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What inspires me?

I started painting 6 years ago. I’d had this romantic notion of being a painter but now the time had come, I didn’t actually have a clue what I was going to paint!

I was given a book, one of those huge hard backed ones full of beautiful glossy photographs of African women. They were decorated with fabulous jewellery. I decided to try and paint one of these women. I was really fascinated by the tiniest beads and the repetition of the strands. It seemed that by repeating the same object several times, they somehow took on a different meaning.

I had a big problem painting from photographs. Not only were these copyrighted but it felt like I was cheating. My parents had discouraged me from becoming an artist because I’d spent most of my childhood copying pictures. They felt that this was not showing true talent or skill. I don’t really agree with this, it’s a different art form, but for me, I wanted to be original. I also wanted to have a message, not just paint for the sake of painting.

I was lucky enough to meet an artist who had taught art most of his life. I didn’t like his paintings but he had showed me one or two of his more sculptural pieces which were very quirky indeed. I realised that it was this quirkiness that I liked. He offered to critique the work I had done so far and see if he could get me thinking about which direction I should take.

He loved the zebras I had done and said it was a very well executed painting. That gave me hope. He looked at all my paintings and held his hands over different areas in like a circle fashion, like a tunnel and looked through. It made me think of a lens, zooming in. He said that there were areas in all my paintings where the detail was excellent and that I had obviously zoomed into those areas that interested me the most. The last thing he told me was that I should ask myself what it was that really interested me and it would be this that I painted well.

After that meeting, I just couldn’t paint. I couldn’t think of anything that I really, really wanted to paint. There seemed to be so many things. I spent months just sitting in my studio, not painting, but thinking. I also spent a lot of time making decorative objects for the home, mostly with beans, whatever type of bean I could find. I would spend hours just gluing them in a repetitive pattern. People couldn’t work out what these objects were made of and that fascinated me. Again, the repetition of one object took on a different meaning when grouped together.

I also wanted to paint though and it just wasn’t happening the way I wanted. I went to Vienna for a small break and I spent my time going round some exhibitions trying to get inspiration. I came across an artist called Eva Hesse. She was an American artist who had died at the age of 34 from a brain tumour. She never really got to the place she wanted to be with her art. It made me want to try harder. Her early works were mostly drawings, all quite naive which I didn’t like very much. I was rather bored of this exhibition but then, right at the very end were some of her works where she had used materials and these works were like 3 dimensional, though still hanging like a painting. In several of them she had used string. I was completely fascinated. It was as if a light bulb had been switched on. I realised that I could put all my creative skills into my paintings!!!

I couldn’t wait to get into my studio after that. Because I’d been working with beans so much, I took some digital photos of these so that I could blow them up on the computer and really see the detail. The skin on the black eyed beans was crinkled and ideal to be represented in string. This is how I came about doing ‘string beans’, a key piece of work. The repetition of the rows of string creates a rhythm and then when the string is over-painted, it undertakes an metamorphic transformation. It’s totally fascinating.

I realised also that most people would not look at nature this closely. They would not study a tomato before they put it in their salad the way I do or photograph a lemon and blow it up out of all proportion on their computer. Here was my message! I could show people how beautiful these things are if only we took the time to look properly. Here was a way for me to show people.

Since looking at nature in this way, I look at everything differently. I see flowers as folded pieces of fabric and tiny knots of string for the stamens, I see ridges in shells as bits of string, mushrooms as fibreglass, lichen as bits of clay etc. etc. I don’t see things in a ‘normal’ way anymore which has lead people to think I’m slightly mad. It’s become like an obsession, a compulsion. Now I’ve started this process, I really don’t think I can stop. I have so many ideas and nowhere near enough time to do all I have to do! Must go!!!


Journal Comments

  • Virginia McGowan
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