My paintings are like my babies

FROM a portrait of Amy Winehouse to beautiful seascapes... the artwork of two Cork women is on show at On the Pigs Back cafe in Douglas
My paintings are like my babies
EXHIBITION FEATURE Mary Murphy on the far left, Sue Nelson, Catherine O'Sullivan and Isabelle Sheridan, owner of On the Pigs Back.

It’s very much a celebration of talent for Sue Nelson, from Ballygarvan, and Catherine O’Sullivan, from Carrigaline. The two artists are exhibiting their paintings and drawings for the first time.

It’s a little bit nerve-wracking but, having first met each other at a weekly art class given by Mary Murphy in Carrigaline about eight years ago, the duo decided “we’d jump off the cliff together”, as Sue puts it.

Sue, 44, who had “an idea of going to art school” back when she was studying for the Leaving Certificate, wonders now, 25 years later, how she got to where she is. The years have flown.

She went to St Aloysius secondary school in Carrigtwohill and thought about studying art.

“But I went down the sensible road. My parents came from a background where going to college and getting a good job was a good idea. We didn’t see much future in pursuing art. It seemed great as a potential hobby.”

Sue, who is married with two children, aged 11 and five, has had a busy career. Along with her identical twin sister, Therese, she studied chemical mathematics at University College Cork.

“One decision led to another. I did my masters at UCC and worked in the Tyndall Institute for five years, doing consultancy work with big companies.

“There were services we had to offer, such as equipment that companies wouldn’t have access to. But we had it.”

After that, Sue worked for EMC in Ballincollig for 13 years.

“The art very much took a back seat for a long time. I went back to it, attending classes in Glanmire for a while.

“I had my first child and went away from art again. But then I ended up at Mary’s art class where I met Catherine. We got friendly and paint away every week and have a lovely time.“

Sue was made redundant about a year ago.

“I spent time at home with the kids. I had always worked full-time. It was difficult as there was a lot of juggling with the kids. It was great to be able to press the ‘pause’ button and spend time at home.

“I’m kind of looking for work now. I’d love to be able to use my creative side.”

She says the two-and-a-half hour long weekly art class is “very relaxing”.

“While I’m there, I get to think of nothing else. It’s a very mindful activity where you completely concentrate on one thing and have no worries or stress coming into the activity. The social aspect of it is very important. You can vent at times and also laugh.”

Sue says that Mary has been encouraging herself and Catherine from the start.

“I think it was Mary who made the decision early on that we would eventually exhibit together.”

Working mainly using oils as well as acrylics, Sue is exhibiting scenes of the sea as well as skyscapes.

“I’m not sure if I could have had a career as an artist in terms of regular money coming in. It’s only when I was made redundant and started working towards the exhibition that I was able to paint regularly and in earnest.

“I realised that I have a need to paint. I’d be lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering when I can take up the paint brush again.”

From a mental health point of view, painting is great therapy, says Sue.

Catherine, agrees. She has always “dabbled” with paint.

“I love drawing, doing pen and ink work as well as working with charcoal. I love portraiture.

“It was my daughter, Laura, a singer, who asked me to do a portrait of Amy Winehouse as she loves her music.”

Catherine has also painted a portrait of singer, Jeff Buckley. And she has created a portrait of a man, using chalk on brown paper. Catherine noted that the man’s eyes look like those of her husband while the beard is like that of her son. She calls the work ‘DNA’.

For Catherine, attending Mary’s classes is all about learning.

“Mary asked me what I was looking for from the class. I said ‘colour’. That’s because I had been doing a lot of black and white etchings.”

Catherine, 62, attended art classes at the Crawford when she left school.

“I thought I’d be drawing flowers and what not. But it was actually life drawing. That was a shock.

“They were different times. But I enjoyed it. It was different.”

Catherine did a secretarial course after her Leaving Certificate. She worked in different companies including Pfizers. She left that in 1988.

“I work in childcare now. I trained in it and work in Heron’s Wood Montessori school in Carrigaline. I love my job. I do a lot of art with the kids there. I feel I can bring enthusiasm to my work there.

“It’s important for kids to do art. They’re only three-and-a-half or four. It’s about the joy of it more than anything else. It takes you out of yourself.”

Catherine, whose work at On the Pig’s Back includes a painting of a cat with huge green eyes and a butterfly catcher, says that art teacher Mary has been very encouraging towards her.

A career as an artist is something Catherine might have enjoyed.

“I probably would have liked to have studied art but in my era, it was nursing, secretarial work or teaching.

“I would have loved to have done children’s illustrations or animation work. I don’t know much about animation but I think I would have been very excited about it.”

Catherine says she can sometimes go to Mary’s class in bad form and unable to put a brush to paper. That’s when she can appreciate being able to chat to Sue.

“There’s other nights when I can’t wait to get at the art and it will go tremendously well.

“But there’s always the fallback of the laughs and the giggles.”

Nervous about exhibiting, Catherine says she sees her paintings and drawing as “my babies”.

“I’m very protective towards them. I had them on my walls at home. It was hard to stick them on the walls here,” she says, over coffee in On the Pigs Back.

Both Catherine and Sue are very appreciative of the opportunity to exhibit — even if they find it a bit daunting. They are full of praise for Isabelle Sheridan, owner of On the Pigs Back cafe in Douglas. They say she is a great supporter of the local arts community, hosting exhibitions and musical evenings at the cafe regularly.

Sue Nelson and Catherine O’Sullivan are exhibiting their art at On the Pigs Back until November 15.

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