Covid gave me time to experiment with my art

Artist Jacqueline O’Driscoll reflects on the past year and how Covid has impacted the arts community
Covid gave me time to experiment with my art

Artist Jacqueline O'Driscoll. Picture: Philip Lauterbach

GALLERY closings and event cancellations over the past year have made it more difficult than ever for working artists to connect with their audiences.

Nonetheless, where there is a will, there is a way and a close view of an artist’s life will show that creativity doesn’t just stop because there’s nowhere to exhibit; and places that exhibit will work around any obstacles to bring artists and their admirers together.

In early March, just as the first lockdown seemed inevitable, painter Jacqueline O’Driscoll retreated from Cork city to self-isolate in her country home on the Beara Peninsula. In the summer, she was invited to exhibit in the Kerry Visual Artists Showcase Exhibition in the Department of Heritage and Culture in Killarney. Unfortunately, this exhibition closed early due to the Covid crisis.

While it wasn’t possible to show her paintings for much of the year, the situation created space for her to delve deeper into her work.

“It gave me time to explore some other areas I had been thinking about, so I have started experimenting with textile printing, exploring ideas of repetition and natural geometry.”

Jacqueline attended the National College of Art and Design in Dublin in the early 1980s where she studied graphic and textile design. She moved to London to build her design career but never left the canvas far behind. She continued to paint in her free time and always exhibited.

About 20 years ago, she started renovating an old cottage on the Beara Peninsula while still living and working in the UK.

“As time went on, I began to spend more and more time there, and eventually moved back to Ireland full-time… moving back to Beara rekindled my interest in painting. Now I divide my time between Cork city and Beara.”

Just as the Beara rekindled her interest then, her environs continue to influence her work. The series of oil paintings borne out of her seclusion is a surreal contemplation of the coast and boglands near her home —rich with layered textures and emotive contrasts.

Forgotten Village, for example, a 30 x 30cm oil painted panel, depicts a delightful pastel village perched atop a murky mass with shadowy textures and forms.

“This piece started from looking at the large stretches of bog around the villages of Ardgroom and Eyeries on the Beara Peninsula,” says Jacqueline who likes to observe and take photos of her pastoral surroundings and then use those as a starting point back in her studio. “A stretch of bog is a strange thing to think about,” she continues.

“I’m interested in the fact that a bog can preserve things but can also be a treacherous and unstable place. 

"It’s also fascinating how, through turf cutting, it can provide the very opposite of its… watery nature — a fuel to warm and sustain.”

Jacqueline is known for her abstract aerial views that reference the influence of man on the land.

“When looking at the Irish rural landscape, even somewhere remote and uninhabited, it is always possible to see traces of past human activity. There might be ancient field systems; walls and cultivation patterns; burial mounds and standing stones; an old apple tree and a few rocks indicating a former dwelling place. The landscape becomes a repository of story and memory.”

In Distant Land, another contemplation from last year’s body of work, an island sits on the far horizon, but a network of linear marks link the foreground and the distant island —“a visual metaphor for the constant journeys out and in that connect the lives lived by those in this place,” according to Jacqueline.

When asked how the year has affected her relationship with her followers, she says it may be too early to know how these have been impacted, while acknowledging that social media has become much more vital as a way for artists and art lovers to stay connected.

“The closure of galleries has had an extremely negative effect on art sales, “says Jacqueline, “that is why it is important that some galleries, like Uillinn, are doing online exhibitions such as the Cork Artists Winter Showcase. It gives the work a profile and keeps everyone engaged.”

To see and purchase artworks from Jacqueline O’Driscoll and other regional artists, find the Cork Artists Winter Showcase at Uillinn Galleries, West Cork Arts Centre’s new online platform for supporting the arts.

Cork Artists Winter Showcase runs until January 22.

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