Keeping art in the family

Ahead of the Crawford Art College end of year degree show, COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to one of the students involved
Keeping art in the family

GENERATIONS OF ART LOVERS: Alison O’Shea in her exhibition room at the Crawford Art Gallery with family members Hilary, Lily and Helen O’Shea. Picture: Howard Crowdy

ART is very much in the genes of Blarney native, Alison O’Shea, whose work will be on show at the CIT Crawford College’s department of fine art and applied art 2018 degree show, SEE-SAW, which opens Friday, June 1.

Alison, aged 21, traces her talent back to her maternal grandmother who used to make all the clothes for her four children.

“I still have some of the cardigans and jumpers she made, and she painted as well,” says Alison.

Her grandmother died three years ago but her artistic legacy is very much alive in Alison’s family.

Her mother, Hilary, graduated in art in the late 1980s, and works as an art tutor. Alison’s aunt Gabrielle (her mother’s sister) also studied at the Crawford and specialised in print making before moving to the US. Alison’s aunt Helen, the older sister of Hilary and Gabrielle, graduated from the Crawford last year having been a mature student. She works as a textile artist. And Alison’s younger sister, Lily, is currently a student at the Crawford, focusing on sculpture.

Alison must have been trying to buck the trend as she originally wanted to study accountancy. It’s a far cry from art, but no doubt indicates skills that could come in handy for an artist having to tot up profit and loss columns.

Ali O'Shea from Blarney, second right, pictured with mother Hilary (Fine Art 1988); aunt Helen, Contemorary Applied Art 2017 and Lily, 2nd year Fine Art who all attended the Crawford College of Art and Design. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Ali O'Shea from Blarney, second right, pictured with mother Hilary (Fine Art 1988); aunt Helen, Contemorary Applied Art 2017 and Lily, 2nd year Fine Art who all attended the Crawford College of Art and Design. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Alison skipped Transition Year at Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal in Blarney. When she saw some of her fellow students studying art in fifth year, she decided she wanted to join them.

“I went back to what I knew and what I grew up with. I had always drawn. I was good at drawing and painting at primary school. It was great to take up art in fifth year. I did some life drawing classes in sixth year for my portfolio for the Crawford.”

At only 17, Alison was accepted into the Crawford. The highlight of her studies was spending three months last summer in Shanghai in a programme offered by the Crawford.

“We collaborated with students from the China Academy of Art. It was amazing and a crazy experience to go from Cork to Shanghai which has a population of around 26 million.”

Alison’s area of interest is housing and that was stimulated by being in China.

“We got a train at one point and travelled a couple of hundred miles. I saw empty cities before parts of the population were moved into them. It was like empty housing estates here but on a grander scale. I took a lot of that experience back with me and I started to think about the way we live and occupy space.

“I’m very interested in housing as a subject and how property is such as obsession in this country. We’ve had boom to bust cycles and the boom is back, apparently. I started thinking about our housing crisis.”

To illustrate her area of interest, Alison built 3-D models of houses on 3-D software. “I started thinking about modular housing as a temporary solution. I decided to make a film about a woman who is the personification of the Irish landscape.”

Alison used the poetic motif of the Sean Bhean Bhocht (poor old woman) who, according to tradition, personifies Ireland. She based this woman on her late grandmother, videoing her hands and her home: “She is almost like an onlooker who personifies this fictional modular town that I imagined.”

Ali O'Shea from Blarney, pictured with family members Lily, Hilary and Helen who all attended the Crawford Art College. Missing from photo was Gabrielle O'Shea who graduated from the college in 1985. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Ali O'Shea from Blarney, pictured with family members Lily, Hilary and Helen who all attended the Crawford Art College. Missing from photo was Gabrielle O'Shea who graduated from the college in 1985. Picture: Howard Crowdy

It’s a vision of Ireland in the future where people have nowhere to live anymore.

“There is this temporary solution with people living in modular homes. The people keeping moving up and down the landscape. They speak Irish, phonetically, through text to speech generators. They do this to hold on to an identity.”

Alison’s exhibit at the degree show is two videos, one of the Sean Bhean Bhocht with subtitles.

“The other film is of 3-D generated modular houses which are super-imposed on drone footage of Ireland so that they’re kind of moving through the landscape.”

Addressing societal issues through art interests Alison. She has been watching the housing crisis unfold. As part of her degree show project, she interviewed a group in Cork that is “occupying a house as a political stance,” as well as Máirín De Burca, who was hugely active in the Housing Action Committee.

Alison is concerned about the lack of space for artists trying to work in Cork too.

Planning to take a year out, she would then like to do a Masters degree somewhere in Europe as it would be too expensive in this country.

“I’d like to get into curating, and work with other artists, putting shows together.”

The SEE-SAW degree show in fine art & applied art runs from Friday, June 1 to June 9 at the Crawford College of Art & Design, Sharman Crawford Street. It will be opened by Mary Cremin, curator of the Irish Pavilion for the 2019 Venice Biennale.

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