Covid dragged me back to my love for art, says Dr Alana

Kinsale artist Dr Alana James tells AISLING MEATH how lockdowns made her recall her love for art
Covid dragged me back to my love for art, says Dr Alana

IN A GOOD PLACE: American-born Kinsale-based artist Dr Alana James

SO many people have artistic talents which are left unexpressed due to the demands of everyday life.

When Covid shut down much of the world, many people started to re-evaluate their priorities and began to give time to exploring their creativity, deriving a growing awareness of how much peace and relaxation they enjoyed from getting into the creative flow.

In the case of American-born, Kinsale-based artist Dr Alana James, it was all about a return to something which she loved, and which was second nature to her, but something that she had not indulged in for a long time.

She has a BA in Fine Art from the University of Colorado, and her work has graced the walls of many exhibitions in galleries and at shows all over the U.S, but when she was in her thirties she largely put away her brushes and paints as her career took another direction.

In 2005, Dr Alana obtained her doctorate in Educational Leadership from Colombia University and founded her company, Doctoralnet, and for the past decade from her base in Kinsale she has been working with students who are undertaking their Doctorate and Masters from universities all around the world, troubleshooting various issues which arise for them.

“Covid changed everything for me, and although I love my job, I had a realisation that I was not married to this business,” said Dr Alana. “Something shifted inside me during those strange days of lockdown. It was then that I started to evaluate my life and what was it that I really wanted to do, so I followed my calling back to art.”

Artwork by Dr Alana James
Artwork by Dr Alana James

Alana, who is originally from California, but lived in Colorado, had travelled all over Ireland with her wife Margie Milenkiewicz, driving around and doing what she jokingly described as the ‘American whistle-stop tour in three days’.

But her trip to Ireland was definitely a successful slice of ‘speed dating’ as she soon fell head over heels and became smitten with the misty and ethereal green island.

“I could live here.’ she announced to Margie who agreed with her... on the condition that Alana put the practical wheels in motion to make it happen, which she did.

After checking out some properties, it was Kinsale which finally captured their hearts. They found all the positive elements they loved there, with the pretty town being close to the water.

The couple settled permanently in 2006, where they continue to live in contentment with their two dogs.

“ I always say that moving to Kinsale was the second best decision I made in my life, and marrying Margie was the first,” said Dr Alana.

“Since we moved from Colorado, Irish people often ask me how can I put up with the weather here in Ireland.

I always answer, ‘It’s only raining’. If this was Colorado you would be talking about a blizzard where you cannot see in front of you.

“I love Ireland, and where we live in Kinsale is an earthly paradise. Having the two dogs means I am not allowed stay at the desk all day, they make you get out for a walk, and we have such beautiful places to walk in so close by. I just love everything about living here. The people, the food, being close to the ocean, the scenery, it’s just gorgeous. Not to mention the history and the castles.”

Her location, near to the artistic environment of West Cork, and with access to the vibrancy of Cork city, all contributed into nudging Dr Alana back onto the path of her true destination of being an artist. She is now a member of Visual Artists Ireland, Visual Artists Association and Kinsale Atlantic Artists.

She recalls how it all started.

“I was visiting friends in Kinsale and noticed one of them was in the process of doing a painting. When I saw all his brushes and paints laid out, it triggered something inside me, and this prompted me to begin again. I took some classes with Jennifer McAuliffe at TheWorkshop, a coffee house between Kinsale and the airport, which helped to get me back on the saddle.

“I was thrilled to display a collection of my art pieces as part of Kinsale Arts weekend during the summer. I was the first artist to display art in the window of Canvas Works printing and designing business, which was a huge honour.”

Dr Alana uses her iPad to create digital art with a graphics app called Procreate. She takes photos, then draws and paints over them, and digitally manipulates them to make her pieces. Her work is often depicted inside a bubble.

“ Life is all about a series of moments which are fragile and passing, just like a bubble floating in the air. I try to recreate that feeling of inner emotional responses to these moments, combined with our search for a sense of peace in the outside world.

Artwork by Dr Alana James
Artwork by Dr Alana James

When we experience a moment which is bad, it is comforting to know it will pass, and when we experience a good moment, it helps us realise how precious that it is, and to make the absolute most of it, acknowledge and celebrate everything, all those moments of life.

“I was on a boat visiting the Skelligs and tried to recapture that amazing moment of the beauty of it through my depiction, trying to get across that visceral feeling of being alive in that moment.

“Offering a glimpse into a moment of intense beauty and peace, I try to articulate how that feeling was for me, it was like finding a dream. Capturing moments such as this in my work gives me a sense of where I’m going, how the inner reality of making dreams come true unfold.

“Through my art, I try to capture real life moments which I have experienced, and I find this process of creation so rewarding.

“As Socrates said ‘Wisdom starts with Wonder’.

“My passion now is to continue making art through taking and curating digital photos and capturing those moments in time. I then collage them using digital re-sizing and reformatting techniques, ending up with 20 or more layers to manipulate.

“I print all my digital collages on canvas, on abstract backgrounds, then overpaint and sometimes I embellish a piece so that it has a raised and glittery appearance.

“I then personally sign each work of art.”

When it comes to other artists Alana says she loves ‘the renegades’ such as U.S artist Georgia O’Keeffe and Frenchman Marcel Duchamp.

She is delighted to be exhibiting her work at the Marina Market in Cork most weekends until Christmas, check her website for details of all the dates that she will be there.

While there, she works away on her ipad, and loves engaging with the public and enjoying their responses to her work.

“I would always want to be the one that encourages everybody to express themselves creatively. You don’t have to judge it, just do it for yourself and you will find great peace in the process.”

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