My Glossy Weekend: Maureen McDonnell

Painting, pottering and planning are priorities for the owner of the new STONE STEP ART GALLERY

Photograph by Doreen Kilfeather

We live along the coast in south Dublin and the sea has a huge influence on our lives. It’s the first thing I look at every morning when I wake up. Calm or stormy, it’s a great start to the day. Since my children have grown up, the weekend has taken on a different structure. It usually starts with a walk into Dalkey village on Saturday for coffee or breakfast, usually at the Corner Note café. Then it’s the long way home, walking past Coliemore harbour, up Vico Road and down to Killiney Beach. Since moving to Dalkey, I keep promising I will start sea swimming again but I’m a fair weather swimmer and wait for temperatures to hit the 20s before I dip.

When the children were younger, the boys were hugely involved in sport, so most of our summer weekends were spent watching cricket matches, particularly sitting along
“The Wall” at Pembroke Cricket Club in Sandymount
a great spot for sunbathing and chatting. It’s still one of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Coliemore harbour

Usually we drive into the city. Visiting galleries is a hobby and my husband is a sucker for a photographic exhibition, especially at IMMA. Invariably we always have the same conversation about where to eat afterwards. Occasionally we try somewhere new but we favour old haunts like Bloom’s Brasserie on Baggot Street or Kilkenny Shop on Nassau Street.

I’m now on my second career; my husband and I worked together in the floristry business, and had a couple of flower shops in Dublin. With a grown-up family came the freedom of choosing a new direction, so we sold the business and I set up Stone Step Art Gallery [45 Booterstown Avenue, Dublin 4] late last year. The building is a local landmark, which everyone remembers as Mr Lysaght’s shop The Nook. It was such a perfect space for an art gallery – the name derives from two beautiful granite steps in the centre of the space. My aim for the gallery is to exhibit large-scale, good quality contemporary art but not at big prices, from accredited artists, and to encourage young people to start a collection.

Stone Step Gallery. Photograph by Doreen Kilfeather

My first introduction to contemporary art was as a teenager. I wandered into what was then called The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, now Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane.
I remember being fascinated by an enormous painting of a pink Iced Caramel. I went back many times just to see it and I’ve had a passion for contemporary art ever since. I always knew art was going to play an important role in my life.

Saturday evening is always spent with friends, usually out for dinner or entertaining at home. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and am currently exploring vegetarian cookery. I find I eat less and less meat; I’m not trying to save the planet but if we don’t need it to survive why kill other species? In summer, weather permitting, we stay in the garden until late evening.

Cordoba, Spain

We also visit Spain regularly and have done so for the last 17 years. I admit I was a confirmed Italophile and it took some convincing to get me to Spain. From the first visit I felt at home. We bought a small place in Andalucia a few years ago and we are within two hour’s drive from Granada, Málaga, Seville and Cordoba. Discovering Spain has been such a positive experience in my life. I don’t know if I would have started the gallery if I hadn’t discovered the art and artists there. Traditional Spanish artists who influenced me were of course Picasso and Dali and a younger contemporary artist, Miguel Barcelo from the Balearic Isles.

Another constant in our lives is an annual roadtrip. The year we met we drove from London up the east coast of England, across the northern coast of Scotland and
down the western coast to Wales. We followed that up with a drive to Sicily and there have been many more trips since. We’re finalising plans for this year’s trip which begins in Rosslare, taking the ferry to Pembroke. I have always wanted to explore Cornwall and I am also using the time to stay and eat at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant and take in some of the galleries in St Ives. Then on to Devon to take the ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff.

Aubeterre-sur-Drone, France

Along the way we’ll stay on a vineyard in Charente near Aubeterre-sur-Drone and stock up on some wine. I will also be stopping in Barcelona and Cordoba to visit artists Fernando Molero and Jaime Jurado, who exhibit at the gallery, and to see their new work for future exhibitions.

I also bring my paints and easel to sketch and paint along the way. I paint in oils but when I travel I take acrylics. I am a landscape painter; the biggest influence on my art has been the abstract expressionists, especially Joan Mitchell.

The trip to Spain is like a decompression chamber or a slow puncture – there is a gradual change of pace and mindset, so I’m fully relaxed and acclimatised by the time we arrive. The car is parked at this point. There are wonderful hill walks in the area which meander through little villages like Istan, or through the Sierra de Las Nieves, which is populated with herds of very tame Andalusian mountain goats. A trip to Málaga is always on the cards at weekends to visit our favourite tapas restaurants – La Tranca and Mesón Mariano – as well as visit the Picasso Museum.

Back in Dublin, if the weather permits, Sunday starts with breakfast in the garden, followed by a pot of tea and a stack of newspapers. The only conversation being: “are you finished with that bit yet” or, “put the kettle on”.

NoLita, Dublin

I used to spend Sunday afternoons in the studio painting, but since we moved house there is more effort required in getting the paints out, clearing a space to paint, and then leaving the mess behind until the next time. However, I always make time to potter in the garden. I sow wild flowers and grow simple things I can eat like lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, berries and always courgettes.

Indian cuisine is our favourite, and if we are on our own on Sunday evening we head to Kinara Kitchen in Ranelagh, where the mughul kopra is my go-to order every time. If I haven’t seen the family during the week then we make a point of getting together in the evening. Sometimes we have pizza at NoLita in South Great George’s Street or Pizza Yard in Ranelagh, or else everyone comes to the house for a big Sunday dinner. We have grown from a family of five to a family of eleven in recent years and I am enjoying this. I had my children when I was young and I still think it was one of my better decisions.

Monday is the best day of the week for me, perhaps because I was born on a Monday. I’ve never had the dreaded Sunday blues. Life is good.

www.stonestepgallery.com

Penny McCormick

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