Artistic License: Donald Teskey & Amanda Bell - The Gloss Magazine

Artistic License: Donald Teskey & Amanda Bell

In the exhibition Winter Heliotrope, acclaimed artist Donald Teskey collaborated with poet Amanda Bell. Both are inspired by the Irish landscape and in particular the River Dodder …

Donald, how did your collaboration with Amanda Bell come about?

Following my Decade show at the RHA Gallery, I received an invitation from Andrew Moorhouse, whose UK-based publishing company produces very fine limited-edition books featuring art and poetry collaborations. I was impressed by the quality of his publications so I agreed to the proposal and invited Amanda to be my collaborator. I was already familiar with Amanda’s work as she had asked if I would contribute an image for the cover of her new poetry anthology, Riptide. I was really impressed by her work and we discovered subsequently, that we not only had a mutual passion for landscape and the beauty of North Mayo but also a shared interest in the mysteries of the River Dodder, so we seemed a natural fit for the collaboration.

What was the inspiration for your current series of paintings in “Winter Heliotrope”?

I live with my family quite close to the river Dodder and have done so on and off since I first came to live in Dublin 45 years ago. I recall the big snow of 1982 and being snowed in for days while we were living beside Classon’s Bridge. Because heavy snow is such a rare occurrence, the snows of March 2018 set in motion an idea to create a series of paintings of the River Dodder under snow, I didn’t follow through with it at the time and the idea remained in the sketchbook until Andrew’s book proposal in September 2022. 

How do you work?

These paintings were made in my studio. In the case of this collection of paintings I was relying on photographs and sketches from 2018. Snow is transformative, so when it’s gone it’s gone. It’s vital to record precisely the look and sensation of our Irish version of snow; it’s imperfect and usually wet. Not so romantic as seen in other countries. These paintings were made in my studio.

Amanda, you are both inspired by the River Dodder – do you live nearby the river?

I was born in Mount Carmel, overlooking the Dodder at Orwell Road, and have lived within walking distance of the river on and off for most of my life. The stretch from Rathfarnham to Dartry is my ‘go to’ walk, and is steeped in memories.

How does this collection of poetry fit with your previous anthologies?

A daily haiku practice keeps me focused on, and grounded in, the natural world, even in the most built-up urban environment. My first published collection, Undercurrents, (Alba Publishing) was a psycho-geography of Irish rivers, and both of my poetry collections with Doire Press, First the Feathers and Riptide, are influenced by rivers, the sea, and the non-human lives we share the world with. The theme of the river is something I keep returning to, and I recently completed a novel which is set partly on the banks of the Dodder in the early 20th century, when what is now the hockey grounds of The High School was a dairy farm for Bewley’s.

How and where do you work?

I need a lot of silence. The core of my work goes on in my subconscious while engaged in physical activities like walking, gardening, sea swimming or some type of handicraft – activities where you can switch off ‘the thinking mind’ as well as phones and computers. Once ideas have formed I write them up in longhand, then move to the laptop to develop them further. For this stage I mainly work in an upstairs study at home in Dublin, looking out over an almond tree in our front garden.

Is there a particular poem which has a special resonance for you?

The Dodder Park is full of my ghosts, and I often have the sense of friends and family – and family dogs! – walking alongside me there, so the poem ‘Dodder Walk, October 31st’ speaks to that experience. I’m also fond of ‘Objects in an Abandoned Handbag’, which was first published in The Irish Times late last year. Prompted by a discovery on one of my walks, it’s one of the few poems in Winter Heliotrope about people I don’t know; I’m fascinated by the notion of having a shared experience of ‘place’ with someone you may never meet, but with whom you can engage imaginatively.

Objects in an Abandoned Handbag 

I can tell exactly how they’ll feel –
the yielding crinkle of the papery skin,
then softness where the flesh has bruised
and liquefied. Or perhaps they will surprise me,
still be firm enough to sprout. Nerines, I guess,
pale, teardrop shapes, with a tuft of white-haired roots.
But why here, in a handbag dangling
on the Dodder footbridge rail?
Were they a parting gift or surreptitiously removed?
Perhaps the mud-streaked notebook might reveal
a lovingly sketched planting scheme
if I could bring myself to pluck it
from the black faux-leather pouch,
its secrets on display for all to see.
No purse, no coins, no cards, no keys –
I imagine these were hurriedly removed
before the bag was cast aside. I hope
the bearer wasn’t hurt or scared.
I hope that she’ll have other garden plans.

Amanda Bell

Need to Know: “Winter Heliotrope” by Donald Teskey and Amanda Bell, which comprises 20 paintings and accompanying poems, is on at Cromwell Place, London. Donald will be participating in a panel discussion with Kate Humble at Cromwell Place Lavery Studio about the parallels between painting and rewilding during which he will bring his experience of exploring and painting in the areas of conservation such as Wild Nephin National Park and The Gearagh in Co Cork and what’s happening on our local rivers. Donald is represented by the Oliver Sears Gallery, 33 Fitzwilliam Street Upper, Dublin 2. Winter Heliotrope the limited edition handmade book is available from the gallery; and also Fine Press Poetry;


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