PENNY McCORMICK talks to artist SARAH WALKER about her inspirations, the MEDIUM OF TAPESTRY and her current exhibition at the Oliver Sears Gallery …
Sarah Walker owns her own gallery on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork where she also works as an artist. She studied Fine Art at the National College of Art and Design and since her graduation has exhibited at numerous shows in Ireland, France, Denmark, Mexico and the US. Most recently her work featured in the exhibition “And The Women Voted”, Women Artists from the AIB Art Collection at the Dun Laoghaire Lexicon Gallery, which opened in May. Her new exhibition – “Tree Drawings On The Sky” is a collection of tapestries, currently on show at the Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin 2.
Your new exhibition is a continuation of your first solo show at the Oliver Sears Gallery entitled “The Boxing Diaries” – could you explain the link and inspiration?
The imagery for the tapestries is originally inspired by driving through Ireland during the winter of my mother’s death looking at trees so poignant like line drawings on the dusk sky. In a sense focusing on the poignancy of the trees was a way to describe the continuing pull and ebb of family life – leaving children to drive to a sick parent and necessarily being drawn back and forth between the parent and the young family; a universal experience.
I was working on the trees when I started the boxing paintings but then the boxing work took over as a complete series, which I showed with Oliver Sears in early 2015, The Boxing Diaries. The trees remained with me, I continued painting them not only as the winter line drawings on the sky but also in their various colourful dresses throughout the year. The more I looked at the tree paintings I saw them as potentially translating very well into tapestry. I also saw it as a way of bringing together into one collection of work the sense of that time on the road driving back and forth to my mother and the time spent driving my sons to boxing matches.
How did you become interested in tapestry techniques and also the collaboration with Dixons of Connemara?
I had always in mind to try the medium of tapestry, very much inspired by the work of the artist Patrick Scott whose tapestries I grew up with, as he was a great friend of my family. I’m using a comparable technique in the tapestry making as I use in painting to contrast background and foreground with shapes in relief. In painting, I use very thick oil paint to form moving figures and in the tapestries, the cut wool stands clear of the loop background to give a third dimension.
The tapestries were made in Dixons (previously V’Soske Joyce) by the same craftsman who started making Patrick Scott’s designs in the 1960s. I liked the link to the work I was so familiar with and I felt I could work well with Dixons as they allowed me great access to the factory so that I could see and understand the complete process. This really helped me design the pieces, as it was a whole new medium for me to work in. I was completely seduced by the colours achieved in the dyeing of the yarn and the feel of the wool, linen, silk and bamboo. Hand-tufting with the cut and loop technique allowed me to replicate the technique that I use in my paintings of relief on a smoother background, which wouldn’t be possible with tapestry woven on a loom.
How and where do you work?
In my studio/gallery building on the pier in Castletownbere, Co Cork, I work mainly using oil on paper and oil on canvas. I figured out a method of translating the imagery for the tapestries by tracing a painted image and marking out shapes, then allocating those shapes various selected colours and threads for the tapestry making.
Have you had any mentors or muses in your artistic life?
As far as the tapestries are concerned Patrick Scott was an influence, I also particularly love his early bog paintings. I had already very much admired the paintings of Eithne Jordan before she was my tutor in NCAD and still love her work. Otherwise I’ve always loved the abstract American expressionist painters of the 1950s and 60s like Rothko, Frankenthaler, de Kooning, Pollock, and Louis. I really enjoy the work of contemporary Irish artist Dorothy Cross. Cranach is a favourite from the 1400s and Corot in the 19th-century and later Bonnard. If I had to pick one favourite artist it would be Christo for his courage and conviction in realising the scale of his projects.
What are you working on presently?
I’m presently working on some very large-scale fluid oils on Fabriano paper based on local wild flora and the Hawthorn tree currently in blossom in Beara.
Need to Know: Sarah Walker’s exhibition “Tree Drawings On The Sky,” is at the Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin 2 until June 22; www.oliversearsgallery.com.
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