Watch: Films shine a light on how art can empower talented disabled artists

Films celebrating artists involved in the Crawford Supported Studio have been launched, writes JENNIFER HORGAN
Watch: Films shine a light on how art can empower talented disabled artists

John Noel Kenneally of Crawford Supported Studios. Pictures and Videos by Clare Keogh

Crawford Supported Studio (CSS) is a creative space committed to empowering disabled artists. They have been working for years to support these talented practitioners and this month are proud to share a dedicated webspace showcasing the work.

The studio is particularly excited to launch the site’s wonderful selection of artist portrait films. The films, co-created by innovative filmmaker and photographer Clare Keogh, are beautiful; everyone involved, from facilitators to artists, is suitably delighted with the results.

The filmmaker 

“I spent a few months documenting individual artists. I spent time dropping into the supported studio, having the cup of tea. My work was a really slow build, getting to know each artist, coming to understand their process,” says Clare.

The delicacy of her process is evident in each film. All eight artists showcase their unique work in an individual way, alongside Clare’s sound choices, camera movements and written text.

Eoin O’Brion of Crawford Supported Studios.
Eoin O’Brion of Crawford Supported Studios.

“These artists are as prolific as any and just require that individual support. The facilitators set very high expectations. It is a very professional set-up. There’s a polish there that you’d see in any studio and really the artists’ work is phenomenal. They are not held back by anything – they just create. The work flows from the artists. The colour is so wonderful to be around.” 

There is no hint of false praise in her account of their work.

“As viewers, we gain so much from their art because their work is absolutely on a par with any artist out there. It is so vibrant and there is such a youthful sense in the room, even though the artists span across all ages.” 

She was particularly heartened to be invited into artist Mary Rose Marshall’s home.

“Her teddy bears are her inspiration. She was very comfortable to be in her own bedroom and it was wonderful to expand the video beyond the studio.” 

Mary Rose Marshall of Crawford Supported Studios.  Picture Clare Keogh
Mary Rose Marshall of Crawford Supported Studios.  Picture Clare Keogh

Clare clearly feels privileged to have been invited into this special creative community.

“There is a real sense of collaboration between everyone in the studio space. Relationships are key to everything and I was lucky to have a lot of time there.”

Background to the studio 

The studio is anchored in a unique long-term partnership between MTU Crawford College of Art & Design and Crawford Art Gallery, with ongoing support from Cork City Council and Cope Foundation.

When artist and nurse Hermann Marbe first discovered an artist’s calling among the people he cared for at the John Birmingham Day Care Centre in 2009, he felt their art should develop in the centre of the city, and not on its margins.

Brid Heffernan of Crawford Supported Studios
Brid Heffernan of Crawford Supported Studios

He began by gathering the artists in a supportive studio space on Sullivans Quay. Since his death it has moved to its current location. Dedicated studio days now take place in the Crawford Art Gallery on Tuesdays and MTU Crawford Art College of Art & Design on Thursdays each week. The group includes artists from Glasheen Art Studio Programme (GASP) founded by Marbe, and Cúig (Creativity Unlimited Integrated Group), founded by the Mayfield Arts Centre.

Valuable Contributions 

Louise Foott is the Head of Arts in Health and Education at Munster Technical University (MTU).

“Hermann Marbe noticed that for some residents art wasn’t just a pastime and that with support they could develop a robust art practice,” she says. “We’ve had a few exhibitions of the artists’ work in the Crawford. On the first occasion, we had to convince them why the art deserved to be seen but straight away they were asking us when we could do the next one.

"The work speaks for itself. Some has been purchased to form part of the national collection.” 

The artist also have pop-up sales and small exhibitions. 2023 will be an exciting year for CSS artists with highlights to include: a profile piece on artist Íde Ní Shúilleabháin on RTÉ’s This is Art in April; a national meet-up of supported studios in September and a mural project with Cork Penny Dinners and artist Ailbhe Barrett.

Ailbhe Barrett with her work. Picture Clare Keogh 
Ailbhe Barrett with her work. Picture Clare Keogh 

“You realise how narrow our experience of people is, when you spend time with these artists,” says Louise Foott. 

“I travelled with them to various supported studios abroad. We were stopped in traffic in New York once and one of the artists went over and gave someone a big hug. We put so much emphasis on words we assume they are not able. Their work is incredible but they may not be able to tell us what the concept is. The portraits films are a way of allowing them to present themselves as artists without having to put it into words. We hope to have an exhibition of them in the Crawford and they will also live on our website. We have films of eight artists and we hope to get funding to do more.” Foott recognises how the creation of art, excellent art, changes the public’s perception of people with disabilities.

“These artists all have really valuable contributions to make and by supporting them we are making them feel included and valued as citizens.” 

David Connolly with one of his artworks. Picture Clare Keogh
David Connolly with one of his artworks. Picture Clare Keogh

The Artists 

CSS currently creatively supports sixteen artists members: Katie Whelan, Rosaleen Moore, Tom O’Sullivan, Íde Ni Shúilleabháin, Yvonne Condon, Ailbhe Barrett, Brid Heffernan, David Connolly, Marie Sexton, Stephen Murray, Angela Burchill, Anna Stack, Nicola Moran, John Noel Kenneally, Mary Rose Marshall.

I caught up with some of the artists during their Tuesday session on Grand Parade last week.

Angela’s Burchill’s work is all about people. During the pandemic she concentrated on the people she was missing. A prolific portrait artist, Angela works primarily with pastel pencils on paper and treated wood. She says, “I like to work on portraits of my people in L’Arche because they are all my friends. It makes me happy to draw them because they are the people l live with, work with and share my life with.” 

Artist Rosaleen Moore is delighted to show me her colourful depiction of Goldilocks and the three bears. She tells me that she likes buildings and refers to many paintings of famous buildings she has depicted in the past, including St Finbarr’s Cathedral and the City Hall in Cork City. I see them on my way out of the studio and am stunned by their originality and vibrancy.

“I don’t take pictures of the buildings. I see them and then I paint from what I remember in my head. Don’t ask me what kind of brain I have,” she jokes.

When asked if she enjoys her practice she beams. “I love it. I love everything about it. I often take up the whole table at home for the day because I’m never finished working on something” 

Ailbhe Barrett is sitting next to Rosaleen when I visit. She says she always uses photograph. One picture in front of her is of the Áras an Uachtaráin. Another is her take on the Mona Lisa, who she has turned into a blonde, “just for a change,” she smiles.

“Show her the one you made with Mala,” Rosaleen suggests and Ailbhe goes through her phone to find a lengthy stock-motion video. Her supervisor tells me a composer from Cork College of Music is currently working on a score for the impressive work.

Tom O’Sullivan in the studio. Picture Clare Keogh
Tom O’Sullivan in the studio. Picture Clare Keogh

Tom O’Sullivan is also prolific in his work. He paints first on card or board, then layers pastels on top, then cuts with a ruler. In 2019, he was awarded a mentoring grant by Arts & Disability Ireland allowing him to work collaboratively with the artist Tom Climent. He has three giant canvases in storage and is always working on more. This morning he has three paintings drying which he will return to in the next stage of his process.

Katie Whelan of Crawford Supported Studios. Picture Clare Keogh 
Katie Whelan of Crawford Supported Studios. Picture Clare Keogh 

Katie Whelan, sitting on one of two large tables, likes to work with her Disney princesses. She works with charcoal and produces layers and layers. She also finishes her pieces with giant hearts. Her supervisor refers to her work as being “the essence of joy.” She is also into fashion and tends to create in a style that matches what she’s wearing that day.

Stephen Murray shares a happy thumbs-up as I pass. His work is meticulous and often architectural. Stephen works methodically, with deep concentration and an impressive awareness of the whole picture plane, large or small. He has done large-scale work, his facilitator tells me. Then he went through a phase of very detailed work and now he is working with broad planes of colour, to create carefully considered abstract compositions.

Íde Ní Shúilleabháin uses a bold, confident line, working quickly and with great concentration, often using oil pastels on paper. Íde’s distinctive graphic style emphasises geometric shapes. She is drawn to strong colour. Íde composes still life from observation, as well as drawing imagery from collected books, magazines and photographs.

Mary Rose Marshall, depicted in the video with her teddy bears, is drawing her dolls when I visit. Above them she has written, “I love my dolls to bits.” She returns to the things she loves most throughout her work.

View all of the artists’ films here:

Pictures and Video by Clare Keogh.

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