The use of her son as a model helped artist Debbie Godsell imbue her work with a new sense of hope following a long grieving process for a brother lost to suicide, writes Colette Sheridan
ARTIST Debbie Godsell’s latest exhibition, The Infinite Whatever, marks the end of the grieving process she went through when she lost her brother to suicide 13 years ago.
Andrew Godsell was 32 when he died, leaving Debbie and her family devastated. The tragic event was the catalyst for Debbie, her son Fionn, and husband Mick Heffernan to move to the countryside. Since then, another boy was born. Milo, now aged 8, is a recurring figure in much of Debbie’s exhibition, along with images of the landscape around her home outside Macroom.
“I was a total city girl, living in Pearse Road in Cork with my family,” says Godsell. “Moving to Bawnmore, a townland 7km outside Macroom, was a bit of a culture shock. But it has totally informed my work. We moved to the countryside because first of all, it was what we could afford. We bought an old farmhouse on an acre of land. Mick [a set designer] and I have a studio each. There’s no shop or pub in the area but for a place that seems empty, there’s a lot going on which you don’t immediately see. There are standing stones and penal churches. It’s a very old, unvisited place.”
Godsell says that following the loss of her brother, she needed to go some place where she could find solitude. “Moving to the countryside started the healing process for me. I started walking constantly and there were certain areas I kept returning to. There is an outcrop of trees on top of a hill that I used in some of my prints. They’re a majestic sight in the middle of nowhere. I think their constant presence became very reassuring to me. I identified them as being in a threshold place or in the unknown.
“That led me to look at the idea of ‘thin’ places; the idea that heaven and earth are separate but in some places, they’re very close together. Maybe not ‘heaven and earth’, but earth and something else.
“That’s why the show is called The Infinite Whatever. It refers to places where you feel jolted out of reality or places where you feel at peace with yourself. The pieces in my show depict areas where I have experienced The Infinite Whatever.
“The phrase came from a travel article by New York Times writer Eric Weiner. It’s about being in places where things transcend the ordinary.”
Godsell says her son was a great model. “We walked and talked about energies and things like that. Children by their very nature are connected to thin places. They’re very wise. In my work, I reference a very famous American photographer called Nan Goldin. She has a body of work called Eden and After (which comprises photographs of children reproduced in a book). She thinks that children are from another realm altogether. That’s why I use the child in my work. There’s quite a religious feel from the prints even though I’m not religious but maybe spiritual.”
Godsell photographed Milo in her studio and photographed the landscape separately. “I then put everything together in the process of screen-printing. I’ve also picked out shapes and symbols in the landscape. There are a lot of arches. I was thinking of rainbows, a halo, and arches. I use the symbol of the cross as well.”
In much of the work, Godsell got Milo to look away from the camera. “He is consciously not making eye contact. I think it’s to do with loss. But this work is more hopeful than anything I’ve made in the last ten years.”
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