A sail with a tale at Bantry House

Anne Tilby.

From ‘Spitting Image’ to ‘Fatherr Ted’, Anne Tilby has had an interesting career, and her latest exhibition is a shrine to the unique culture of boatbuilding, she tells Colette Sheridan.

British mixed media artist and production designer, Anne Tilby, who has an exhibition opening at Bantry House, has had an interesting and fun career.

Back in the 1980s, she was involved in production design for the satirical puppet show, Spitting Image,and remains in touch with the creators of the series which, at its height, had 18m viewers. (Tilby didn’t actually like the TV puppets, which included the iconic pointy-nosed Margaret Thatcher, as she found them too grotesque.)

She also designed sets for Father Ted, building them in studio. That work was all about “making it look like everything was falling apart”, says Tilby.

Tilby’s latest exhibition, Boatyard: An Bádchlós, is “a shrine to the unique culture and craft of boatbuilding”. It celebrates the unknown fishermen and craftsmen who lived their lives by the sea. It’s also anappreciation of the culture of slowdesign.

Working on it has brought back memories for Tilby — and a curious coincidence. The London-based artist, who also has a home with her partner in the Macgillicuddy Reeks in Kerry, built her first dinghy with her father when she was nine.

It was in the 1960s when The Mirror newspaper in the UK brought out a DIY kit with red sails. “It popularised sailing with the working classes because the kit made it affordable. Over the following decade, there were these boats everywhere on lakes with little red sails.”

While Tilby likes boats, she is“a really bad sailor. I get really sea-sick.” Through spending time inIreland, she has made “some male friends who love boats”.

When she decided to create a boat-themed art project, her original intention was to interview boat builders and layer their voices with atmosphere and a soundscape.

One of Anne Tilby's most recent works. She recycles materials for her art work as much as she can.

“But when I was trying to transcribe the dialogue, I couldn’t understand a lot of the words because they were boat language.

"So I decided to finish the transcription and then script (the story.) It’s more poetic than a documentary. While there are facts in it, it’s also quite mystical. It’s mixed media with about 50 prints that depict quite abstract parts of boats. I manipulated photographs with a computer to do this.”

To complete the project, Tilby was looking for an old sail. Serendipitously, she found one in Essex, “near where I built my first dinghy over 50 years ago.

"It belonged to the husband of a lady I met. It was stashed in a shed. I was advised to look up the history of the sail and it’s really interesting. There’s a registration number on it.

"The sail is 100 old. It is from a boat called Angele Aline which rescued 350 soldiers in the Dunkirk evacuation. The boat is still sailing. So I found a sail with a tale.”

Tilby, concerned about the environment, recycles materials for her art work, as much as she can. She despairs when she witnesses plastic pollution. “Plastic is an amazing material but it has been grossly misappropriated.

"It was made as a resilient material to last for over 100 years but people are putting it in all the wrong places for the wrong stuff. Plastic is actually a treasure. I have a plastic sail as part of the Boatyard exhibition.”

Following her project, Trash Factory, devised in 2000 to address the deluge of plastic pollution, Tilby began running creative workshops for all ages. She makes a fabric by ironing layers of plastic and using greaseproof paper.

One of Anne Tilby's most recent works. She recycles materials for her art work as much as she can.

In the Boatyard, Tilby has used junk plastic and recycled objects. She will be running family workshops in tandem with the exhibition. The workshops will involve working with scrap and single use plastics, marine life and marine knots.

Tilby’s soundscape collaborators are her partner, Steve Jone, and Irish poet, Pat Waters. They will perform at the opening of the exhibition. In October, the exhibition will move to The Grainstore at Ballymaloe.

Boatyard: An Bádchlós is at Bantry House from July 13-29.

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