‘Go with your gut instinct’: Meet ceramicist and gallery owner Etain Hickey

‘Go with your gut instinct’: Meet ceramicist and gallery owner Etain Hickey

What’s your background?

When I left art college, I worked in various potteries before I moved to West Cork with my husband in the early 1980s where we set up a pottery.

We did wholesale tableware for over 20 years for shops like Kilkenny Design. I decided to open my own shop then, because as well as doing tableware, we had always been working for exhibitions, so it was not to just have a shop, but to also have a small gallery to show West Cork crafts.

We opened our shop in 2005. When I started off, I wanted to just have Irish crafts but people were looking for cheaper gifts, so I went down the fair-trade and ethical route. I now have a mix of Irish crafts and fair-trade gifts.

Featuring in Etain Hickey’s ‘Beasties, Birds and Friends’ exhibition is ‘Tony Sleeping CU2’ by Geraldine Murphy, enamel on copper.
Featuring in Etain Hickey’s ‘Beasties, Birds and Friends’ exhibition is ‘Tony Sleeping CU2’ by Geraldine Murphy, enamel on copper.

What’s a typical workday like for you?

It depends on what time of the year it is. For example, the other morning, I did two hours of pottery before I went into the shop, because I was trying to get something finished and I would often come home in the evenings and do another couple of hours in the studio. I try not to do that too much, but in the summer, it’s just so busy.

In the winter, it is very quiet so for the last two to three years, I actually close the shop in January and February and then I only open three days a week until the summer, so then I am half the time in the shop and half the time in the studio.

Tell us about a recent or favourite project or design you have worked on?

Every summer I run exhibitions — I invite different painters or artists, using a mix of materials and colours, and I pick a different theme every year. This year, our most recent exhibition was called Lighthouses, Beacons and Buoys. It was fantastic. I worked to the theme myself.

I feature a lot of animals and hares in my work, and the theme of our new exhibition, which has just started, fits in with that: Beasties, Birds and Friends — with friends meaning your dogs and cats.

Again, I have made some new work for that. I really love mixing things up between the themes and the makers.

What’s your design style?

Ecletic would be the word for me.

‘St Gobnait with her Bees’ by Etain Hickey.
‘St Gobnait with her Bees’ by Etain Hickey.

What inspires your work?

Living in West Cork, you couldn’t not be inspired by your surroundings.

I also love textiles and ceramic art and fabric printing, so that would be an influence as well.

What’s your favourite trend (if you have any)?

I would never follow trends — I don’t like them — so I always try to buck the trend, if anything.

What’s your most treasured possession?

It would be my own pottery tools. We make some of our own tools. They become an extension of your wrist and hand.

Who is your favourite designer, or style inspiration?

I absolutely love the artist Henri Matisse. He was known for his use of colour and pattern, both of which feature heavily in my ceramics. He was also a fluid draughtsman.

In his old age when he was ill and could no longer paint, he created a large body of work in cut-out paper collage. His was the art of balance, purity and serenity.

I also love the pottery of Michael Cardew, a pioneering English potter who worked in Africa and brought back lots of influences from there. Again, there is a fluidity in his work that I love.

‘Girl with Birds’ by Eithne Roberts, encaustic painting.
‘Girl with Birds’ by Eithne Roberts, encaustic painting.

What would be a dream project for you to work on?

I would like to collaborate with somebody else, particularly to do a themed exhibition that we could travel around the country with, out of West Cork and into bigger venues.

Have you any design tips?

Don’t be afraid and just go with your gut instinct.

- Facebook: @EtainHickeyCollections

- Instagram: @etainhickeyclonakilty

- The Beasties, Birds and Friends exhibition runs from August 7 to September 6 at Etain Hickey Collections, 40 Ashe St, Clonakilty, P85 V308

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