Richmond, California, USA
Imagining the stony outcroppings, verdant forests, or kelp strewn beaches in Ireland walked by my maternal ancestors fueled my desire to experience the Irish landscape. I make work that engages the visceral experience of moving through natural settings in juxtaposition to the cerebral rationalizations we experience whilst in nature. I hold a map in my mind to orient myself, look for historical evidence in signage, structures, or even the types of plants and trees that have colonized a forest. I strive to make visual the associations layered into a collective image that asks for contemplation of the structures shaping our knowledge, our relationships, our memories, and our physical experiences.
Spending time at Greywood Arts meant opportunity for me to reflect, make visual work, to write, and to explore an Ireland not typically visited by hordes of American tourists seeking the whistle-stop Irish tour of hotspots; rather in Killeagh Village, I’d have access to the simple reality of a small Irish village near the sea and have the chance to meet local creatives, possibly to share ideas from across an ocean of differences and experience. I didn’t want to breeze by Irish landmarks for a quick selfie and then onto the next pub, mates —mind you, I did go kiss the Blarney Stone (being afraid of heights, it was challenging for to bend backwards on the parapets) and I marveled at the sweeping vistas of Killarney— but foremost in Greywood I had the opportunity to live a bit more like a local, stay for a time in one place, and meet local artists and writers—all while making new work. A creative residency can provide fresh eyes on your process and your experiences.
I wasn’t sure what I’d make exactly during my short time at Greywood Arts, but I prepared by inventing an experimental process for a temporary art installation—the materials for this potentially large work fit into one small suitcase since airlines charge a fortune for baggage. I made primarily alcohol-based ink paintings on a matte, sticky vinyl and created somewhat large abstract paintings after which I cut and shaped. The work meshed with and clung to the walls, appearing as integrated frescos. I simply could peel them away afterward, with no trace left on the walls, and ultimately all I would take with me were photographs of the temporary work.
The colors and shapes of the work emerged from absorbing the colors and textures of a place steeped in a history of resistance and faith. The walls at Greywood were tablets of history onto themselves. Awed by the layers of plaster, stone, mortar, and history of both turmoil and peace etched in the house—I found it intimidating to think I could do anything worthy to enhance what was already there. But I worked intuitively to expose my own experiences there.
In the surrounding area of the village, I marveled at the juxtaposition of the more banal and familiar things (suburban houses, chippers, Tesco stores) interrupted by stone fortresses with parapets or the mysterious Ogham stones dating from the 5th and 6th centuries. The layers of history were unfathomable along the Cliff Walk above the Irish Sea in nearby Ardmore and I was grateful for the recommendation by our hosts. To the native Irish the towers, crumbling churches, or remnants of past strongholds or sites of worship have become those remarkable things that we no longer see; backdrops to our busy daily lives. Indeed, historical structures in Ireland were built atop each other with an irreverence I thought a legacy to the cultural cycles of independence, conquest and resistance.
On the cliff walk I saw a 19th Century tower defiled on the inside by graffiti in the nature of teen punk rockers, but were those artists merely newcomers to the continuum of initials dating back to medieval times that we noticed carved into the castle walls at Blarney? The 12th Century cathedral was a beautiful ruin with a remarkable, complete round tower and among the gravestones I read a heartbreaking narrative chronicling the loss of all one father’s children during the years of famine. In Greywood House itself, the walls spoke volumes of times past— as barrack, sawmill, guesthouse, artist studio and familial home. Some rooms still bore old peeling wallpapers and the crusty strata of the past caretaker. An elderly neighbor told me that the past resident rested in the cemetery just at the end of the street, this fact reinforced and informed my work. There I was, another temporary resident within a continuum of occupants.
The installation work I made resembled maps of Ireland—macro-lensed overviews of the landscape and island of Ireland, also the high vantage of cliff walks and mountain peaks, as images projected onto the immediate, tangible and micro-layered patina, cracks, and chips in the old walls of the house. The smaller piece near the window I named Accidental Ireland. In my mind, the work evolved intuitively and ended up looking like a map of sort of the island country. The larger piece danced with the shapes and colors in the walls and resembled islands and water. Reflecting on my interactions at Greywood, my thoughts about fragmented histories, as well as my own lineage and distant relationship to Ireland— I titled that piece Oceans Apart.
In closing, a project I am still working to realize, titled Renegade Docent, consists of a social media experiment wherein I hope to connect creative people via cultural arts locations as a site of commonality and a creative touchstone. In this instance of the project, Greywood Arts is the collective location. I’ve described here my experience of interpreting layers—cultural and political history, personal archeology, and visual processes. My work there engaged layers as physical records of lineage, language, and fleeting qualities of immediacy. If you’d care to continue the conversation, meet in a virtual community and please submit an Instagram image to #rdgreywoodartslayers.
I look forward to meeting you and your related work from Greywood on the theme of layers. My profound thanks to Greywood Arts for their invitation, their commitment to creativity, and for the amazing work they are doing to create community and conversation.
Working in the San Francisco Bay Area for over twenty years, Carol’s abstract paintings and installations are exhibited nationally and included in multiple private and corporate collections. She is represented by Elins Eagle-smith Gallery at 49 Geary San Francisco, CA.