Alan O’Riordan


West Cork artist puts her boxing sons on the canvas

Sarah Walker’s new work was inspired by her children’s choice of sport, writes Alan O’Riordan

West Cork artist puts her boxing sons on the canvas

FOR years, Beara-based artist Sarah Walker has been ferrying her two sons, Seamus and Emmet, to and from boxing bouts around the country, and regular training sessions at their nearest club, in Bantry.

The West Cork town is an hour’s drive from their remote home, near the village of Eyeries, so that’s a lot of mileage, and a lot of time spent in gym halls.

Her sons, now 17 and 15, have won provincial titles, boxed overseas and featured in national finals in Dublin, while Walker can now add to her mother’s pride a show of work called ‘The Boxing Diaries’.

The show is a series of oil-on- canvas works, showing scenes of young pugilists training on lonely beaches, and moments of sporting comradery.

It’s a very private expression of a mother’s dedication, but any parent can identify with it.

“It is very personal,” says Walker, “and that’s not something I usually would do.”

Walker’s eldest son, Seamus, became interested in boxing “completely off his own bat”, she says, from the age of two. Eventually, when Seamus was 11,Walker began bringing him to Bantry.

“Boxing was a whole new world to me,” she says, “and I became very interested in the intensity of it.There was a lot that I found interesting: the relationship between the kids and the trainers; the respect in it, for the opponent, for the referee. I started taking lots of photos.”

The figures in the paintings, though not abstract, are sketchily formed, accentuating the whirl of movement that characterises the frenetic action of a two-minute round.

The paintings are small, but the rings seem larger-than-life, the backdrops a blur of colour and darkness — accentuating those moments when the ring is all there is, a world in itself.

“I’ve done figures moving in big landscapes before,” says Walker, “I’ve done tiny runners, or, years ago, in India, figures working in paddy fields, but with the boxing paintings I wanted to keep them small, because the sport is really all about these intense moments.

“Whether it’s the trainer giving the advice to the contestant between rounds, or walking to the ring, the intent; or capturing that respect they all really uphold — shaking hands with the referee, touching gloves before starting again, the hug at the end.

“The idea that this is a sport, it’s not a fight. All that is really intense, so I wanted to keep them small, for that sense of concentration. Boxing really is short and concentrated.”

If Walker’s children chose a sport more associated with cities than with the remote west coast, so, too, is her own profession more associated with the metropolis.

Yet, since 1991, she has lived and worked as an artist in Beara, and now runs her own gallery and music venue (see TheHighTideClub on Facebook) out of a converted carriage house on the waterfront in Castletownbere.

Walker’s relationship with that beautiful part of the country dates back to her parents, the architect, Robin Walker, and the art critic, Dorothy Walker.

Robin Walker built a home overlooking Kenmare Bay, mixing extant farm buildings and modernist structures.

“We spent all our summer holidays here,” says Walker. “It’s a cluster of houses on a hillside. One of them is like a big studio; friends of my parents would have used it. When I finished college, I thought I’d go and stay there and work for a while, and I never really left. That was 1991.”

Parents typically have an exaggerated sense of their own power to determine where their children end up. But in Sarah Walker’s case, their choice of location for a holiday home proved auspicious.

She, in turn, has become literally a driving force behind two sporting passions which, ultimately, have fuelled her own work.

The Boxing Diaries is at the Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin.

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