A few thoughts on how I got here

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A few thoughts on how I got here

Well I finally have my own website and it’s probably about time too. I’ve been a painter for over 35 years now. It’s taken me that time to realise, that that is actually what I am. I feel I have earned the privilege to call myself a painter because painting is the one occupation I have consistently spent the most time at over those 35 years.

I thought this was a good time to begin a website as I had my first solo exhibition just this summer, which took place in the Watergate theatre in Kilkenny. Prior to this, I had exhibited pieces in various galleries and exhibitions throughout the country and abroad, with I am happy to say consistent sales. I have also painted murals, specializing in trompe l’oeil effect and have done many portrait commissions, but never a solo show.

Life gets in the way, and sometimes we have to balance what we have at the expense of what we want. So as with many artists, a steady job is required to pay the mortgage as well as buy art materials and petrol to drive the kids around.

Somehow, I always thought the day would come soon when I could give up the ‘day job’ and concentrate on doing a serious body of work to have a launch solo show…any day now…. but the years go by, the kids grow up and people start to talk about their joints and their failing eyesight and gradually it dawns that maybe that day will never come…. unless you do something to make it happen. So, opportunity aligned with newfound wisdom and there I found myself in Kilkenny, looking at my paintings on the walls and thinking, well that wasn’t so bad. As a friend said, a first exhibition is a bit like having a baby, you say never again and then you forget and start looking forward to the next one.

It is a daunting thing to put your work out there to be considered by total strangers as well as friends and family. Many of whom never ventured to share an opinion before but somehow have a lot to say about it all now.

I did worry on the day if anyone would turn up for the opening in the early afternoon, before Stephen Rea’s wonderful performance of Oscar Wilde’s DeProfundis was to open in the theatre. But of course, they did and the sun came out which is always a blessing. Wine was drunk and people were very gracious and kind.

The one thing I realised from the whole experience, is that it may be possible to have two jobs, even two that use opposite sides of your brain. The difficulty sets in when you try to achieve something higher in either one, then it becomes a challenge.

So, I cleared the decks for 4 weeks before the exhibition. During this time, my sole occupation each day was painting in my studio. Several things surprised me. Firstly, that I could fill so many hours so easily and not feel the time passing. Secondly, that I was able to develop a fluency of thought and work method.

Previously, my work pattern would begin with starting a piece or several. Working for a few days on these, then having to stop for the ‘day job’, resuming again some days later. This not only interferes with your train of thought but also your paint. As I work predominately in oils, these can be very time consuming to mix to the right colour, tone and texture. Leaving them for 2-3 days can mean you have to start all over again from scratch. Needless to say, this does interfere with the fluency of your work not to mention your train of thought.

As a consequence, I ended up with an exhibition made up of many individual pieces that really had little connection to each other. However, when they were all hanging together, I did think it was obvious that they were done by the same person which I have to say was rather a relief.

The point of all this is that I think many of us who chose to have different aspects to our lives learn to compartmentalize. This can work very successfully for a time but there does come a point when you feel a need to put doors in to these compartments or maybe lose a few of them. I know now that they have parallels and that no matter how different we think each of these compartments may be, they do influence one another. This for me has been a very positive realization.

In my case, the day job is working in a hospital. I don’t think you could get more opposite poles if you tried. There is little room for sensibility and rational thought in a painting studio and equally there is little room for creative thought and imagination in a hospital.

But there is a chink, as I have discovered. The people I have met and the experiences I have had in what I will continue to refer to as my ‘day job’ have given me an insight into life that I can only describe as enriching and thought provoking. This can stimulate emotions that for many of us, may only exist in our subconscious.

I think perhaps this is why I identify most with abstract art forms. I often don’t understand it myself but it says something to me that words don’t. People often ask me what I think about when I paint. This is a very hard question to answer because often I don’t think about anything. In fact, sometimes I have to keep my brain busy while I paint, otherwise it gets in the way. Too much thinking can result in work that is contrived. So, I listen to music and sometimes books. I don’t know if this makes any sense to anyone else.

I am also dyspraxic, which my kids think is an excuse for everything that goes pear shaped. As I’ve always been that way, I don’t know how else to think but I’m pretty sure I see things in a different order to most folk.

So, each painting is like new journey to me. I start off with an idea but soon give up trying to figure out where it will end. Maybe it’s time I learned to embrace this and accept that I am never going to have total control over my craft, it’s bigger than me. This means there is always going to be an element of surprise. I can only hope that in the process the collective energy created will have a language of its own.

This is the beginning of my own personal journey towards artistic self-awareness. One I hope will be as interesting to follow as it will be for me to explore.

Caroline

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