WORRYING about the insecurity of an artist’s life has made Youghal-reared visual artist and musician, Eileen Healy, come up with an idea that just might enable her to buy a home.
Eileen, 54, who had to leave her rented home of 20 years last year, but managed to find another place to rent, is selling her vast amount of paintings and sketch books in a scheme called ‘Lay a Brick’.
Eileen is working towards buying her own place as she “doesn’t want to be in the rental system anymore. I’ve been too long in it”.
Ostensibly, Eileen is a successful artist whose work features in the Crawford Art Gallery’s permanent collection, as well as featuring in the art collections of UCC and the OPW.
She has showed her work in exhibitions in Dublin, Berlin and New York. She also performs in bands including The Polskadots, The Ladybugs and The Critters to mention just a few. But she can’t get a mortgage. She approached a bank last year.
“I hadn’t a hope. I don’t have the wages for them to consider me. You have to be full time. I don’t fall into that category,” says Eileen, who teaches part-time at the Crawford College of Art and Design.
“There is no category for artists really, we struggle. But as a musician, I was funded by the Arts Council because of Covid. We did some live streams from Sin É. It was fantastic to get that. I have to praise it, but long term, I don’t see any co-op housing happening. I’ve heard talk of something happening but I’m not sure about that. Co-ops could be affordable housing for artists. There’s the housing co-op on Wellington Square off Glasheen Road, set up by Arthur Leahy from the Quay Co-Op years ago. There’s been nothing like that since Skiddys as far as I know.”
Eileen says her housing situation is difficult as she gets older.
“Every morning, I wonder where I’m going to be in ten years’ time or five years’ time.”
She needs secure housing and studio space. At the end of this year, Eileen will have to leave the Backwater Studios, having been there for about 20 years. As she explains, the studio space, which is partly funded by the Arts Council, is not for life.
“The stipulation is that it’s moved around for different artists.”
In 1988, Eileen graduated from the Crawford College of Art and Design.
“I was going to go off to London and do something that might make me some money. Then I won ‘Student of the Year’ from the Lavit Gallery. So I stuck around Cork and was given a studio for the year. After that, I got a studio at the Cork Artists’ Collective for four years. After that, I moved to the Backwater Studios.”
All the time, Eileen worked at her art while supplementing it with teaching and gigging. Now, she is hoping to sell her paintings, many of which are figurative. (She painted the portrait of writer Cónal Creedon which hangs in the Crawford Art Gallery.)
Living the life of an artist in Cork, Eileen says the insecurity affects her creativity.
“It does get in the way. It’s on my mind a lot. It’s constant really. You can’t relax fully. If I was younger, I might consider emigrating but at this point in my life, I want to stay here. But where am I going to be? I don’t want to be going from pillar to post at my age or having to share a house with god knows who. While that can work out, sometimes living with strangers doesn’t. I’m gone beyond that now. But things seem to be closed off in terms of making plans.
“Everything is so expensive now. House prices are insane and so is rent. Moving out of the city isn’t an option because it’s expensive everywhere else. I have friends who had the same problem. Two of them, who are older artists, ended up in homeless shelters because they couldn’t find a place to live.”
By selling her paintings, Eileen hopes to buy or build “a tiny house somewhere. If someone wants to donate a garden to me, it would be great. Of course there would be planning permission needed and things like that. But you have to start somewhere.
“There’s loads of huge gardens in Cork city that are not utilised. I’m sure most people love their garden, others maybe not so much. Or they might have a piece of land at the back of their house that they’re not that pushed about. There could be a separate entrance and arrangements made. It would be an amazing gesture to me and would solve a lot of problems.”
Eileen says that at this point in her life, she feels she has tried almost everything.
“I’m at an age where it would be hard to start out somewhere else. I have a fondness for Barcelona but I can’t see myself ending up there.”
Eileen is also concerned about the future of Cork, particularly the docklands development. While she acknowledges that there is some housing in the plan, she assumes it will be “financially out of reach for me and others in my profession on an average wage. I fear it’ll be overkill, with lack of consideration to the artistic community. Are we being included anywhere in this development, are there any public art commissions, studio spaces, music venues, accessible creative spaces?
“As someone who works in the arts in this city and is a long-term ‘citizen’ of Cork, I would love to see more city centre green spaces and trees, and an outdoor amphitheatre would be a great addition in the summer for live gigs.”
She writes that she would “love to see the R&H Hall remain as a significant Cork iconic building and not being replaced by more glass boxes. It would be an amazing modern gallery, like The Docklands in Liverpool for example, and a huge tourist attraction. More visual projections onto the R&H Hall could be incorporated into live events in the docklands area and a wall of it could be a canvas for city walls graffiti.”
There is that type of project in Waterford, which is the basis of a large open-air annual festival, says Eileen.
Eileen is posting her work that’s for sale on her Facebook page and Instagram. She plans to have a physical sale eventually.