VIVIENNE Roche is exhibiting on home turf for the first time in nearly 30 years. She’s lived and worked by the sea in Garrettstown, Co Cork, for 40 years, and despite nearby Kinsale having been something of a hub for arts and crafts, she hasn’t shown work there for three decades.
Along with four other Cork-based artists, Roche is showing her work in Take Five, an artist-led exhibition in Cork County Council’s dedicated exhibition space in Kinsale, the Old Mill building.
“It was really nice to make this show together because we’re all dotted around the county,” Roche says. “There’s a very large community of artists working in County Cork, and even though some of us are in touch with each other, it’s really nice to show your work with people you wouldn’t normally be making an exhibition with.”
Despite being best known as a sculptor, Roche has chosen three works that focus on the drawn element in her art for the exhibition. “Two are what I would describe as ‘sculptural drawings’ to a very large scale,” she says. “The idea of the exhibition is that it was artist- generated; choosing what went in was a matter of the relationship between the different artists.”
Echoes of Roche’s home by the sea can be found in much of her work, where elements of nature dominate; she has had periods of working with wind and light, and glass to represent flowing water.
“In the very beginning, I used to make wind-inspired works with spinnaker cloth, but later I made works where I translated glass into flowing water,” she says. “I made a particular body of work, Flow, in Fingal County Hall, that was a little stream crossing the beach that I translated into glass, plaster and bronze. So certainly, where I live has influenced me hugely at different times and in different ways.”
A recent return to an earlier sound motif in her work (she’s the author of the large cast bronze bell that sits at the entrance to Cork’s Crawford Gallery) has seen her produce a series of smaller-scale ‘Climate Bells’, one of which was presented to Pope Francis when President Michael D Higgins visited the Vatican in May.
A member of Aosdána, a founder of Cork Sculpture Factory, and a member of the Board of the National Gallery of Ireland, Roche is about as well-established an Irish artist as possible, and yet she rejects off-hand the notion of the “commercially successful” Irish artist, saying that the market in Ireland simply isn’t big enough for such a term to apply.
“I certainly have been lucky to work and live and make art for my life,” she says. But like most artists, Roche’s early years following her graduation in the 1970s were spent “trying to survive, and trying to keep working”.
She has a cautious welcome for the recent announcement of an ‘artist’s dole’ pilot scheme, which she thinks may be of benefit for some emerging artists.
“I think the visual arts had only just begun thriving in a sustainable way in Ireland when the whole country was hit by the economic downturn, and we’re only just beginning to climb out of that very difficult period, so anything that helps artists to survive can only be a good thing.”
But such measures, and the much-hyped Creative Ireland Programme, can’t replace the need for a serious injection of funding into arts, Roche warns.
“I think money is the key, rather than new structures,” says Roche, a former member of the Arts Council, says. “The arts have managed to do amazing things with the resources that have been there but we need a serious injection again, not just a slow move upwards.”
- Take Five runs until the July 21 at the Old Mill in Church Square, Kinsale, featuring Vivienne Roche, Stefan Syrowatka, Charles Tyrrell, Sarah O’Flaherty, and Katherine Boucher Beug