From the tumultuous seascapes of the West of Ireland to still life work informed by her travels, Eorna Walton’s latest exhibition is a distillation of taking the road less travelled as an artist …
The Dublin-born artist and lecturer works mainly in oils and acrylic, and her interpretations of seascapes reflect the ever-changing light and drama of nature’s irrepressible forces. Walton’s portraits have intriguing depth and narrative appeal, while her still life work is infused with vibrant colour and is informed by her travels to Southern Europe, India, North Africa and the Middle East. Walton tells us more about her artistic process for her new exhibition “Off The Beaten Path”.
What was the starting point to your exhibition “Off the Beaten Path”?
“Off the Beaten Path” is a continuum from my last exhibition “Back to Nature” from 2016, a celebration of life and the natural world we live in. This exhibition has taken three years in the planning, including landscapes from the west of Ireland, portraits of family and friends and still-life paintings. The title “Off the Beaten Path” could be the story of my life, as I always seem to be attracted to alternative ways to live.
You are obviously drawn to the sea for subject matter …
Yes, the sea has been an enormous influence in my work and my life. I grew up on the east coast and I have lived beside or very close to it all of my life. I swim all year round and every year I go to the west of Ireland, where I do a lot of my land/seascape work. It is like an annual migration and holds a magnetic attraction that I cannot resist.
Visually, the sea is challenging subject matter – captivating, frustrating, constantly transforming and can literally take your breath away! On another level, we live on an island, its borders are part of our identity. Its myths, history and stories are part of our psyche, personally and as a community. Its narrative is in our DNA. We are challenged to look beyond our own land, to travel and imagine other places. The sea is the way to the larger world so on that level it is also fascinating. On my return to the east coast, I feel invigorated, replenished spiritually and physically from my exposure to its beauty in all its guises.
You’ve travelled widely – with artist-in-residence programmes and personal visits …
I worked and studied life-drawing in Paris as a student for a year. Having regular and easy access to the wonderful art galleries there and being exposed to all the amazing French painters of the 20th century was a huge inspiration and influence on my artistic development at the time: painters who impressed me by the luminosity and visceral quality in their paintings of land/seascapes like Vuillard, Monet, Gaugin and Van Gogh. I soaked it all up.
I have had multiple residencies in Cill Riallig Art Centre in Ballinaskelligs, Co Kerry, anticipating each visit eagerly. I spent several summers there as a child in Irish college and fell in love at first sight with the place. Other travels through Europe, Africa, Arabia, India and South America have been on my own initiative, but I never go without my paints and sketch book. They often inspire, enliven and inform my still-life compositions in the dark winter months in Ireland.
Have you had any mentors in your artistic journey?
Yes, I have had amazing mentors. My earliest memories are of my mother drawing for me and her brother Maurice, who was a graphic artist visiting and conjuring up paintings on request. It was magic and I loved it. Since my working life began, I have come in contact with wonderful people who have become my patrons and friends, supporting me over the years and I am greatly indebted to them. There are too many to list here but notably my parents, Anne Harris and Gillian Bowler to name just a few.
Where and how do you work?
My favourite location to paint is out of doors in the landscape, so en plein air and if I can’t go West, I go into the hills in Wicklow. It is not for the faint-hearted given the Irish climate, but you would be amazed how much work you can do out of doors with proper planning, the weather forecast, wet gear and equipment and lots of determination in finding suitable locations. Even in bad weather you can improvise, sit it out in a sheltered spot, work out of the back of your car or out of an open door. Everything is possible if you are inspired by the location or the conditions.
My portraits and still-life paintings are done in my studio. Portraits are also a challenge that I relish. You have a live sitter, animated, constantly moving, expressing emotions. Their faces and bodies are also like a landscape, unfolding a story through paint. I often try to incorporate a land or seascape in the background where I have room in the portraits to give the sitter a context and sense of place. For still-life painting I set up anything I have found in my travels. It is certainly a more controlled environment although I try and bring the same immediacy to the painting as I do in landscape. It is definitely easier to work in oils in the studio and to take more time on the painting. However, some of my favourite paintings have been done very quickly in difficult conditions – but they have a sense of immediacy and vibrancy and give a sense of the visceral quality of the experience I had when I was trying to capture them!
Need to Know: Eorna Walton’s exhibition, “Off the Beaten Path” opens on June 15, 11am – 4pm, at Whelehans Wines, The Silver Tassie, Bray Road, Loughlinstown, Co Dublin. A donation will be made from the proceeds of the sale to the Simon Community.
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