Cork artist: My celebration of unsung art heroes

The artist behind a new exhibition in Cork city tells SHAMIM MALEKMIAN she wants it to pay homage to struggling artists whose work goes unheralded
Cork artist: My celebration of unsung art heroes
Sandra Hickey at her new exhibition. Picture: Shamim Malekmian

A NEW art exhibition in Cork is aiming to pay homage to artists whose work goes unnoticed and unappreciated during their lifetimes.

Loving Vincent, the art expo by Cork artist Sandra Hickey at St Peter’s in Cork city, is inspired by the painter’s involvement in the Oscar-nominated film of the same name.

The film told the story of the artist Vincent van Gogh’s short life through the innovative technique of animating the wild and vibrant brushstrokes of 125 international artists.

The Cork artist, chosen out of 5,000 to join the film’s cast as a painter in 2016, says she found the experience profoundly touching.

“It was really ground-breaking for me, what is so captivating about van Gogh’s work is that he almost captured the feeling of a dream in his paintings,” Sandra says.

Patrick's Bridge at Sunrise by Sandra Hickey. Picture: Shamim Malekmian
Patrick's Bridge at Sunrise by Sandra Hickey. Picture: Shamim Malekmian

She says van Gogh’s story hits too close to home for many artists, as they are often misunderstood and struggle financially, and some remain underdogs for the duration of a lifetime.

“Even trying to find a studio is a struggle sometimes,” Sandra says.

“Van Gogh’s story really gets to your heart, his abilities were always underestimated, but after he passed, everyone realised how beautiful and inspirational his work was.”

Loving Vincent, Sandra’s third solo exhibition, currently running in St Peter’s Gallery, showcases the artist’s work, painted with Van Gogh’s vision.

Sandra, 32, likes visitors to her exhibition to take a moment to remember Cork’s van Goghs, who are maybe homeless, or who perhaps can’t afford to buy art equipment.

For Sandra, Loving Vincent is about loving all under-appreciated artists.

“It has gotten very hard for artists to get their work out there or to get the appreciation you need to keep you focused,” she says.

“It doesn’t stop me constantly doing shows, like places that do accept your work, like here in St Peter’s, they’re always really great.”

The Cork artist, who works at a picture frame shop in Cork to fund her art career, says she was disheartened to see the demolition of Cork’s city centre art studio, on Sullivan’s Quay.

Artists were evacuated from the former revenue office building as developers received planning permission to build a large hotel and offices where it stood.

Although the building was knocked down over a year ago, a rubble mound left from the demolition remains on the dormant site.

Artists, including those working at Cork Community Art Link, were forced to move to a smaller space far from the city centre.

“It was so nice to have a city centre space, and it is so disheartening to see that it was taken away for corporate gain,” says Sandra.

“Like, there seems to be nothing going on there at the moment, and eventually, most likely it will turn into blocks of offices or a hotel. We don’t need another hotel.”

Sandra says that although Cork was recently named as the most creative and cultural European city of its size, its artists don’t often get to share the glory.

She describes the new social welfare scheme for self-employed artists and writers, introduced in September, as inefficient. The scheme offers jobseeker’s allowance to artists for a year while excluding them from seeking employment during that period.

Looking in the Mirror by Sandra Hickey. Picture: Shamim Malekmian
Looking in the Mirror by Sandra Hickey. Picture: Shamim Malekmian

“Like, it doesn’t apply to me unfortunately because you have to be already on the dole to avail of it,” says Sandra.

I’m working full-time, and I’m a full-time artist as well, so I never sleep,” she says, laughing.

“I can’t afford to get on the dole because then I can’t afford my rent, it’s like a catch 22, you can’t afford to join it, but you struggle to make time for art when you’re working.”

Sandra, who describes Van Gogh as the old times’ “king of selfies” referring to the artist’s numerous self-portraits, showcases two unconventional self-portraits at her new exhibition.

In one, titled Looking in the Mirror, the artist has painted herself in what she describes as a “brutally honest” manner. The artwork shows Sandra with dishevelled hair and tired, bulging eyes, seemingly standing too close to a mirror, opening her mouth with one hand, and her upper lip is stuck on her braces.

The other self-portrait, titled Friend or Foe, portrays the artist’s struggles with her “inner demons” and insecurities.

In Friend or Foe, Sandra’s face is akin to a burnt candle; it appears nearly melted, only her right gloomy eye has been spared from an invisible flame, signalling inconsolable grief.

Sandra says that we are all extra hard on ourselves.

“Van Gogh hated looking at himself as well, but he didn’t always have models, so the one thing that he could guarantee that he always had, was his own reflection,” she says.

The Cork artist, who was given the nickname of “the machine” while studying art in Limerick for being a swift painter, says she can draw herself without looking in the mirror.

The Loving Vincent expo also showcases Cork’s landscapes, viewed and painted through Van Gogh’s eyes.

Sandra has immortalised the now-closed Shaky Bridge in Cork, painted as if it stood in a mysterious universe, linking heaven to the netherworld, heaven to nowhere.

In Patrick’s Bridge at Sunrise, she has painted the sun exploding above the bridge, devouring Leeside’s birds, hitting the street like a laser beam, and no one is there to witness.

In all of Sandra’s paintings, the brush strokes are thick and creamy, a style used by van Gogh to maximise the effect.

The Loving Vincent exhibition will run until December 31.

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