Art, Noodles and World Championship Turnip Racing: West Cork in the Summer

We’ve been enjoying a week of laid back excursions, In Ballydehob and Skibbereen, as we take time this week to enjoy what’s around us in West Cork at this time of year.

Top, above and below from the West Cork Creates Exhibition: Alison Ospina’s chaise with Anne Kiely textiles; Angela Fewer paintings; Trees by Jim Turner and Etain Hickey

There are always excellent art exhibitions in the summer – we have written this summer already  about the always interesting Blue House Gallery and Judi Whitton’s watercolours, the marvellous art trail in the Skibbereen Arts Festival and of course the Ballydehob Arts Museum’s current exhibition, Ballydehob on Bahnhofstrasse.

This week saw the opening of what’s always eagerly anticipated – the annual West Cork Creates exhibition on Skibbereen. Curated by Alison Ospina of Greenwood Chairs, this show brings together the best of West Cork arts and crafts in an exciting mix of styles and materials.

Lots of jewellery at the exhibition and among them is this unique dresser pendant by Michael Duerden

Next to it is Geoff Greenham and Melanie Black’s Creative Spaces, a photographic journey through the studios of artists currently practising in West Cork. It’s a great idea and feels like a real privilege to catch a glimpse inside these spaces.

The two images above are borrowed, with thanks, from the Blue House Gallery, where an earlier exhibition matched the studio images with pieces of art from each artist. The first shows Brian Lalor’s studio and the second is that of John Doherty.

And yes, I thought, somehow those spaces do reflect the art that comes out of them. I’ve tried to photograph artists’ studios myself in the last couple of years, so I know how difficult it is to capture the essence.

No studio needed when you paint en plein air. This is Damaris Lysaght at work at a site we wrote about in our post Mizen Magic 13: Dunmanus Promontory

Do catch these two exhibitions if you can. Then make your way to Ballydehob and take in the new space that is the Working Artist Studios, right on the Main Street. We’ve all been looking forward to the opening of this venture, previously situated in Skibbereen but now adding to the thriving streetscape of Ballydehob.

The grand opening was well attended! (The railings are not for the WAS but for the Turnip Races, see below)

Working Artist Studio is an innovative idea that melds gallery and performance space with studios for artists at reasonable rates. Pól and Marie are bursting with ideas and plans and it’s wonderful to see this shop and house, surprisingly roomy inside, so nicely re-purposed.

The opening exhibition was by Caoimhe Pendred (above), titled Hy Brasil – her ethereal take on the notion of the mystical Isle to the West. It was opened by none other than Tim Pat Coogan (below), the Irish historian, and Caoimhe’s grandfather.

But woman cannot live on art alone, and we were delighted to welcome back Bia Rebel Ramen to our village this summer after a stint at the Taste of West Cork here a couple of years ago. Brian and Jenny have made a name for themselves with top restaurant critics as the best place in Ireland for ramen.

The truck is set up to serve the food at Levis’s Corner house. They are only here for a few more days

They normally operate out of their food truck in Belfast,  but are on ‘holidays’ in West Cork. Some holiday – they are so busy that they run out of food on a couple of hours. What can we do to entice them to stay here permanently? This is the best ramen I have ever eaten, and having lived in Vancouver (Canadian home of Japanese food) that is saying something!

Did you know that Ballydehob hosts the World Championship Turnip Races? This Irish Times article in 2006 described it, and 13 years later it’s still going strong and still great fun, with Barry O’Brien (below in the pink shirt) doing the marshalling.

And to round out my week, a major thrill. I hitched a ride on my friend Jack O’Keefe’s Drascombe Lugger as he participated in the Ballydehob Crinniú na mBád. I wrote about this wonderful event a couple of years ago, but it was a whole other experience to be out on the water with the boats as they gathered at the mouth of Ballydehob Bay and then sailed up the estuary. See Robert’s post today, Ballydehob and Boats, for some more of my photographs of this event.

All around us summer is in full swing – we have just mentioned a tiny fraction of what’s going on. Why don’t you join us next year? We can’t guarantee good weather, but you won’t be bored!

The Fertile Crescent – A Review

Just about a year ago I reviewed a most stimulating exhibition which was running in Skibbereen: West Cork Creates. It featured collaborations between local craftspeople, visual artists, photographers and designers – combining their skills and expertise to produce exciting, original work. In my review I asked if there was a difference between an artist and a craftsperson, and this sparked off a lengthy online debate. My favourite sentence from this exchange was penned by Colin Murray, an artist printmaker who had taken part in the Skibbereen exhibition:

…I think all creative workers share the essence of making a lingering dream and the effort of sharing one’s dreams with others is an urgent business of us humans…

All the work in the Skibbereen exhibition was outstanding, but I was drawn more than anything else to the collaboration of artist and writer Brian Lalor and ceramicist Jim Turner. They have continued to collaborate, and the current exhibition at the Blue House Gallery, Schull is an extraordinary display of their combined talents.

One of Brian and Jim’s larger works currently showing in the Blue House Gallery in Schull – a gold capped obelisk

The exhibition has the title The Fertile Crescent, a phrase that might seem strange, at first, encountered on the small main street of a village in the far west of rural Ireland. It conjures up, of course, the images we had in our school text books of the beginnings of human society, including the development of writing, the invention of the wheel, the use of glass – and irrigation which enabled settled agriculture to develop. This led gradually to the exploration of metalworking – some of the earliest figurative bronze work is from the area:

fertile crescent bronze

Not in the Schull exhibition – but original bronze figurines from Tell Judaidah, Turkey. These are the oldest examples of true bronze (combination of copper and tin) known. They are dated to around 3000 BC (photo – University of Chicago)

At school we learnt about this land and its features and I remember the romance of the names that were conjured up: Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, Tigris, Euphrates… geographically far away but important enough to be titled The Cradle of Civilisation. That’s where our ancestors came from, we were told: that’s where our religions began.

great mosque

Minaret of the Great Mosque of Samarra, an etching by Brian Lalor

That geography today is at the forefront of our news. We now think of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine as well as the older names. We now think of idealogical war zones, we think of suffering, of displaced people; we think of bombs, human carnage, ruined ancient sites – and refugees. The mission statement for the exhibition begins:

…In this exhibition Jim Turner and Brian Lalor have devoted their attention to the current tragedy unfolding in the Middle East where the ruins of the civilisations of the past are being destroyed, and the present-day populations forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives, to become refugees in adjoining countries and in Europe. Our world heritage is under threat of total destruction as the cycles of violence recorded by history continue to occur…

It’s this modern view of what is going on in The Fertile Crescent that occupies this exhibition, and for that alone this work is as important on the main street of Schull as it would be in any major world capital.

Children pot

The ceramics – pots and bowls: the decorations on these utilitarian objects portray urgent messages for our society today. Jim Turner is the potter and Brian Lalor provides the illustrations

In the exhibition there are references everywhere to the cultural history of the Fertile Crescent. Jim Turner has made a series of cylinder seals, which involve inscribing a clay roller which is used to impress calligraphy on to a clay tablet; the same techniques have been used to decorate ceramic plaques.

cylinder seal

(Top) one of many ‘cylinder seals’ by Jim Turner on display in the gallery; (above) two of the ceramic plaques with impressed patterns

Obelisks and ziggurats are architectural features which we associate with the history of the Middle East. The two artists have produced a huge array of artefacts using these distinctive forms. Some stand in serried rows like an army (top picture), while other are decorated by Brian with motifs ancient and contemporary. The juxtaposition perhaps sometimes perplexes the viewer but the overall effect within the galleries is arresting and we are left in no doubt that these artists are giving us – Europeans – clear and deep messages, not only about our endangered world heritage, but our own responsibilities towards the chaos that is engulfing The Fertile Crescent in our own time.

Try to catch this exhibition: it deserves a wide audience. Perhaps West Cork is a long way for some of you to come? I hope there will be chances for this work to be seen elsewhere. I know the artists are collaborating on a further venture later on this summer: doubtless that may well reach the pages of this Journal. Congratulations to The Blue House Gallery for providing us with this most thought-provoking and dynamic work.

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poster

West Cork Creates

We were bowled over by the latest exhibition to open in Skibbereen on Saturday: West Cork Creates. It shows collaborations between local craftspeople, visual artists, photographers and designers – combining their skills and expertise to produce exciting, original work.

test pieces

Top picture – The Great West Cork Obelisk (see below) is featured by the entrance to the gallery; above – fired test pieces from the obelisk project

Here’s a riddle: what’s the difference between an artist and a craftsperson? If you have a definitive answer please tell me, because this is a debate that will last forever… Grayson Perry contributes to the discussion in this Guardian piece, starting provocatively with:

…I see the craft world as a kind of lagoon and the art world in general as the ocean. Some artists shelter in this lagoon, because their imagination isn’t robust enough to go out into the wider sea…

Grayson Perry makes pots, so is he an artist? Well, presumably the British art establishment thought so as they gave him the Turner Prize in 2003, the first time it had gone to a ‘ceramic artist’.

More from the obelisk project and – right – Brian Lalor, one of its creators

Where does that leave us? Is someone who makes flowerpots an artist, because a flowerpot might be an attractive object? Where do you place something like the Book of Kells? It’s a functional object – the four Gospels lavishly illuminated – created in medieval times by many different hands. Yet it’s unique, overflowing with stunning visual images, beautiful and priceless. It’s a wonderful example of collaboration between the functional craft of the scribes who penned the texts and the minds of the (undoubted) artists who produced the decorations around those texts: perhaps they were the same hands.

Left – metamorphosis of two of Alison Ospina’s Greenwood chairs and – right – Dee Forbes, President and Managing Director of Discovery International, formally opening the exhibition

What about Finola’s subject for today, Harry Clarke – artist or craftsman? Stained glass is not ostensibly functional (except, perhaps to change the quality of the light coming through a window) yet the making of it is a craft requiring a lengthy apprenticeship and a garnered knowledge of specific materials and their use. I have no doubts: walk into St Barrahane’s Church, Castletownshend, and be dazzled by the Clarke windows there. They are inspired: true art. Harry Clarke designed and made these windows, so he was artist and craftsman rolled into one.

book of printsArtist and printmaker Coilin Murray with The Big Book

For me West Cork Creates (part of the Taste of West Cork Food Festival) demonstrates conclusively that you can’t differentiate between art and crafts. As you enter the gallery you are immediately presented with an iconic piece – The Great West Cork  Obelisk – which stands almost three metres high. It is a collaboration between two minds and two sets of hands: Brian Lalor and Jim Turner. Brian we have met before in the pages of our blog: he is a true polymath. He writes (prolifically), he produces art (prolifically), he has been an architect and an archaeologist. Jim is a ceramic sculptor of renown. Egyptian ‘obelisks’ are commemorative monuments of the Pharaohs and they usually carry a lengthy inscription praising the deeds of some significant individual.

obelisk in context

The Great West Cork Obelisk

This one is constructed from four terracotta sections made by Jim in his Clonakilty studio and fired in a specially constructed kiln. The base inscriptions are all quotations, two from social philosophers and two from writers, all concerned with the state of society. Brian’s images derive from these, from the contemporary world and from the local environment. The artists’ statement says: Obelisks may be the new round towers of the landscape… (remember that Brian has written the standard work on Ireland’s medieval round towers). I agree: I’d love to see this work prominently displayed in a public place locally – and many more like it. The obelisk absorbed our attention for a good half an hour, delaying us from moving on to the rest of the exhibition: it’s a show stopper!

Alison Ospina and – right – one of her Greenwood stools painted by Etain Hickey 

There are chairs and stools: functional objects to be sat upon. But you’d think twice about sitting on these. They are initially examples of the work of Alison Ospina who uses coppiced hazel to make distinctive seating, but they have been transformed by others (painter, sculptor and felt maker) into works of art which will primarily be looked at and appreciated.

for sale

The gallery space includes a sales area where you can buy the work of the participating exhibitors

There are thirteen collaborations in the exhibition including stone sculptor and furniture maker; metal sculpture and photography; basketmaker and visual artist; painter and felt maker; painter and boatbuilder; cutler and jeweller, all based or working within West Cork… This is just a taster – we have to go back and catch up on the other genres and artists and perhaps write a further blog post. The exhibition runs for five weeks from 8 August to 10 September at Levis’s Quay in the centre of Skibbereen, and is open from Mondays to Saturdays between 11am and 6pm. Be sure to get there – you won’t be disappointed: watch out for the gallery talks, too.

Sculptor Helen Walsh collaborates with photographer Rohan Reilly

Once you have seen the exhibition, you might like to comment and add your contribution to the artist / craftsperson debate.

wooden sun