In Conversation With … Mairead McClean

Featured in our September issue of THE GLOSS, Northern Irish artist MAIREAD McCLEAN reveals her INSPIRATIONS, ROLE MODELS and why she is FASCINATED BY MEMORY


Who has been your mentor? I don’t have a single mentor as such but I have close family who have helped build my confidence over the years. I am one of twelve children who learnt from our amazing parents how to share and contribute. I had some inspirational tutors at art school who were artists in their own right. Learning from people like my fellow artists who are producing their own work makes the most sense to me. We learn from each other.

What inspired your recent works? I always become inspired when I see the dots beginning to join up, when seemingly disparate events connect. It’s like finding a piece of a jigsaw that you have been staring at for ages and then suddenly the shape appears and you know where it fits. When I came across footage of the Polish actor Ryszard Cieslak demonstrating “plastique” exercises, a form of movement derived from Hatha yoga specifically for ‘getting memories out’, it connected with a memory I had. It was filmed around the same time that my father was interned in Long Kesh, Northern Ireland when I was five. The footage showed Cieslak exploring mind and body connection and freedom of expression at a time when my father was having his voice curtailed, his body confined in a prison cell. At the root of my work lies a fascination with memory and how and why we remember what we do.


What have you learned about finding your voice? There is never a point where it is fixed. The voice can speak clearly at times and then it hides and disappears. When this happens it’s a struggle to get it back. I have learnt that acting on an impulse or using my gut instinct helps. Now if something catches my attention, I will stop to photograph it or I will copy a line out of a book or I will actively listen to sounds and record them for use in something I may make in the future. I use all kinds of media to produce my work: film, video, photographs, drawings. Recently, I have even started to use embroidery.

Proudest moment? Winning The MAC International Art Prize in 2014. I was on a shortlist of 24 artists selected from over 1000 entrants so was very happy to get that far. On the night of the prize giving in Belfast, I was busy chatting to friends and almost missed my name being called out by Ana Matronic from Scissors Sisters as the overall winner of the 20k prize. My mother was watching it live on the TV while washing the dishes at home in Beragh and just screamed!


Favourite fictional heroine? Wonder Woman played by Lynda Carter in the 1970’s American TV series. I remember watching it at home after school at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland. I loved the sequence where she would spin and transform from a normal person to Wonder Woman who could save the world! I wished she would come to Northern Ireland to sort out our problems but she never did.

An artist’s duty is to … provide a counterpoint to conventional thinking. To challenge standard views of the world through their work. To reach further than the expected and the known.

Your motto? Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

Do you have any causes you actively support? The charity my brother worked for, Speedwell Trust, who bring children together from different religious backgrounds in Northern Ireland through shared educational projects. Integrated Education is very important to the stability of peace in Northern Ireland or to any society for that matter. I recently read about the same problem in Bosnia and Croatia.

The role of art in your life so far… it allows me to ask myself what I really think, it prompts me to ask questions and it makes me doubt.

What are some of your favourite indulgences? Dark Chocolate, a glass of something bubbly and my jasmine and green tea perfume. A black dress is also a suitcase essential.

Penny McCormick

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