Artistic License: Beatrice O'Connell - The Gloss Magazine

Artistic License: Beatrice O’Connell

Describing herself as an amateur ecologist, Irish artist Beatrice O’Connell’s interest in biophilia is reflected in her new exhibition at Taylor Galleries, Dublin …

‘Moon Food’, by Beatrice O’Connell

The title is intriguing – what was the inspiration for your exhibition “Overwintering on the Moon”?

I have been drawn to learning about diverse perspectives within ecological stories about our connection with places, animals and plants around us. I read Kerri Ni Dochartaigh, Manchán Magan, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Barbara Kingsolver and Davi Kopenawa. I was trying to get my head around how to express how I felt about the climate crisis and a sense of our interconnectedness with nature. In previous centuries it was thought that birds when they migrated went to the moon. The title was prompted by Caitriona O’Reilly’s poem ‘The Nowhere Birds,’ which was the first instance I came across this belief. The exhibition “Overwintering on the Moon” tries to put forward a variety of points of view, either from a different cultural perspective or from a non-human one. A bird’s-eye view both literally and figuratively.

‘Untitled Flowers’, by Beatrice O’Connell

You have been inspired by biophilia in many of your works …

Yes, I’ve alway been interested in nature and our relationship with it. Historical narratives, biodiversity, social justice, and the interaction between humans and environments are important to me. I am a bit of an amateur ecologist and grew up in the suburbs of Dublin. In 2016 a growing awareness of the biodiversity crisis led me to painting a still life series called ‘Silent Spring’, of vulnerable things like bees and fallen birds on a small scale. I focused on the contrast between the soft bodies and the man made surfaces that they lay on. 

The latest work is a multiplicity of this idea. Individual insects become a whole colony. Instead of a straightforward landscape painting it becomes a collage of details of a landscape. Focusing on the textures of a landscape from an aerial perspective for example. Some of the views are from Google Earth, macro images juxtaposed with micro textures of natural surfaces and details from a personal archive of handmade objects. I’ve made a connection between handmade heirloom objects and the natural world. In my mind, the delicate fragility of a spun spider’s web is connected with the process of making a piece of embroidery or lace. Both are made with care.

My practice has gradually changed over the years as personal circumstances and experiences have changed me and through an awareness of how the world around us has changed. An MFA in NCAD from 2022 has opened up a new world in how to communicate more effectively and expand the process of making art. This new multidisciplinary approach, making videos and sculpture has overlapped with and complemented my painting practice, enriching the paintings in “Overwintering on the Moon”.

‘Untitled Seed Heads’, by Beatrice O’Connell

How and where do you work?

I work from a studio in the Liberties called La Catedral; it’s a lovely vibrant space with lots of creative people and a studio cat. I also have a space at home where I house the sculptural work and archive. For the paintings I work from both sketches and photographs, collage and sculptural assemblage and stills from my videos. I tend to move around in the studio space a good bit as the process is an intuitive one. Often I will go out and take some footage in a rural setting, which makes its way into animations or stills for mixed media paintings.

It is helpful to go to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre as it gives me the headspace to concentrate on building up a body of work without family obligations and the setting in rural Monaghan is stimulating. I am looking forward to going to Interface Inagh this summer to work on a multidisciplinary project.

‘Large Colony Collapses’, by Beatrice O’Connell

How did you get into art? What would you say to someone contemplating this as a career?

My mum was also an artist though she died young. I went to art college in the 1990s straight after school. Building up a network of supportive artists has been vital. I am lucky to be surrounded by creative friends. The advice of more established artists whose work I admire such as Bernadette Kiely, Rachel Fallon and Aideen Barry has been invaluable. I am particularly thankful to Bernadette for her kind mentorship, she’s a gem.

During the Covid lockdown I won an online collaborative mentorship along with eleven other artists with William Kentridge’s longtime collaborator Sabine Theunissen. Sabine and William and the Arts Centre in Johannesburg have a very exciting approach. The Centre for the Less Good Idea encouraged us not to be afraid to try all sorts of ideas. I think you need to be resilient and adaptable to work as an artist and be prepared to work part-time to support your practice. I am lucky to work in an academic library which is a nice antidote to my studio life.

Are there any anecdotes relevant to the new artworks?

Yes there are two. I had been watching early films like the works of Georges Melies and was thinking about myths and about the belief that in past centuries birds used to winter on the moon. It is an evocative, humorous image and an imaginative leap. My thinking is that we have an opportunity to use mythologies to question our current behaviour and subsequently change these patterns, particularly pertaining to the climate crisis.

The second is about bees. Beth O’Halloran kindly wrote the accompanying essay for the exhibition. One anecdote we spoke about concerns domesticated bees “if a beekeeper’s family suffered a loss or any major change, then it was vital to tell the bees – with a whisper straight into their hive – and if the beekeeper passed away, they should cover the hives with black cloth so the bees could go into mourning. According to tradition, if this wasn’t done, the bees would often leave their hive, stop producing honey or even die.” This shows a reciprocity between the bees and their humans. Sometimes we forget how connected we are to places and other living beings in this world.

Need to Know: Beatrice O’Connell’s exhibition “Overwintering on the Moon” opens on February 1 to February 17 at Taylor Galleries, 16 Kildare Street, Dublin 2;


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