West Cork Creates 2021

I never fail to come away on a high from this annual exhibition, and this year just confirmed that all over again! It is packed with swoon-worthy pieces, like Paddy McCormack‘s Whale Rider seat, above.

Mary Ffrench, Embroidery on Monoprint

The divide between ‘art’ and ‘craft’, although useful in some ways, can pigeonhole work that does not fall neatly into one category or the other. This annual juried exhibition gloriously transcends any artificial dividing lines and instead celebrates all that is best in the West Cork visual arts scene.

Brendan Ryan, Raku, The Old Mill; Bernadette Tuite, Sculptural Stoneware, Brow Head

Take a look at the website for bios of and statements by each of the artists. There’s a dizzying variety of approaches, materials and visions, but all are responding this year to the theme of Home Ground – and it’s not hard to relate, as we have all become so much more aware of our own patch of ground, and have taken to exploring all that it has to offer.

Greenwood chair by Alison Ospina with fabric by Mary Palmer (and in the background large jugs by Etain Hickey and Jim Turner; Kira O’Brien and her ceramic and hand-printed fabric piece ‘You+Me=Home’

It’s all for sale, too, with some very keen prices, so if you are looking to bring home a piece of West Cork, this is the place for you. The most lustworthy painting in the exhibition, to judge from the reaction of everyone who comes in the door, is Christine Thery’s Vanishing Island (below), a large oil painting of her beloved Heir Island.

Helen O’Keefe’s terroir is another Island – Long Island – and she captures the sometimes nostalgic emptiness of it all in her paintings, although the large one below shows her responsiveness to its vibrant colours as well.

Lots of jewellery too – Here is one of Michael Duerdon’s gorgeous brooches – Garden Shed. (If a particular person out there is wondering what to get me for Christmas…just saying.)

And glass! As someone who studies and writes about stained glass, I was delighted to see such a variety of glass this year, from classical stained glass, to fused creations.

In descending order: Deirdre Buckley Cairns stained glass inspired by the Calf Islands; Angela Brady’s witty ‘Ant Colony’; A vibrant kiln-fired plate from Trish Goodbody; Maura Whelan’s West Cork Wall, and a detail from that piece

Jim Turner and Etain Hickey each have their own ceramics in this show, but they have also collaborated on several items, including beautifully decorated large jugs (above, upper). Etain has been inspired by her lockdown walks this year to produce a set of wall plates in glowing reds and blues, all angles and arcs, illustrating the agricultural life around her (above, lower).

Geoff Greenham is one of my favourite local photographers and I love his approach to the theme this year – juxtaposing the old and new in his series on Skibbereen. Below is ‘Bollard’. Although the exhibition space, in the O’Driscoll building by the River, is superb for exhibiting, it’s not great for photography, so my apologies to Geoff and others for the reflections in some of my images.

Geoff Greenham and Sonia Caldwell were standouts for me last year, when West Cork Creates was solely online, so I will finish with Sonia’s sculpture in this year’s show – another one of her thoughtful, brooding figures which showcases her mastery of technique.

I have only shown a tiny fraction of what’s in the Exhibition. It’s on for another two weeks, until the 28th, so make sure you get there!

Kilcoe Studios – Dedication and Passion

Every year I’ve pounced on the Kilcoe Studios calendars as soon as they come out, and bought their exquisite cards. Recently I met their creator, Sonia Caldwell and discovered that the studio is quite close to me. I told Sonia that I’ve long been an admirer of her work and asked if I could visit her in her studio and talk to her about her inspirations. In the process I discovered a dedicated and hard-working artist and sculptor and a fellow wildflower lover. *

Thrift, or Sea Pinks

Sonia’s botanical artwork is meticulous and yet avoids mere illustration. Her colours are delicate but true and she insists on live models – you just can’t get the detail you need from a photograph, she asserts.

Sea-holly: my own photograph, and a detail from one of Sonia’s paintings

But it’s more than that – she researches each flower, tree, shrub, berry, fruit and provides information on folklore, herbal uses, Irish names and their meanings, and other little titbits of information.

She collaborated with the marvellous Pilgrim’s Restaurant of Rosscarbery for the latest (2018) calendar. We’ve eaten there a couple of times and been blown away by their approach to food – simple, fresh, delicious, and often with foraged ingredients. I’m still living on the memory of their blackberry and meadowsweet sorbet. So with this calendar not only are you getting Sonia’s wonderful botanical prints but recipes from the Pilgrim’s chefs as well.

This is Sea Mayweed and Orache intertwined. Pilgrim’s recommends a one-minute steaming for the Orache, and pairing it with white fish (like hake), new potatoes and a cream sauce. You can also mix it with other “tidal greens” such as rock samphire, sea aster, and sea beet.

The painstaking drawings she lovingly creates for her calendars also go into her cards. That’s great, because they should outlive their ‘year’. The card packaging is a work of art in itself – I’ve given many a set as a gift.

Because I’ve spent so many hours myself photographing wildflowers I know what goes into identifying, researching, and then reproducing each one, but only on a superficial level compared to the kind of attention each one gets from Sonia. Watching her getting the colour of each leaf exactly as she saw it was illuminating, and humbling.

Sonia sells her work in various stores throughout Ireland, but you can also order from her online shop. There’s still time to get those 2018 calendars!

Sea Campion – the front cover illustration for the 2018 calendar

Although I was aware that Sonia was also an accomplished sculptor, I was unprepared for what I found in her studio. She works in stone, on both a small and large scale. She makes beautiful bowls, sundials and plaques as smaller, more affordable pieces, and they are popular buys at the summer markets. 

But her passion is her figurative work. These are large-scale carvings, mostly in Kilkenny limestone, which she polishes to a beautiful finish using finer and finer grades of sandpaper. It’s physically demanding work, but I get the impression that when she’s engaged in it, she’s lost to time, and indeed to everything except what’s under her chisel.

Her work has a quality to it that I can only call ‘questing.’ The eyes look far away, seeking answers to some great question. In one case, they are blindfolded, forcing the quester to look inward. The bodies fold in on themselves, or on one another, or are rigid, as if acting as mere plinths for the imagination or the brain

It’s powerful stuff, and left me wondering why artists such as Sonia face such difficulties in the market place. Sculpture, I now understand, is much harder to sell than paintings. You can see a range of Sonia’s sculpture on her separate artist’s website. She has exhibited widely.

Sonia works with her husband, Eamon Quinn, a master joiner. Take a look at his beautifully-crafted furniture on their website. It’s inspiring to spend time with someone like Sonia, someone so dedicated and talented and committed. The good news is that, even if you don’t happen to live near her, you can still enjoy her art every day of the year.

*All the images of Sonia’s work are used with her permission. Please respect intellectual property issues and copyright for all the artwork in this blog post.