Artistic License: Kari Cahill - The Gloss Magazine
3 weeks ago

Artistic License: Kari Cahill


The Sligo-based site responsive artist on foraging, making her own pigments and supporting emerging artists in her Lay of the Land initiative …

Where do you work?

My work is site-responsive which allows me to work both in and outside of my studio. I spend a lot of time in nature; watching the shadows on mountains and the energy of the ocean. I am always looking down, underfoot, to see what kind of pigments and botanics I can forage. I’m especially drawn to rock pools at the moment. Some weeks I’m outdoors more and some I’m busy painting. The great thing with my work is that the simple act of going for a walk can result in new ideas or artworks.

Your technique comprises various ways of putting paint on paper – scraping, dripping, bruising – how has your style evolved?

I used to work with acrylic and spray paint which act very differently to natural pigments. I still enjoy acrylic and spray but making my own colours has really shifted how I approach the materials I work with. Since 2019 I have been moving towards a more sustainably-centred materials and it felt very natural to start to make my own colour from the landscapes around me.

I create paint from metamorphic rock formations, digging earth pigment from mineral rich riverbeds and extracting botanical pigments from native plants. I search for hues found within lichen, moss, algae and fungi. The colours I seek out are synthesised into pigment, paint and ink through various colour-making processes and are used in the artworks themselves.The act of searching for colour forces me to address environments with a bold investigation and is as much part of my process as the resulting palette. I sometimes use the landscape itself to create the work – seawater, tidiness and river water have played a role in my artworks.

My paintings respond to my experiences of nature. I hold the feeling of a site in my mind as I paint, rather than trying to draw or paint a vista. You can see this in my recent rockpool works – they respond to the ecosystem beneath the tide line in a rockpool. I didn’t set out to depict the pools but as I started layering paint of similar textures and colours, and light started to emerge.

What have you been working on most recently?

I have been working on a couple of different projects – one that is inspired by a place called Port in Donegal, as well as the cliffs near my house in north Sligo. I’m working on a collaborative book with writer Zoe Purcell, which has been funded by the Arts Council’s Visual Arts Bursary. The first draft will be released by the end of the summer. I also have plans for an installation on the coastline in Raghley. I will paint earth pigment directly onto the surface of the coastal rock face. I will respond to the site by allowing the surface to dictate where and how I apply the colour. The landscape will respond to the work through tidal energy and rainfall, ultimately producing a temporal art installation that points to deep geological time, and the constant elemental forces at play at that site. I’m hoping visitors will be able to come and experience the piece by the time it happens. I’ve also been running online workshops which have been great fun, and a real blessing in Covid-19; the online community I’ve been able to connect with through the workshops has really kept me going.

You have various ‘colour packs’ – can you explain and also tell us about the commission process?

The colour packs respond to a specific area where I foraged colour. They’re really simple but have something really special about them. I like that people can choose how to display them, and the small postcard size makes them a great gift. My commissioning process is a very immersive experience, both for myself and the client. We begin with a conversation about their expectations and the landscape they want to capture. I then forage colour and create pigment, ink and paint from that environment and send the client an artwork with the colours laid out as swatches. From here I begin the experimentation phase – mixing colours, adding modifiers, layering textures on various different surfaces to see what kind of beautiful alchemic hues emerge. From this we plan the final piece, aspects like orientation, negative space and size really have to work with their space. Then the final piece is created using the experiments that resonate most with the client as the jumping off point. The finished painting emerges as colour is applied to the surface so the end result is revealed only on completion which keeps the process exciting.

You are also co director and founder of Lay of the Land. Can you tell us more about this project?

I run Lay of the Land with the artist Hazel Mc Cague. We are a visual arts organisation curating and creating immersive long and short-term residencies, outdoor exhibitions in wild landscapes across Ireland. We support emerging artists who primarily focus on landscape, whose themes of environment, community, heritage and collaboration are intrinsic to, and reflected in their work, and share their concepts with the local community.

We began in 2016 with our inaugural project “Tombolo”, titled after the tombolo land formation the project took place on. We created 18 sculptures over two weeks and exhibited them in the landscape over a weekend. The project was really successful and resonated with the local audiences and we went on to produce over 60 sculptures with 24 artists in four more residencies. Each installation responds directly to the landscape it is created in and draws attention to the geographic and historical context of the landscape. We work with an amazing crew of volunteers, carpenters, riggers and friends who come on board with a willingness to work hard in every kind of weather. The artists we have collaborated with since 2016 have remained great friends and we have a really strong support network. While we don’t have any concrete plans for Lay of the Land at the moment, I do know that some offshoot collaborations are emerging so the legacy of the project will live on through the creative collaborative process. [To learn more about the project visit]


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