Ahead of Mary Foudy O’Halloran’s exhibition Weighed at Ballina Arts Centre, Catherine Gilmartin spoke to the Gort-based artist about her work.
Mary Foudy O’Halloran is a painter based in Gort, Co. Galway. Her exhibition Weighed, currently on show at Ballina Arts Centre, is a collection of paintings, whereby “traditional scenes of domesticity and the unremarkable are called into question on closer viewing by small, uneasy details: subdued colours unsettle and disturb; figures, endlessly repeated, are pushed to the extremes of space or smothered; invaded by paint and domestic pattern; trapped by environment or weighed down by dirt.”
Working with mixed media, building up layers, making marks, balancing tints and tones in the process, Mary’s work often re-examines the past in the now, questioning ordinaries and the familiar; often objects of loss.
Explaining the background to the title of ‘Weighed’, she says: “This series came about as a result of the death of my mother. I began to concentrate on a small photograph of her, taken when she was sixteen – innocent and full of fun and dreams for her future. I began to feel a profound sense of loss for all the exciting and beautiful experiences she missed out on, during her long life. As a result of this, I wanted to acknowledge the hard work she had to do and the opportunities she never had. The title then, Weighed, comes from the idea of being weighed down by all of that, especially the constant daily work in the house and on the farm, running a large household.”
And what of ‘the unremarkable’ and ‘traditional scenes of domesticity’? Mary said: “There are objects and images in the domestic scene that seem unremarkable and go unnoticed, but they made up the whole and complete life of a woman like my mother. By putting these objects in full focus, by isolating them and reworking them – examining their beauty or the lack of, the viewer is forced to re-engage with them and re-value those lives.”
Mary goes on to explain how the initial motivation for her creativity takes place: “My work begins with a subject that has somehow inspired or touched me. There is an endless list of possibilities open to me and that is exciting. Somewhere along the work process each piece takes on a life of its own and it takes you to another place, that of making the piece work by getting the balance right and getting the tones to sit, until I have a result that pleases me and works aesthetically. The small pieces which make up this exhibition became obsessive. Each one so much the same, yet very different. They are pieces of a life. The work is very tactile; the smaller pieces very smooth and almost sculptural. The work on the old blanket a contrast in their awkward roughness.
“The small pieces are mixed media on calico on wood. It takes hours to achieve the finish I want before I actually begin to create the work. While my surface is made through a careful process, I can never tell the final outcome when I begin. I like to work with mixed media and let each medium make the mark it does best.”
Mary has a studio attached to her home in Gort. It is her sanctuary and she goes there nearly every day. “I paint five days a week out of seven”, she happily tells me. “My subjects vary. I’m very drawn to ordinary objects or what seems obvious and then re-questioning that. I often work in series and on maybe four pieces together, depending on their size. I go back and forth between them. When times are slow creatively, I go to my art books artist interviews for encouragement. Creativity is made up of phases: quiet times when you think nothing is happening and rewarding times when the work gets made.”
“I have always loved everything about paintings and colour – even the smell of oil paint. I am largely self- taught, though the chance to study for my BA pushed my work into new directions and was a great experience. I couldn’t imagine my life now without working”.
Weighed, by Mary Foudy O’Halloran will run at Ballina Arts Centre from 8th August to 27th September. Admission free. Information from Ballina Arts Centre 096 73593. www.ballinaartscentre.com