Painting is ‘my time’

Businesswoman and mum of four Sarah O’Connell talks to COLETTE SHERIDAN about rediscovering her love of art, cleaning up after Barbra Streisand and serving breakfast to Quentin Tarantino
Painting is ‘my time’
Artist Sarah O'Connell at the opening of her exhibition "Dra’ocht an Cheantair" now showing at Cronin's Pub, Crosshaven. Photo Joleen Cronin

THE need for some ‘me time’ for businesswoman and mother of four, Sarah O’Connell, has resulted in a body of art work that is on show at Cronin’s Pub in Crosshaven until December 30.

Sarah, who paints landscapes using bright colours and broad brush strokes, just wanted to indulge her strong artistic streak as a means of relaxation. She was adamant that she didn’t want her hobby to be pressurised or to become a chore.

When she turned 40, she made herself face her “fear of painting.” It has obviously worked out as Sarah thoroughly enjoys her weekly art class given by Kerry Collins in Fountainstown and says there is huge companionship there.

“We set up a What’s App group and we call it ‘art therapy!’ We religiously put on John Creedon on the radio when we’re painting. You can chit chat there but you’re really there to do art,” she said.

Sarah paints from photographs, often taken by a friend, Robert Mulcahy. She describes herself as arty and can do anything with her hands. Sarah studied fashion at the Limerick School of Art and Design. She says her work there was considered too commercial. Her fellow students “were making things out of tyres”.

Painting by Sarah O'Connell, which is on display at her exhibition "Drioacht an Cheantair" at Cronin's Pub, Crosshaven.
Painting by Sarah O'Connell, which is on display at her exhibition "Drioacht an Cheantair" at Cronin's Pub, Crosshaven.

“I understand that they were pushing our brains. I enjoyed the course. It would have been great to have done pattern drafting, that mathematical side of things. We studied print, fashion, graphics. I never really took to fine art at the time.”

Sarah, who attended Colaiste Mhuire in Crosshaven, did art for her Leaving Certificate but had to study the subject outside of her school. She was taught by Eddie Quinn of Regina Mundi. He also taught Sarah techniques for the portfolio that she had to submit to her chosen art college.

While at college, she spent her summers in the US and ended up living there for five years, in Nantucket off Cape Cod, working for “very rich people”. Sarah recalls cleaning up after singer Barbra Streisand who had stayed in a client’s house. As well as cleaning houses, Sarah did landscaping, picture framing and waitressing. She once served breakfast to director Quentin Tarantino.

Sarah returned to her family in Cork. Initially, she didn’t know what to do so she started waitressing with a friend.

“Then, I started getting clients for cleaning jobs. I set up my own company and got business through word-of-mouth.”

Painting of Crosshaven sunset by Sarah O'Connell, which is on display at her exhibition "Drioacht an Cheantair" at Cronin's Pub, Crosshaven.
Painting of Crosshaven sunset by Sarah O'Connell, which is on display at her exhibition "Drioacht an Cheantair" at Cronin's Pub, Crosshaven.

O’Connell Cleaning Services, which is run by Sarah and her husband, took off during the boom.

“Then, as the boom was going downhill, we adapted. I always kept certain jobs structured as we had to have an income. We couldn’t just depend on builders to give us work. Over the years, we have built up a clientele. We clean houses, offices, garages, boats and high reach windows in hotels.

“We employ close on 30 people. It’s hard work. Anything in the service industry is hard. I have staff who have been with me ten, 11 or 12 years. That’s unusual as staff tend to move.”

Sarah still goes out and does cleaning work herself. After we chatted, she was on her way to clean a house in Ballycotton. What does it take to be a good cleaner?

“It’s all got to do with your eyes; it’s about watching and looking. Also, when I interview someone for a job, it’s important that I like them as a person because we work together in a close environment.”

With her four children ranging in age from 13 to six, Sarah is busy, juggling her different roles. Her weekly art class is sacrosanct, good for her sense of well-being and a creative outlet.

“Painting is my way of switching off. It is my form of therapy, a way of expressing and releasing emotions, of relaxation, my time.

“I like to paint landscapes, putting black paint on canvas and then working backwards, painting bright skies and sunsets. The painting has to move quickly for me. While I’m good at landscapes, I also like doing portraits but that’s a lot harder.”

Painting of Drakes Pool, Crosshaven by Sarah O'Connell, which is on display at her exhibition "Drioacht an Cheantair" at Cronin's Pub, Crosshaven.
Painting of Drakes Pool, Crosshaven by Sarah O'Connell, which is on display at her exhibition "Drioacht an Cheantair" at Cronin's Pub, Crosshaven.

Sarah’s exhibition, which comprises 20 paintings, is of vistas in Crosshaven; cliffs, fields and Drake’s Pool just outside the village. Entitled ‘Drioacht an Cheantair’ meaning the ‘magic in the area’, the exhibition also includes paintings that have come from Sarah’s imagination. The paintings are for sale.

Over the years, Sarah has sold pieces of work, but it’s very much a pastime. Her parents are very artistic and her 11-year0 old son, Sean, is following in Sarah’s footsteps.

Sarah says she may challenge herself and attempt a stained glass course. No doubt this capable woman with a strong artistic streak will find success in whatever art form she applies herself.

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