Art work was inspired by death of mum - the 604th person in Cork to die of Covid

Dr Edith O’Regan features in an exhibition of works by Sample Studio artists. She tells COLETTE SHERIDAN how the work honours her mother and also 22 health workers who died from Covid
Art work was inspired by death of mum - the 604th person in Cork to die of Covid

Edith O'Regan's artwork, called Final Breaths. The volume in each glass sphere is the amount of CO2 in a breath that a human breathes out.

AS a community medical doctor at St Mary’s Primary Care Centre in Gurranabraher, as well as an artist based at Sample Studios in Churchfield, Edith O’Regan wanted to create art that related to Covid.

Along with three other artists from the studios (John MacMonagle, Samir Mahmood and Amna Walayat), she is showing her work in a collaborative exhibition entitled Braid at the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion in Fitzgerald’s Park until October 1.

Edith, orginally from Youghal, has two pieces with Covid themes, sparked by the death of her mother, aged 78, from Covid in April.

She also wanted to make a piece commemorating the 22 health workers in Ireland that died as a result of the pandemic.

 Edith O'Regan whose work features in the Sample Studios collaborative exhibition at the Lord Mayor's Pavilion, Fitzgerald's Park.
 Edith O'Regan whose work features in the Sample Studios collaborative exhibition at the Lord Mayor's Pavilion, Fitzgerald's Park.

As well as remembering those who didn’t survive it, Edith also wants to try to console “those of us who grieve all that was lost”.

In her piece, Final Breaths (a requiem), 22 hand-blown glass spheres containing pure gold thread on monofilament, as well as a QR code with a video link, are suspended in a row. Each small sphere represents a deceased health worker.

“I wanted to make work about Covid. We were all redeployed to public health and the world fell apart,” says Edith.

“I was doing complex contact tracing so we were ringing families where there were maybe residents in nursing homes. The complex cases were awful. The bereaved families were the most distressed I’ve ever spoken to. It was terrible.

“I knew I wanted to make work about Covid. The volume in each glass sphere is the amount of CO2 in a breath that a human breathes out. We stop making CO2 when we die. The amount of gold in the pieces is the amount of gold in a human body that is permanent.”

Edith’s other Covid piece is a wooden box with hand-dyed indigo silk thread and pure gold thread. The exhibit measures 50cm x 50cm. There are 604 strings in the box.

Edith’s mother was the 604th person in Cork to die from Covid. One gold string represents Edith’s mother.

“All the other pure gold strings are just as important to the bereaved families."

Edith has used what’s called hyperbolic paraboloid for her art piece.

“It’s a way of making straight lines bend. You organise the lines so they give you a curve. I find that idea interesting. You can see a circle in the middle, within a square. So it’s like our grief is bounded but also, our life is bounded. There’s disorder within the order which is kind of what life is like.”

Juggling a science-based career with an artistic career is quite a unique duality. And Edith thrives on it, treating her art as a profession just like medicine. She works mainly in child development, doing assessments on children of whom there’s concern about their development.

“I always wanted to do medicine. Mum and dad tried very hard to talk me out of it. My father said it would be a very difficult life for a woman. That’s not something you say to a 16- year-old!”

Medicine appealed to Edith because she has always been “a bit of a fixer”.

“There’s the science element as well, that sense of how things work. I was always interested in the workings of the natural world.”

 Edith O'Regan's work, which also honours all the healthcare workers in Ireland who died of Covid.
 Edith O'Regan's work, which also honours all the healthcare workers in Ireland who died of Covid.

Side by side with this, Edith has always had “a compulsion” to make things.

“My mother knitted and crocheted, my grandmother was good at making things. I have always knitted and sewed and embroidered, or I make cakes. I’m never happy unless I have a project to make something.”

Edith fell into textiles and did some evening classes at the Crawford College of Art and Design.

“I made the move from functional objects to artistic objects.”

At Loreto secondary school in Youghal, Edith did art like everybody else.

“My friend who sat next to me was incredibly talented and went on to study art at the Crawford. Drawing was what art meant back then. If you weren’t good at drawing, you weren’t an artist.”

Edith says her drawing is “not great”. But she has the artistic instinct for creation.

“I was always very good at making things out of Marla and clay. But drawing never really held my interest. The first time I opened a tube of paint, that was it for me.”

She was smitten. That happened in Edith’s late thirties. She had three daughters by then. But despite being a busy working mother, she was determined to pursue art.

Edith joined Sample Studios in 2017 having been painting for three or four years before then. She went on to do classes with local artist, Cora Murphy, learning how to use oil paint and old wax.

“Cora was very supportive. She said I needed to have an exhibition. So I did a show in the Quay Co-Op in 2018. It was the first time I put my art up on a wall for people to see.”

Another piece Edith made, during the grieving process.
Another piece Edith made, during the grieving process.

Praising the accessibility of the Quay Co-Op for a fledgling artist, Edith says she had made a deal with herself when she joined Sample Studios. The deal was to spend money, time and effort on her art.

“But it’s not a hobby. It’s a profession. It’s the reason why I exhibit. I can’t hide my work under the bed. It has to go up on walls.”

Edith also exhibited with two other artists from Sample Studios at St Peter’s on North Main Street in 2019. She was also in an exhibition at the same venue in 2020 in conjunction with the Cork Folklore Project. Since she started her artistic career, Edith has sold quite a few pieces.

Collaborating with her three fellow artists on the latest exhibition, the focus has been on having one-to-one conversations and exploring their shared artistic experiences. These sessions were mostly online because of the pandemic. John’s day job is running Raven Design graphic art company with his wife. Samir, originally from Pakistan, gave up medicine to pursue art. Amna, also from Pakistan, is influenced by feminism.

John’s exhibits in Braid are mainly images of black refuse sacks in different contexts, including one small sculpture of three such bags hanging on the sparse bare branches of what he calls a Beckett Tree. (It’s the kind of tree that more or less constitutes the scenery in productions of Waiting for Godot.)

John was inspired by the death of his mother and what she left behind materially.

“When my mother died, it took us weeks to clear out our family home. Having dementia, she spent the last few years of her life in a nursing home. After the funeral, that room had to be cleared as well - for the next person to move in. ‘Everything fitted into three black bags’, my sister said when I called her that evening. Three bags full.”

Samir writes that his digital collages and image transfers tell the story of new beginnings after migration to Ireland from Pakistan. “The titles of the artworks are based on the growth and transformation of the queer body and the spirit in the new settings, resisting or re-shaping memories and the assisted experience.”

Amna writes that in the collaboration, “I got the chance to continue my journey in hybrid cultural experiences. These small Indo-Persian miniatures are the outcome of the conversations that we Braiders made and with the work of one another, we got inspired. I link the feminist aspect of my work/life with my co-artists’ work and their experiences.”

Edith’s work is a way of “trying to show grief and loss. We all suffered but life gets back to normal. You think you’ll never get over the grief but you do. There will be another day when the wind is perfect.” (Edith has a third exhibit entitled On a day when the wind is perfect.)

She says that while the grief never goes fully away, there will always be good days. And she adds that most of us will leave little behind us when we die, apart from memories that others have of us.

“That’s why you have to live life when you have it,” says Edith.

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