Exploring the beauty of ‘Townlands’

Walking the same paths within our 5km, day in, day out, during this pandemic, many of us gained an insight into and appreciation for the many sometimes fragile wonders right on our doorstep. For three women and artists from Rossmore living just over the hill from each other, their well-trodden paths have converged to take the form of an exhibition entitled ‘Townlands’. Showing at The Loft Gallery in Clonakilty, ‘Townlands’, a collaboration between local artists Etain Hickey, Eadaoin Harding Kemp and Lesley Cox, brings the viewer along with these women on their journey: As you stroll and pause at each painting, you discover a story unfolds in the footsteps of the circadian rhythm of the day, from dawn to dusk.

“The tranquility of an empty outhouse, the ability to hear nature, the ebb and flow of the water at different times of the day. All of this sits peacefully together in their paintings,” shares curator Kate Fitzgerald.

Each of these paintings shares an appreciation for the beauty of Rossmore, the artists capturing the space, colour and light not only in the flora and fauna, but also the many derelict barns and buildings sadly left to rot.

As a ceramic artist, Etain Hickey’s original intention had been to create a series of ceramic dishes and mini sculptures depicting the empty barns and buildings she passed on her walks, however life interfered and, away from her home without access to clay, she instead turned to watercolour, painting her surroundings in Australia. The exotic and colourful flowers of the eucalyptus and birds like the parakeet and budgerigar replace her favoured native flora and chough, blackbird and raven. With Celtic mythology featuring so strongly in her ceramic work over the years, it is no wonder that Etain, during her stay in Australia, was drawn to aboriginal art with its dream and storylines and deeply rooted connections to birds, animals and plants. “All the bright light and colour fed into my work, and I hope it brings as much joy to the viewer as it did to me painting,” she says.

Eadaoin Harding Kemp has been painting since she could hold a brush. She went on to gain a degree in Fine Art, Painting and Printmaking for the Crawford College of Art and Design.

A passionate plants person and gardener, Eadaoin is most excited by the detail, colour and magnificence of flowers. Her first love, still life, uses the domestic table (the heart of the home) as her focus. Renowned for her beautiful blackberry brambles and poppy paintings, her oil paintings in this exhibition are studies of the things she loves most about where she lives, from the beautiful cosmos, rudbeckia and poppies she grows in her garden in Rossmore to her nearest beach in Rosscarbery, where she has swum for the past 40 years to the aforementioned still life works. Her rich landscapes and cool seascapes are evocative and alluring, the heat of the sun and blue depths of the sea drawing the viewer in. “I only paint what I love,” she says simply.

Surrounded by dairy farms in Rossmore, Lesley Cox has been painting rural farm buildings in her townland and beyond for the past three years. In this series of oil paintings, the buildings are isolated without the presence of people, vehicles or trees, the sky colours are inventions and cloudless, creating atmosphere and mood. “I feel like my paintings are a social commentary on an infrastructure and lifestyle that may very well disappear within the next 50 years or so,” she says.

Lesley’s work is informed by personal experience, the immediate environment and a passion for interpreting an ever-changing landscape and self-scape. Her painting process is one of layering with a palette knife, sometimes with cold wax and scraping back to allow for intimate studies of texture, light and colour. Lesley’s work to date has explored themes of containment, secrecy, memory and isolation. Representations of spaces, particularly isolated places with little human interference.

Well-known author David Mitchell kindly launched the ‘Townlands’ exhibition, which is available to view at The Loft Gallery during September.

The Loft Gallery on Western Road, Clonakilty (across from the RC Church) has a wonderful selection of work on display from local artists all year round, including sculpture, ceramics, paintings and prints. The Loft also provides a professional bespoke framing service. Artist, framer and proprietor Kate Fitzgerald is a great supporter of local artists and makers. The light-filled upstairs gallery space upstairs at The Loft, regularly hosts group exhibitions and solo shows.

Mary O'Brien

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