Why I loved art college second time around...

A 40 year old father of two, who works with adults who have an intellectual disability, is among the graduates of the Crawford College of Art and Design. COLETTE SHERIDAN catches up with Darren Forde
Why I loved art college second time around...
Darren Forde

FOR Darren Forde, art college the second time around has proved to be a more fulfilling experience than his first foray into studying art.

The 40-year old father-of-two has his work on show at the Crawford College of Art and Design (CCAD) Digital Graduate Showcase 2020.

Darren, originally of Ballincollig and now living in Cobh with his wife, Sharon, and children, Jack, aged five and Mia aged six, attended Limerick College of Art and Design when he was in his twenties.

“I did my diploma there, studying for three years. I deferred my final year but it was only three years ago when I started to finish my degree at the Crawford.”

He says that while studying in Limerick, he wasn’t really “making the most of it”.

He adds: “I wanted to take a year out but I got into work. I regretted not finishing my degree.”

Work by Darren Forde.
Work by Darren Forde.

It was always at the back of his mind to complete his studies. A few years ago, Darren made enquiries at the Crawford.

“In the past, to do your degree, you had to do it on a full-time basis. But then it became possible to do it part-time. Living in Cobh with a house and two kids and work, it wasn’t possible for me to do it full-time. So I did the final year over two years. I did my thesis last year and studio practice this year.”

A figurative painter, Darren works primarily in oils and charcoal. He also works with collage and creates mixed media sculptures as they provide him with a range of references. Thematically, the work is anchored to the characters and situations found in mythological stories, specifically Irish mythology.

“My work attempts to explore the great human questions, about what exists beyond what we see. It’s about morality, about what connects us all, and it’s about our vulnerabilities and our capacity for love and violence. The work predicates the universal nature of folklore, religion and mythology and attempts to highlight the thread that links them together.”

One of the mythological characters that Darren paints is Danú who is associated with the Paps mountain range in Kerry. One of his main paintings represents Balar, who was a leader of the Fomorians, a group of malevolent supernatural beings.

“Balar is often described as a giant with a large eye that wreaks destruction when opened. He was a chieftain with the Fomarians who came to Ireland and dominated the country for a period of time. The mythological stories represent archetypal characters. My painting, The Fall of Balar, is a kind of David and Goliath type story, set against a greater force. The paintings for the degree show are quite large. Two of them are triptychs and there is also a diptych.”

Work by Darren Forde.
Work by Darren Forde.

When he is not painting, Darren’s day job is working with adults who have an intellectual disability.

“It’s a community day service with the Brothers of Charity in Mahon. With the lockdown, the day centre has closed. We were redeployed to residential work. Things are coming back now. We’re preparing for the day service to reopen.”

Darren loves his job and over the years, he has done art projects with the service users.

“With access to the Mahon Community Centre, we ran community art projects and we have linked with the Mayfield Arts Centre.”

While Darren enjoys doing art with the service users, his work is primarily about community integration and finding work for them.

“We link with community groups and community amenities. It’s a very enjoyable job and it’s secure.”

What Darren likes about his job is getting to meet very interesting people.

“It’s an opportunity to find the barriers in people’s lives and to find solutions so they can overcome them. It’s about helping them to become more independent to do things like travel.

“They’re quite simple solutions but they make big difference to these people’s lives.”

Darren says he has “a huge interest in art” and will continue to combine it with his job.

“My plan is to secure a studio space close to home and to keep going, to keep painting. I’ve really loved the last several months.”

Going to college to study art “is a fantastic opportunity to spend three or four years dedicated to doing something you enjoy.”

Darren, more mature in his outlook than when he was a twenty-something student, can see the value in a degree in art now. But he won’ t be giving up his job for the foreseeable future.

Darren and Sharon have been homeschooling their children since the lockdown.

“At the beginning, it was a huge culture shock,” he said, “We would have had a lot of support from both sets of parents. They were quite involved with the ‘lads’ (as he calls the children.) But all that stopped with the shutdown.

“Sharon had to work from home a bit more. (She teaches art at the Caritas Training Centre for adults with an intellectual disability.)”

Darren has been working in the evenings so that he can focus on the children during the day.

“Once you adapt to the lockdown, it means life is at a slower pace and we have more time with the lads. As the weeks have gone on, it has been very nice.”

Work by Eve Russell.
Work by Eve Russell.

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