ACCOMPLISHED musician Deirdre Frost, from Inniscarra, who plays double bass and electric bass and who is a well-known freelance musician in Cork, has more than one string to her bow.
The 2020 Lavit Gallery Student of the Year saw a new horizon on a blank canvas when she began and completed a four year BA hons Fine Arts degree course in 2017 at the Crawford College of Art and Design.
When did she discover this dual life, music and art, within herself?
“I always had an interest in nature and in my surroundings in the countryside,” says Deirdre, 41.
“Having grown up in a rural environment, I have always been very much aware of the changing seasons and of the seasonal cycle of growth of various plants each year,” added Deirde, whose recent art exhibition at the Lavit Art Gallery, Biofilia, opened online to rave reviews.
“I sold a few paintings from that exhibition too!” says Deirdre, who also recently showcased work at the Joan Clancy Gallery in County Waterford.
During lockdown, Deirdre took stock of her surroundings when she was out and about and she noticed how nature can weave its tangled web and find its way through, even when a building is no longer utilised.
“When I moved to Cork 10 years ago, despite the many advantages of urban living, I keenly felt the loss of greenery, the open sky and the dramatic changes to the landscape that happen in more rural areas with the changing weather and seasons. I looked for nature within the urban environments,” says Deirdre.
Looking outside the box and outside confinement, Deirdre saw the wood for the trees and the resilience and strength of Mother Nature.
“The more I looked, the more I saw,” says Deirdre, speaking about the wonders of nature which crop up everywhere.
“It is most apparent in plant pots, contained walled gardens or in the form of the river which is contained by its walls,” says Deirdre.
“Weeds and wildlife react differently in urban surroundings. I became more aware of nature and of our own impact on the environment.
“Exploring within my 5km during lockdown, my sense of nature was heightened. I noticed the environment more and how living things like weeds can still come back in neglected and derelict buildings.”
Nature always returns. Nature is resilient and it is constant.
“Weeds and wild plants grow where they can,” says Deirdre, whose paintings often depict nature bursting through different buildings in different places.
“It is this, the human tendency to contain and control nature, alongside the importance of nature and biodiversity to our physical and mental wellbeing, that I went to explore, using my own lived experience in Cork city as a case study for my artistic works.”
Deidre’s paintings resemble an architect’s cardboard model of buildings and sections of buildings. Painted in vivid colours, the devil is in the detail, deftly drawn with the artist’s brush.
“I have turned ‘real’ buildings of the built environment into model-like structures representing man-made models, and looked at architectural models and at the way in which they are an idealisation of a lived environment,” explains Deirdre.
“I highlight the fact that these buildings are man-made conceptions; thus encouraging the viewer to consider their meaning rather than bringing to mind a specific place. I am using plant forms such as bindweed, nettles and thistles, which are pervasive in both urban and rural environments, and I am using them to represent the natural in my work.”
Deirdre is amazed at what she sees around her.
“It is amazing where plants and ivies can thrive and grow between cracks in concrete, under dead-wood or clinging to a drain-pipe,” says Deidre.
How did she get a bird’s eye view of these unusual urban images?
“My sister is a very good photographer and we often walk along the river bank along the quays,” says Deirdre.
Catriona also has another string to her bow.
“She is a great drone flyer too!” says Deirdre.
“Getting different angles to put on canvas was challenging. Walking around the city gave us ideas to show it in a different way.”
Changing creative licence mid-life, going outside the comfort zone of her world of playing music, must have been a challenging experience for Deirdre?
“I come from a very musical family,” says Deirdre, who is married to Stephen, also a musician and a member of the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra.
“He was the loud, shouty guy on the drums when I met him at the Cork School of Music when we were both students!” says Deirdre, laughing.
They made a sweet sound of music together.
“We played in musicals together and in Christmas pantos,” says Deirdre.
“We worked with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and we often took part in musicals in the Cork Opera House and at the Bord Gais Theatre.
“That was our world. Being a freelance, I was at different gigs every week.”
The couple sing from the same hymn sheet.
“We play heavy metal together!”
Deirdre’s world growing up was filled with music and singing.
“Both my parents were secondary school teachers,” says Deirdre. “Mum taught music and I went to music lessons at the age of four. I started with the coronet and I was a member of the Ballincollig Concert Band.”
Did she love it?
“Yes, we all had a flair for music,” says Deirdre.
“But at school I could never decide if I wanted to be a musician or an artist. I was always drawing and painting. But I knew to become an established musician later in life could be difficult. So I opted for music. But I always loved both music and art.”
Now the talented lady is both a renowned musician and an award-winning artist.
Dierdre says: “When I studied for my music degree at the Cork School of music, I began with the trumpet and then progressed to the bass guitar and the double bass guitar. My dad had a double-bass guitar.”
The bass instruments are heavy to be lugging around to gigs?
“Everybody says that to me, but you get used to it and often if you are in a concert or in a musical that runs for a few weeks, you can keep your instruments safe back-stage. Playing gigs like the Jazz Festival or playing a gig in a pub in Cork is a different kettle of fish.”
Deirdre has a lot of music styles in her repertoire.
“I play heavy metal and jazz. Music is so much a part of me. All our friends are part of the music community. It is how we socialise and how we live. Meeting up for gigs in town and having the chat afterwards is par for the course.”
Is wielding a bass similar to wielding a paint-brush?
“The Fine Arts degree course was a wonderful way to figure out my way of portraying art and to encourage my interest in art history, finding out where I fitted in,” says Deirdre.
“Learning about contemporary art and art history helped me find my own style and where I was at. It was fascinating.”
Turning up for gigs and doing a full-time degree course at the same time must have been like musical chairs?
“It was a bit manic at first,” says Deirdre.
“Sometimes I had to turn down music gigs and theatre gigs when I was studying. But I tried to balance both as best I could. The semesters at college were relatively short.”
Having a passion for art and music propelled Deirdre to indulge in both her passions.
“I took to art like a duck to water,” says Deirdre. “I knew going back to college to study art was the right thing to do.”
Hosting her very first art exhibition was the right thing to do.
“At the end of the degree course, we had a degree show open to the public,” says Deirdre. “That was amazing.”
Being named Lavit Student of the year was amazing too.
“It was a great boost,” says Deirdre, “and it was a great buzz seeing all the views online; nearly 2,000 views. I never thought I could command that. It was like a dream come true.”
Is being an artist different to being a musician?
“Being part of a group, in a band, is different to working solo as an artist,” says Deirdre.
But people can respond to, and appreciate both?
“Absolutely,” says Deirdre.
“Both music and art offer a connection any place anywhere.”
Deirdre is going places.
“I recently completed a six-month residency in Sample Studios, Cork, which was of great benefit to my practice,” she says.
“It gave me space in which to work, as well as a community of artists to engage with, all overseen by a very proactive and supportive director, Aoibhie McCarthy.”
Deirdre’s creative achievements are something to be very proud of.
“My parents are delighted for me,” she says. “None of us expected this success out of the whole thing.”
What would this musician and artist say to people who harbour a dream?
“Follow your dream,”advises Deirdre. “It is never too late in the day. Never.”