CRAWFORD College of Art and Design teacher Julie Aldridge is marking her retirement from her day job with an exhibition of her work.
A teacher on the masters in art therapy, and practising artist, Julie launched her exhibition at the Crawford’s Gallery Space, at 46 Grand Parade, this week. The exhibition, entitled ‘A Hag with Wings: Alchemical Musings from the Edge of Beara’ runs until November 14.
Having worked as a senior art therapist in her native UK, qualifying from the University of Sheffield, Julie moved to the Beara Peninsula in 1993 and taught at the Crawford for 18 years. She was among the first cohort of art therapists to introduce the discipline to Ireland. The course at the Crawford was franchised from the University of Hertfordshire and is recognised throughout Europe.
Julie also has a degree in fine art. From a working class background in the north of England, she is grateful that grants were available for third level education when she was a student. She is “sad” that students these days in the UK have to incur a lot of debt to educate themselves.
Her interest in art therapy stems from her desire to understand relationships within her family and among people she knows.
“Although I was always very dedicated to my art work, I also wanted to work with people so art therapy gave me a way of working with others.”
Julie was 30 by the time she qualified as an art therapist.
“People tend to come to it later on because it’s quite hard going. You’re using your emotional resources in the work. You’re confronted with all kinds of situations you can’t really anticipate. Unless you have life experience under your belt, it’s very tough going. It’s also wonderful work.”
Art therapy is not about just letting it all out, says Julie.
“That’s not actually very helpful. You want to have a process that doesn’t overwhelm the person. It’s tailor made to suit the individual.”
The art therapist supports the client to look at his/her artistic work and how it expresses their interests or concerns.
“It can actually help somebody plan for the future and it can be problem solving.”
Julie admits that by the time she came to West Cork, having worked as a senior art therapist with the hospice movement as well as doing work that involved caring for the carers, she was pretty burnt out.
“I had no intention of working here except that a wonderful woman called Alice Byrnes from the Crawford invited me to give a talk about my experience in art therapy to students.”
That was the start of a fulfilling career in Cork. There are about 60 students at the Crawford doing the masters in art therapy at any given time.
Art therapy tends to change people’s art work, Julie explained.
“Sometimes, the training changes people’s art so much that they become therapists. Other people manage to integrate the two. I’ve managed to do that, working part-time to maintain my art work. I’ve always combined my own practice with art. Looking at my work, you would think ten people had done it. It’s so diverse.”
The exhibition reveals Julie’s fascination with alchemy.
“I’m interested in the experimentation that went on before chemistry became a scientific discipline, and ideas about the transformation of base materials. Jung used this as an analogy for working on the self, a way of balancing out the human being.”
The materials used in the exhibition include fabric, lace, embroidery, wood ash, sequins, plastics — “basically a real feast of mixed media.”
As for the hag of Beara — a rich source of legends and lore — Julie decided that this piece of rock, in the shape of a woman, would like to have a change of view.
“She has looked at Ballycrovane Harbour for a long time. I have a fantasy that came from my creative writing that the hag might like a change and be transformed by the elements. There are all kinds of stories about the hag. She is supposed to have had seven husbands — and been a nun. There’s nothing she hasn’t done. People bring little offerings to her.”
Julie thinks the hag “looks a little bored.”
But she feels that opening the exhibition on Halloween is a way of honouring the hag.
“Halloween is full of mystery about the change in the year. We’re going into the winter, the dark time of the year which belongs to the crone or the wise woman.”
Aged 63, Julie doesn’t have to retire from her job.
“But I feel I’ve offered as much as I could. I’m still very excited about art therapy and its potential. I have other fish to fry including wanting to develop my creative writing more. I also want to do something more with alchemy that might have more commercial possibilities.”
Julie will continue with her small art therapy practice and do supervision work with students. She is available to give workshops.
Her exhibition was opened on Wednesday, October 31 by Louise Foott, head of the Crawford’s creative arts and education department.