Cork artist paints murals inspired by strong Irish women on new museum

A Cork artist has created murals of strong Irish women on the walls of a new museum of Irish history, due to open later this year, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
Cork artist paints murals inspired by strong Irish women on new museum

Artist Suzy O' Mullane with local sean nós singer Clare Horgan who sang at the unveiling of the new murals. Picture: Colmán ó Ríogáin

CORK artist Suzy O’Mullane recently attended the unveiling of her three murals on the exterior walls of a new museum of Irish history, which is opening later this year in Waterville, Co Kerry.

The private museum is being established by Londoner Dr Ellie O’Sullivan, who has Waterville connections. She commissioned the Cork artist to create the murals. They were unveiled by Dr Noelle Campbell Sharpe, who runs the artists’ retreat, Cill Rialaig in Ballinskelligs, a place of inspiration for Suzy over the years.

Suzy has depicted three strong Irish women who have inspired legend and myth. They are Queen Maedhbh of Connacht, Róisín Dubh, a symbol for Ireland, particularly during Fenian times, and Gráinne Ní Mháille, a sea-faring noble woman from Mayo.

Suzy O' Mullane with her mural of Queen Maedhbh. Picture: Colmán O' Ríogáin.
Suzy O' Mullane with her mural of Queen Maedhbh. Picture: Colmán O' Ríogáin.

“Despite my initial research, I wasn’t aiming for historical accuracy, so the figures are a result of my personal interpretation of them,” says Suzy.

“I’ve always been interested in strong women and a lot of my work involves symbiotic relationships with animals, so I paint typical Irish animals such as wolfhounds.

“Queen Maedhbh had an obsession with the bull so I turned it into romantic desire. In my mural, she is half wolf. I read somewhere that she was described as the wolf queen.”

FINDING INSPIRATION

The Róisín Dubh figure is partly inspired by Suzy’s late daughter, Róisín Davis, who died in her twenties in 2004 from a heart attack. For Suzy, her daughter was her muse.

“Róisín modelled for me from the age of 16 until she died at 24. I put a lot of her in my work. She’s portrayed as kind of impish and cheeky and strong. She was extremely beautiful, a real Irish beauty, with long black hair, white skin and pink cheeks. She was a real rosebud.”

As well the tragic loss of her daughter, Suzy’s husband died five months later. How did she cope with such terrible bereavements?

“I threw myself into my work. I have a son, Fintan. I really had to toughen up and be there for him. I exhibited a lot. 

"I drove Fintan to school every day, to keep the show on the road. It was tough but we’ve survived pretty well.”

And then, in 2015, Suzy’s brother, Tadhg, died by suicide.

“He suffered from anxiety and depression. We were very close as kids. He was kind of my best friend growing up. This cycle of tragedy was relentless in a way. But I have a lot of joy as well. I suppose I’m very strong.

Suzy O' Mullane with dog Lily and her Róisin Dubh  mural.  Picture: Colmán O' Ríogáin,
Suzy O' Mullane with dog Lily and her Róisin Dubh  mural.  Picture: Colmán O' Ríogáin,

“I’ve really made a mark as an artist in a lot of the States and in Canada. I was lucky to be introduced to the international scene by Ciara Gibbons of the Blue Leaf Gallery whose brand name now is Gibbons & Nicholas. Since 2010, I’ve been in galleries in Miami, Toronto, and New York and I was introduced to a gallery in LA that sadly closed down. I was also introduced to the Seattle scene which is very vibrant and contemporary.”

Suzy, used to travelling “all the time”, has been confined to Cork for the past year due to the pandemic. She thinks it’s important to travel, both for inspiration and for raising her profile.

“I think as an artist you would go stale if you didn’t travel.”

Suzy loves Cork but for an artist, it has its limitations.

“I love being based here. It’s great for resting and working, but I don’t think there are enough opportunities here for the visual arts. It was great when (gallery owner) Nuala Fenton was around. The Lavit is a great gallery, but you have to think internationally if you want to get on as an artist.”

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

In what should be an exciting venture for Suzy, Paris is beckoning in August.

“I’m going to the Paris College of Art to study for a Masters in drawing. It’s accredited under the state of Delaware. It’s kind of an American college, but the tutors are French. It will be really interesting to have a new group of peers. It’s for a year. I’ll have to find an apartment for myself and Lily (her beloved dog who goes everywhere with her.)”

Suzy says that Paris and New York are the two most important cities for the visual arts.

“You get all the best exhibitions there and the best museums.”

Dr. Noelle Campbell-Sharp, Suzy O' Mullane, Dr. Ellie O' Sullivan at the unveiling of the murals at the new museum. Picture: Colmán ó Ríogain
Dr. Noelle Campbell-Sharp, Suzy O' Mullane, Dr. Ellie O' Sullivan at the unveiling of the murals at the new museum. Picture: Colmán ó Ríogain

The Masters in drawing “has a very broad focus. It’s not just mark making. There will be a bit of performance and looking at drawing in a completely different way. It will expand my own approach to drawing.

“At the end of the year, we get to have a show and we also get to work with other creatives in Paris. So I could end up with a writer, for example. We’ll be collaborating with local Parisians.”

It will be “a step into the unknown”, she said.

“ A lot of it is drawing with your body, getting out of just mark making and sitting. We’ll probably be moving, crawling, sometimes with our eyes closed, and drawing from the senses.”

Suzy, who studied art at the Crawford and has a BA degree in English and geography from UCC, is known for her striking draughtsmanship.

“It’s a very direct way of getting across my feelings and my thoughts. I can formulate my own narratives, my symbols. A lot of them would be personal. I’ve grown a kind of personal palette with my own metaphors.”

Where does her artistic streak come from?

“It comes from my dad really. He taught me to draw when I was a kid. He was good at drawing. I thought he was brilliant.”

He died in 2005 but is still remembered as an important influence on Suzy. A secondary school Latin teacher, he also taught Suzy a lot of the history of art: “I remember doing a mural for him for a school play he was doing. I was about ten at the time.”

LOCKDOWN LEGACY

Suzy was in France “supposedly for a month,” when lockdown happened. She was staying in Carcassonne and, not one to let the grass grow under her feet, she created a body of work there in 2020, called ‘Days of Compliance.’ It’s an eight panel piece in oils on canvas, a response to spending lockdown in France.

“Lockdown felt like a time of emotional frailty and paranoia and personal doubts about the validity of imposed confinement. Much of this was augmented by the presence of road blocks and police presence.”

Suzy said that there was the fear of not having the relevant paperwork for necessary excursions “and the fear of wandering too far from home, whilst hurrying by closed shops, deserted cafés and sad streets. I felt overcome with feelings of exile and separation. And conversely, I appreciated the silence and awe during the absence of human interaction and transaction. The possibility that one was actually halting viral spread through separation was also a consideration. Lockdown also brought about a renewed examination of my artistic practice as a method of navigating those unprecedented events.”

Suzy, as well as drawing, uses other mediums including painting, video, performance and writing. She is influenced by the late Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, who has inspired her to push boundaries. No doubt, when Suzy goes to Paris to do her Masters, it will result in a whole new exciting body of work.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

summersoaplogosml

Catch up on the latest episode of Annie May and the Hit Brigade written and read by  Mahito Indi Henderson.

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more