is no website exclusively for the residency program.) In 1991, The Cill Rialaig Project began the rescue and restoration of a small pre-famine village on Bolus Head at the very end of the Iveragh Peninsula, thus creating an artists retreat that has attracted over the years over 3,000 artists from Ireland and the world. For nearly 20 years, professional artists, writers, poets and composers have lived and worked at the Cill Rialaig Retreat, making it an important center for creativity.

REBECCA: What a different experience this residency was from the one at Tyrone Guthrie. The surroundings were rugged and remote, and the accommodations much more basic. Each artist has a stone cottage with a small studio area under a skylight at one end--there are seven of these, and one designated as a meeting house if anyone chooses to organize something social. Otherwise, it seems most artists go there for solitude and it was not nearly as easy to meet others in residence. Below is a view of the row of restored cottages in their gorgeous location above the sea.

JANICE: I loved my cottage that was perched right on the edge of the sea.  The other cottages were snuggled together which gave them a little more protection against the late fall storms and strong winds.  I had two doors which had outer wooden doors like shutters that you could close for a little more insulation.  I did that most nights but they banged and rattled in some of the howling winds.

Because I didn't have a window that faced the sea, I kept popping my head out the door to see what was happening.  Often, I'd see the sun bursting through the clouds illuminating the sea like the second coming. I kept expecting a flash mob orchestra to burst forth with the Hallelujah chorus. 

REBECCA: I think we both found the land-and seascape of Cill Rialaig to be endlessly fascinating...dramatic, full of rough beauty, changing in all weather. I loved that we were constantly aware of the long, long history of the area. The cottages that have been restored for the use of artists retain the rustic feeling of their origins, and are surrounded by other ruins also dating from the late 1700s. Yet these buildings are recent compared to the Early Christian era site about a mile up the road, where standing stones may be found alongside the remains of beehive-shaped dwellings built by a small monastic community about 600 AD.

And on a cliff high above the residency, after an extremely rugged hike, we found the row of unimaginably ancient standing stones that we had seen mentioned in one of the notebooks of comments left by former artists-in-residence.

JANICE:  I especially loved walking the narrow road that carries you up to Bolus Head and sitting amongst the stones where the hermitage once lay.  The monks from this hermitage, so the story goes, left from this site, God knows why, to live on Skellig Michael, one of the two desolate and remote rock islands offshore from Bolus Head.  There they would have lived an unimaginable life, climbing  618 steps (I looked it up)-more than 600ft- from the sea to the top of the rock where they built beehive stone huts for shelter. I thought it a challenge to climb 7 steps up my ladder to get to my loft bedroom at Cill Rialaig!

REBECCA: As at Tyrone Guthrie Centre the year before, we fell into a pattern of taking walks together most afternoons, and looking at each other's work before or after sharing dinner. That was usually the end of the working day, since darkness came early and the studio areas had only minimal lighting other than the skylight.

I worked mostly in water-based mixed media on paper in the tiny studio (spreading out a bit into the rest of the living area at times!) I've used these materials on several previous residencies (various acrylic mediums, watercolors, powdered pigments, acrylics both fluid and regular, and an assortment of drawing media) but this was the first time I felt I could use them expressively and directly, without finding them difficult compared with my usual cold wax medium and oils. I worked on paper taped to boards and found that the edges of the work took on rich layered effects as I removed the tape each time to move to another painting, and replaced it again later in a slightly different way, or painted over the taped areas. My ideas came from walking among the rough textured rocks, covered in moss and lichen, and from the constantly shifting weather and changes in the light.

CR #9,  2012,  !4"x11" Acrylic and mixed media on paper ©Rebecca Crowell

      CR #2,  2012,  14"x11" Acrylic and mixed media on paper ©Rebecca Crowell

JANICE:  I loved the work you did there Rebecca!  I decided before I left home that I would work in acrylic on paper and only with Black, White and Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre. I wanted to work within those limitations.  I brought very few tools.  I decided to work fast and loose without judging my work, just as I recommend to my students in my workshops.

I found myself being influenced by the lines I saw-lines drawn on megalithic stones, the striations of sand on the beaches as the tide receded, single white lines running across stones on the beach, fine tracings of lines on rock walls.

Cill Rialaig 1 2012 11x14" Acrylic on paper © Janice Mason Steeves

Cill Rialaig 2 2012  12x12"  Acrylic on canvas ©2012 Janice Mason Steeves

REBECCA:  There's a lovely freedom to these, and it was a great choice of colors for responding to that rocky, earthy coast.

So many memories of our days there!  It seemed that there was magic in some form that happened nearly every day. Sometimes it was a beautiful moment in nature, sometimes an unexpected connection with another artist or local person.  Here is a photo of one of the most spectacular rainbows either of us had ever seen, arcing over the ancient monastic site...

"May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields,
Any until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand."   An Old Irish Blessing.