FOOD, be it the biscuits our grandmother gave us, the tea our mothers bought, or our favourite summer ice-creams, has a hugely important place in our memories, even more so for emigrants.
Whether it be Tayto crisps, Mikado biscuits or Barry’s tea, food is a connection to home and family, and Irish artist, Simone Walsh, (www.simonewalsh.net), who lived in New Zealand, says her Irish Larder paintings of familiar sweets and biscuits are selling like ‘hot cakes’ with the diaspora abroad.
Her art is now also printed on aprons, shopping bags, tea towels, coasters and mugs — all items that can be easily posted abroad to loved-ones who have emigrated. “We are flat out with orders, but it’s terrific. It’s an honour that people are so enthusiastic about my work,”Simone says.
Originally from Dublin, Simone is now based in Wexford, with her husband, Joe, whose background is in sales and who frames Simone’s prints. However, Simone’s “emigration or far-reaching art” happened by accident.
“I worked in graphic design, but I’m a painter and, until 2008, I was doing all original paintings, but, in 2008, the recession kicked in and people didn’t have that kind of money anymore and we felt the pinch very quickly. Fortunately, I always had high-resolution copies of my work, so I was able to do prints. The Kilkenny Group took us on and that changed our business and opened up new markets.”
The “food dimension” to Simone’s work had not yet evolved, but it was a tiny seed germinating. She was in New Zealand in 1992 for the opening of the first Irish pub there and noticed how the Irish immigrants talked about food they missed.When she visited Ireland and brought back Bewley’s mugs to New Zealand, it triggered “comforting” tea, coffee and bun memories for her Irish friends. “This stuff only meant something to the Irish, though — nobody else understood,” she says.
“Then, I started painting kitchens, and kitchen tables, and put in products like USA biscuits and Brennan’s bread, and the comments were all about the food. One day, my family were down in Wexford and I was taking pics at a pub-cum-grocers that had old shelving and Irish products, and I put them on Facebook and the reaction wasn’t about us — the comments were all about the food. It was phenomenal — that’s when I knew I was onto something special.”
Simone painted the first Irish larder in 2012 and brought in prints to Wexford Gallery owner, Denis Collins. “Denis said he was getting a great reaction and Kilkenny said it was flying out of the shop.”
From that point on, Simone was painting and making prints of sweets, Irish breakfasts, chocolate bars, favourite ice-creams and familiar Irish groceries from the fridge or pantry. Simone has run online competitions to find out what products Irish people want to see included in her art.
Now, Simone has just brought out her textile range of quintessential Irish products: aprons, shopping bags, tea towels and oven gloves. “It is true that when you go abroad you become ‘more Irish’. I’ve found that people want to display their Irishness, to be seen carrying one of my shopping bags or wearing an Irish Larder apron at a barbie in Australia. Of course, only the Irish will get it. It’s like an in-joke among them, but it’s a conversation starter about home,” she says.
Always evolving her work and searching for new ideas, Simone “did the Irish Gathering last year, which was a great success.”
Her newest collection, called Ewe and Me, is about being Irish as personified by sheep.
You can buy quirky sheep having a pint in Temple Bar, wearing the Irish rugby jersey, having the craic on St Patrick’s Day, enjoying a cup of tea, or getting lost trying to follow directions through the Rebel County. Like a lot of Simone’s pictures, you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy them, but it helps.
“While a lot of people buying my pictures are emigrants, or are having my art bought for them as a souvenir by family and friends, there are just as many Irish people living in Ireland who like my work being in their home.
“Throughout my career, I’ve painted Croke Park, the Wild Atlantic Way and scenes from every county in Ireland. There’s a little bit of Irish there for everyone; wherever they are and whatever their tastes,” she says.
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