FROM being a small girl at her mother’s side when she was purchasing tripe in the English Market, to an artist returning to her Cork roots with an art project based on the foodstuffs at the city’s epicurean Mecca, Linda Quinlan has come full circle.
The Model Farm Road-reared Linda, now living in Dublin, was invited to take part in GRAFT, a collaboration between the Glucksman Gallery and the National Sculpture Factory.
The brief, for five artists, was to create an artistic experience for audiences in the city and online around the country. The work, on show until the end of October, is site-specific.
Linda’s contribution aims to capture the living spirit of the English Market by creating paintings depicting foodstuffs that are presented on customised aprons worn by the market traders.
Linda, a graduate of the Crawford College of Art and Design who has a Masters from the National College of Art and Design, was thrilled with the commission to respond to the English Market.
“Growing up in Cork, I always saw it as the heart of the city with its central location and tributaries and alleys that filter out to the streets. It’s a kind of motif that appears in my work quite often. It’s a place we come to for food and there are those gorgeous cathedral-like arches in that open space that always remind me of being almost inside the belly of a whale.
“It hold so much tradition. My mom used to get tripe there on Fridays for my grandfather. The smell was so pungent that we used to leave the windows open while it was being cooked.”
The English Market, has, in the last couple of decades, become eclectic in its range of foods.
“It has that whole artisan culture mixed in with tradition,” the artist said.
Linda describes herself as very materially-led as an artist.
She explained: “I start with the material that will spawn the work in a way. I have always mined the English Market for my work. Oysters and mussels and things like that form a lot of my visual imagery. Things like yeast and other foodstuffs are in the work. I wanted to capture the spirit of the market and its vibrancy for the project. Yeast is a kind of living, breathing thing with potential.”
As Linda points out, oysters and mussels produce pearls made out of nacre, as mother-of-pearl is known.
“It’s an auto-immune response for their survival. I’m always interested in how something reactionary can actually materialise a substance. So a pearl is something that is essentially born out of pain by a mussel or an oyster. But it’s also an act of love in itself that speaks in a way of care and survival.”
In the context of Covid, Linda thinks this is really appropriate to us now: “A question I kept on thinking about in making this work based on the market is, what are people hungry for now? I was thinking in terms of finding joy and connection again. That’s really important for us now and the English Market is a place for reunions to happen.”
Linda’s images include pretzels “onto which skeletal creatures slide and joyfully play and hang out. Even though there are these skeletal forms, they kind of reference The Day of the Dead which is celebratory and has a jubilance about coming back to life.
“So the idea of the pretzels having that presence in the work made me think about yeast. It, mixed with water, allowed the skeletal creatures in the imagery to cling onto life in a way.”
The English Market isn’t a place where you just hang paintings on a wall, says Linda.
“I wanted the artwork to become part of the infrastructure and the fabric of the market. Fabric was something I latched onto in the initial proposal that we were given for GRAFT. The project was spoken of in terms of how an artwork might graft itself onto the fabric of the city. I love that idea of playing with fabric because I’ve always thought how fabric is almost the first architecture of the body - how we engage with the world through our clothing.”
The English Market traders, whom Linda praises for their enthusiastic co-operation, “have generously taken on the role of being the canvases for the paintings through the aprons (specially made out of suede vision) they’re wearing.
“There’s almost something performative happening in the work and something practical. When I approached the traders, I got emails back immediately saying ‘Oh my God, we’ll be like a living exhibition, like walking canvases.’ They made that connection straight away. It was just so joyful and it made sense and it’s such a privilege to work with them.”
Linda painted the various foodstuffs in her studio.
“It’s funny. I have oyster and mussel shells in my studio for four or five years. They’re from the English Market.”
While Linda acknowledges the challenges that Covid threw up for many artists with exhibitions cancelled, she says the GRAFT project was always Covid-safe.
“The work was always going to be sited in the city and not in a gallery context. Knowing it was going to happen carried me through Covid. I feel really privileged to be asked to make work for the city I come from. It’s almost like art gets to have some sense of ownership in the city.
“The audience becomes the city of Cork as they come into the market for their bread and fish.”