What was the starting point for your new exhibition and collection “The Width of Yourself”?
I live in the rural uplands of northeast County Kilkenny, in a place 900 ft above sea level, this is above the snowline which, in Ireland, is delineated at 700 ft. In 2018, we were snowed-in for about twelve days. While this is not new for us, the scale of the snowdrifts, the blast freezing of the hawthorns, the severity of sub-zero -22C temperatures and its duration, was.
On the surface, this looked beautiful – with its undulating Mr Whippy snowy ice cream-sculptures, dramatic overhangs and undercuts like pre-historic caves that would house a human, it covered the roads, hedges and ditches some 12ft high in places, making it difficult to discern road, from ditch, from hedge. Each day we wrapped up and ventured out for a walk, prodding the compacted snow with sticks for fear of falling through an air pocket. To walk along the road meant that you were elevated at least six feet above the tarmac surface and my whole sense of what was familiar was disrupted and put into question. Over time a thaw began. It was slow, barely perceptible to the untrained eye. This series began to develop around that time, it started as a meditation on the weather and its effects on how we conceive and perceive landscape.
Thaw acted as a metaphor for what is both concealed and revealed, it became a conceptual tool that created an elusive interplay between figuration and abstraction – a method adopted in my work for many years. I started to explore this in-between-ness through both large and very small scale works on paper, using mixed media – acrylic, oil paint and pigment, employing techniques of layering and gluing, tearing back and scratching into so as to articulate both the strength and fragility of nature.
You are known for your bright colours and bold forms – which are perhaps more muted in this exhibition and hints at the rawness of nature. Was this deliberate?
In this body of work there remains signature bright colours – the use of French ultramarine and Indian yellow – perhaps more evident in the larger works, for instance in “Tangling shadows shaking all roots deep in solitude” and “In the imaginary garden, one can hear the Angelus bell”. Though, in some, the “weathering” going on is evoked through the use of grey tones. As I paint on the vertical by stapling the paper to a wall, I allow gravity to take hold, the paint then is allowed to drip and slick across the surface, this is controlled by intermittently taking it down and letting it dry on a table.
I’m using a heavy acid free Somerset paper along with a Japanese recycled paper called Yupo, in combination with an archival tracing paper, which I collage. Using its transparent qualities this enables a conversation to take place about weathering. I play with its properties; because it is translucent it both covers and, when glued to the under surface, it reveals what’s below. It acts like a veil through which to look into the image – this helps focus the eye. One could read this as a reference to snow, ice or fog – but here, I’m referencing our human/nature relationship and, as you noted, it hints at the rawness in nature too.
The titles of the paintings are poetic in their descriptions …
From my early age I read poetry, I especially love contemporary poetry. As I paint, words and imagery become conceptually entangled. These words are prompted by the shapes, the colours and lines and get written on my studio wall. When a painting is nearly finished (although this can take a long while to realise when something is actually finished) a conversation takes place – these graffiti-ed words then speak back to work and become reminders that help inform its title.
How has your work evolved do you think?
When I began painting in late 1970s, I initially focused on what I saw in front of me as “pure landscape”. During a residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Co Monaghan in 1989 – being immersed in the rural for one year – I started to paint the landscape not in a representational, photo-real way, but, as I felt through the senses – evoked through the use of colour and shape. I was trying to access its mood and became curious about the spaces in-between things, in the minutiae of nature.
This led me to undertake a one year residency in India where I walked through Nepal to the source of the River Ganges, this journey resulted with a show entitled “India” and later that year “Dreams from the Lion’s Head” (1990). Over time, these so called epic journeys took me along the Colorado River where I trekked with a native American Indian named Talking With Rain; to Vermont; to South Africa; to one of the Hirsholmene islands within the Arctic circle where I was the only human resident for one month, and throughout eastern Europe just after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Since 2003, when I moved from my native Dublin (where I had my studio in Henrietta Street) to rural Co Kilkenny, these journeys have taken place closer to home. When I lived in Dublin I felt that I had to go somewhere else for inspiration. Now, for this show, my radius is approximately 30 miles from home. Perhaps considered less epic, my responsibility to the environment – my impact on it – has changed in light of what is, in essence, the core of my interest – nature.
Where and how do you work?
Walking is part of my practice, this provides me with the creative nourishment that affords a connection between foot and land – a human/nature engagement. I am inspired by my journeys in nature, whether near or far – I meet people along the way, I find traces of past lives, former identities hinted at by their place names. I take photographs on my phone, make sketches, collect leaves, rocks and twigs, I record sounds – these act as reminders so that when I return to my studio they can evoke a sense of place. In my studio I contemplate these journeys, they are not about one season or indeed one place, but become a journey in themselves – a conversation between the surface, the paint, the line and shape.
Need to Know: Eamon Colman’s “The Width of Yourself” opens at Solomon Fine Art, Balfe Street, Dublin 2 on Thursday February 6 until Saturday February 29: www.solomonfineart.ie.