Artists find a shore thing in West Cork landscapes

Cormac Boydell

A new exhibition at West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen features a range of artists who pay homage to the local environs, writes Alan O’Riordan

THE landscape of West Cork has been attracting artists for generations, both as a subject and as a place to live. Of course, for most artists those two things inevitably become intermingled. “If you live somewhere, the spirit of that place seeps into the work,” says the ceramic maker Cormac Boydell.

He’s lived near Allihies since the 1970s, when he swapped Australia and a career as a geologist for the remote Beara Peninsula. Boydell’s newest works deliberately evoke the local landscape, and feature in Nearshore a group show at Uillinn, the new West Cork Arts Centre in Skibbereen.

Artists find a shore thing in West Cork landscapes

One of Cormac Boydell’s pieces in Nearshore

Boydell’s pieces for Nearshore include such local landmarks as the Fastnet Lighthouse and Bull Rock. The latter, near Dursey Island, is known in Irish as ‘Teach Donn’. “He was god of the underworld,” says Boydell of Donn. “In early folk memory around here, it was considered that when people died they went out there, a place of transition between life and death.”


In addition to Boydell, Ann Davoren, director of the West Cork Arts Centre, has brought together painters Karen Hendy and John Kingerlee, and sculptor Kathleen Standen for Nearshore. “I wanted to bring a group together that had an interest in that point where the land meets the sea,” she says. “And West Cork is an area of peninsulas and islands and varying meeting points for the land and sea, from sandy beaches to cliffs to muddy estuaries to man-made harbours and slipways, and things like that.” Standen’s work is based on her beachcombing of the shoreline, with found objects such as buoys, winches, and pulleys her starting point.


detail from a painting by John KingerleeD

“The work for this show really reflects the colour and light along the coastline,” says Davoren.

Karen Hendy is relatively newly based in Schull. Her work for the show is a large-scale triptych. “Again,” says Davoren, “the influence of place is very strong in her work. She’s from the midlands and has only been there a couple of years but the work has shown changes. She’s made a very large-scale painting and she’s used the physical things you would find in the landscape; the black polythene that is used to wrap silage bales, sand, and gravel from the shoreline.

“She’s really worked very physically with these materials to create what could be a bird’s eye view of the shoreline.”

John Kingerlee has four new paintings in the show. In their colours they evoke the ever-changing palette of the West Cork shoreline, which can range from Mediterranean azure and gold to greys of gravel and stormy seas. The highly textured works evoke sea haze and mist, and consider the sea powers of erosion, the balance between land and sea.

Davoren devised the show in less-than-ideal circumstances, she says. Nearshore is only the second to hang in the striking new centre, and she was working on it before the gallery had even been finished. “I was pleasantly surprised,” she says, “I’m delighted with the resonances between the works. There’s a difference of scale, but a shared tone of colour across them. The textural quality of all the works bring it together.”

It feels fitting that a show in which local artists consider their surroundings is being housed in a gallery that has asked locals to do the very same. With its bold geometric shape and its Corten steel tower, Uilinn has made an indelible mark on Skibbereen, attracting both positive and negative reactions.

Davoren says the use potential the town has seen in the building in the last few months has increased the sense of acceptance.

“It does offer a lot,” she says. “In the previous premises we had reached capacity. We couldn’t do anymore. Now, we have two gallery spaces, a performances space. We’ve got three artists’ studios. The expectation and demands from the local community have been high and we’ve been responding to that. We’ve had lots of proposals from community groups, we’ve been able to expand our schools’ programme. We’ve increased our programmes all round and our visitor numbers have doubled.”

Nearshore is at Uillinn, the West Cork Arts Centre, until June 11




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