After the Storms – Aillebrack

Today, March 4th was the first day of Spring in Connemara, a month late but let’s not argue now that it’s here ( fingers crossed ).

Homework was abandoned for the afternoon as I took my three daughters to the beach at Aillebrack, near Ballyconneely straight after school. The temperature was a balmy eight degrees but it seemed much warmer – so good to feel some sun after so many months.

I parked the car at Tra Mhor and we walked the full length of the beach which was heavily strewn with seaweed after the storms last month.

 

Tra Mhor

 

 

 

 

The defense wall seems to have done its job for the most part although the fence on the top of the dunes was badly damaged.

 

Fence damage at Tra Mhor

 

 

 

 

We followed the path beyond Tra Mhor towards the next strand.

 

The walk between beaches

 

 

 

 

As we descend onto the beach, there is a lot more visible damage. Large chunks of the coast have fallen in and the area is strewn with rocks.

 

The descent onto the next strand

 

 

 

 

Nothing prepares us for the next little cove which has been almost completely covered with rock. A favourite spot, this particular beach was a beautiful white strand before the storms. It is now almost completely covered with large boulders and is almost unrecognisable – where have they all come from?

There is just a small semi circle of rock free sand left.

 

Rocks at Aillebrack

 

 

 

 

Looking back from where we have just walked. It is quite a sight as we have spent many afternoons here on what used to be sand. We are thankful nonetheless for the warm, calm weather, a hopeful turning point in the season.

 

After the storm at Aillebrack

 

Cut Bog

This painting is slightly more abstract than the previous two. The focus is a uniform well like shape in the foreground in which a pool of water reflects the blue sky. I have simplified a lot of the other shapes – the mountains and the patterns in the land and I’ve been bold with colour.

This is how the painting started – looking back, I think there is a good argument to say I should have stopped here and it’s not the first time I have thought this about my work.

 

Cut bog - first stage

 

 

 

 

Here’s the next stage. I’ve added some darker colour to create more contrast and I’ve started working on the grasses to the side of the pool using large brushes and lots of paint.

 

Cut bog , stage two

 

 

 

 

This is how it continues, more work on the grasses and I’ve brought back some of the blue in the pool.

 

Cut Bog - stage three

 

 

 

 

Here’s the finished piece. I’ve altered the line where the mountains recede from the land and I’ve sharpened up the grass shapes to the right of the pool.

Is this the better painting or should I have called it a day after the first sitting? I would welcome your response to this one.

In the meantime, I need to do some fast smaller works to loosen up my painting again.

 

Cut Bog, finished painting

Lecknavarna

This is the second painting in a recent series based on the Lecknavarna townland near Killary. Here’s how the painting began – it’s a 12″ x 16″ canvas board.

Blue and red dominate and these are the colours that stood out when I was there. The fiery red is unusual for this time of the year and the effect was accentuated by the low fall of light. The mountains ( the Ben Coonas ) complement with rich tones of blue. I’ve accentuated the depth of hue in this initial sketch and I make a mental note to do some more studies like this soon as there is an immediacy and an energy to the piece at this stage that would work on a smaller scale.

 

First stage of blue road painting

 

 

 

Here’s the next stage. I’ve used some dark ink on the mountains and I’ve added more detail to the road and middle ground.

 

Second stage, blue road painting

 

 

 

 

I work with paint and ink together at this next stage and add some green to the foreground to give it more definintion.

 

Third stage blue road painting

 

 

 

 

The mountains have become a little too dark and flat so I attempt to lighten them next.

Next stage, blue road painting

 

 

 

 

This continues below and at last I feel that the mountains are coming alive. I referred back to the initial sketch to help me achieve this. The paint is still wet when I take this photo.

 

next stage, blue road painting

 

 

 

This is the same stage but the paint has dried and dulled a little. Once again, this will deepen once the piece is varnished.

 

Blue Road - finished painting

 

Return to Painting 2014

 

I got back to painting this month once the kids returned to school. Armed with some photos taken near Killary, I chose two largish canvas boards ( 12″ x 16″ ) and one stretched canvas ( 12″ x 14″ ) to get started. I have been working on all three paintings over the last few weeks, bringing each of them along in stages. I took photos at the end of each painting session which proved useful as I was able to use the earlier images in some cases to develop the work at a later stage. I have written about each piece separately due to the number of photos – here’s how the first piece began below. I love this initial phase of getting the fresh paint onto the board, there’s a great freedom and an opportunity to be bold with broad sweeps of colour.

 

Painting first stage

 

 

 

 

This is the next stage – I’ve used a good deal more paint, working from the top down. I’m happy with the blue mountains and don’t develop these much further.

 

Painting second stage

 

 

 

 

The middle ground is next, probably the brightest part of this piece. I’m using ink and allowing it to bleed into the paint in places.

 

Painting stage 3

 

 

 

 

Next I start to work on the foreground – it still lacks definition. I want to get across the effect of looking into or through the earth by abstracting this part of the painting so I experiment with some different shapes.

 

Painting stage 4

 

 

 

 

I try a few bold upward sweeps using a large brush and some gold and white – I also use inks ( blues and reds ) through the paint. I decide to leave it at this stage.

 

Painting stage 5

 

 

 

 

The paint is dry in this final photo. The colours have dulled a little but these will be lifted again once the piece has been varnished.

 

Last stage Connemara Loop Painting

Killary

I took some photos along the roadside near Killary with a view to using them for some new paintings. I took these because certain elements attracted me – colours, the shape of the mountains in silhouette and the shape of the cut bog. I like this one below because of the warmth of the orange grasses against the blue sky – feels more like Australia than Connemara.

 

Hill near Killary

 

 

 

 

The light is still very low and it illuminates each blade of grass much like theatre lights. There is great drama too in the starkness of the mountains – they loom in the distance, great shadowy figures waiting in the wings.

This is a protected area so there are few signs of human interference save the ubiquitous telegraph poles and the road itself. You feel like you are standing in a bowl or an amphitheatre with mountains on almost all sides. I love the blue pool in this one below – it reflects the colour of the sky.

 

Killary

 

 

 

I have started a series of new landscapes based on these images which I will post about soon.

A Few Trees

Trees are a rarity here in Connemara as there are not many varieties that are able to thrive in the marshy soil or withstand the harshness of the wind and rain. I stopped to take a photo of this small copse at the side of the road near Leenane, about 20 miles northwest of Clifden. It was an unusually calm day and the rich colour of the grass and the calm pastoral nature of the grazing sheep caught my eye. I love the silhouette of the trees against the pale blue and white of the sky, also the low shaft of light at grass level in the photo above.  Here’s another photo below from a slightly different angle.

 

Trees near Leenane

 

 

 

 

This next tree was nearby on the other side of the road. I’m not sure if it is a hawthorn or a holly as I didn’t get close enough to inspect the leaves. It’s shape is typical of trees growing in exposed areas such as this, right on the edge of Killary harbour. Its has developed with the prevailing wind and it’s branches have literally swept over, forming a beautiful curve.

 

Curved tree near Leenane

 

 

 

 

This next tree was also close by and it is a Hawthorn, one of the hardiest native Irish trees. It has been adorned with pieces of cloth and is known as a rag tree. These have been placed here by people who believe that an illness might be cured by offering a scrap of clothing from the person who is unwell. Others tie the cloths in order to make a wish which they believe might come to pass as the cloth fades away.

 

Rag tree near Leenane

 

 

 

 

I’ve developed a love of trees since I’ve lived in Connemara and especially for these weather worn species that have been shaped by the harsh climate. Like the scraggy Connemara sheep that dot the hillsides, they are survivors here.

Renvyle – New Year’s Eve

Connemara was a wild and windswept place this New Year’s eve. I ventured out to the Renvyle peninsula, about 10 miles north of Clifden to meet a friend and walk along the White Strand. Passing through Letterfrack, I took note of the high tide at Ballinakill bay and sure enough the sea had overtaken the strand completely in Renvyle. The sea was washing hard over the remaining rocks and thrashing up against the dunes, no traces of sand left. The sound of it was remarkable – a kind of woosh as it pushed forward and then a roaring, crashing rumble as it pulled back over the stones.

 

The edges of White strand beach

 

 

 

 

Looking out to sea and beyond, the snow capped peaks of the Mweelrea mountains were clearly visible and then we spotted a group of black clad surfers in the water.

 

Mweelrea mountain in the distance

 

 

 

We watched them for several minutes – it was mesmerising..

 

Surfers

 

 

 

 

Surfers at White strand

 

 

 

 

A little further along the shore, we came across a rocky outcrop where we saw a shell midden. This is an ancient site consisting of shells, bone, vessel remnants as well as organic and other material. It is evidence of life here thousands of years ago where people gathered, ate, cooked and discarded their waste. My friend who is an environmentalist, informed me that this site is seven thousand years old, making it the oldest shell midden of its kind in Europe. As I take some photographs, I find it hard to conceive of this passage of time.

 

Shell Midden, Renvyle

 

 

 

 

Shell Midden - close up

 

 

 

 

One more photo as we took a last look down the beach. The sky had darkened, the cattle silhouetted against the last of the light. They seemed to be grazing on the very edges of earth here. It started to rain and invigorated by the salty air and the spray we made a dash for the car. I made a mental note to return here again soon.

 

Dark skies at Renvyle

Clifden Castle

I took a walk around Clifden castle at the week end with my family.

John D’Arcy (1785 -1839 ) founder of Clifden, built the castle for himself and his family while the town was being constructed. It dates from about 1818 and remained in the D’Arcy family until shortly after John died. Due to financial difficulties, it then went up for sale and became the source of a series of disputes that have lasted over a century. Today it is owned by several families which sadly means that it is not likely to be restored any time in the near future.

We walked to the castle via the Beach road, right to the end and then along the cliff until the castle came into view across the fields. An awkward approach on foot, it is nonetheless a dramatic one as you first see the building ( now a ruin ) as a kind of grey specter surrounded by fields and facing out towards the open Atlantic. The area is completely unspoiled and there is a wildness to these fields, a timelessness about them. There are cattle and some beautiful white Connemara ponies on the land so the ground is well trodden and lumpy underfoot. It is easy to imagine the castle in another time as it is such a commanding building on the very edges of this place. I decided to take my photos in black and white which I felt suited the atmosphere.

The colour one below gives a good impression of it’s situation. All the other photos are my own.

 

Clifden castle in colour

Clifden castle from the Sky Road

 

 

 

 

Clifden castle - front view

Clifden castle from the front

 

 

 

Here are some more photos, taken from the eastern side. I took these through the gnarled branches of the old trees. Something about these reminds me of Wuthering Heights, the ominous house in the wild moors.

 

Clifden castle from a different angle

 

 

 

Clifden castle from another angle

 

 

 

More drama on the approaching path where some sheep wool has snagged in the barbed wire.

 

Sheep wool on barbed wire near Clifden castle

 

 

 

I took several photos of the Connemara ponies but unfortunately most of them blurred. This is the best of the lot – I think the sharp movement of the animal suggests wildness again and drama.

 

Pony near Clifden castle

Mannin Beach

I made a trip to Ballyconneely last week, a short drive south of Clifden. I brought my camera and made a quick detour to Mannin as the weather was so good. I normally associate the end of November with a certain gloom – receding light, rain and bitter cold but here we are, into December and still there are clear bright days. There was real warmth in the sun on this morning and the sea was calm and inviting and empty, except for a few bird tracks in the damp sand. Here’s the approach from the field below – the mossy grass is still vivid and bright. It’s deliciously spongy underfoot, feels a bit like an expensive carpet.

 

Mannin beach - the approach

 

 

 

 

The Twelve Bens mountain range is clear in this one.

 

Mannin beach from the approaching field

 

 

 

Here’s the cover photo again. There was hardly a breath in the air – the water was completely still and a perfect mirror for the pastel sky. All this blue seems infused with pink.

 

Beach at Mannin

 

 

 

A last look down the beach.

 

Mannin beach

Land of Weather

Cover image ‘Land of Weather’ by Karinna Gomez

 

(This piece features in the December edition of the Connemara Journal.)

 

About  a year ago, I bought two etchings by an artist called Karinna Gomez. Karinna is from Fairbanks, Alaska in the United States. She makes small series of prints – mezzotints, woodcuts and etchings, sometimes hand coloured with water colours. To my shame, these prints were only recently taken out of their packaging and given the frames they deserve.  Now that they have pride of place in my home I can honestly say that I take pleasure from them every single day.

There is something wonderfully mysterious about this icy place, so isolated and exposed, it reminds me a little of Connemara. I love the contrast between the white hills and valley and the dark central group of trees, lit by red and orange speckles. These are ‘persimmons’ – an orange red fruit that grows on the ebony tree and which can tolerate and adapt to a wide range of climates, including harsh northern weather. They beam like tiny beacons in this wonderful scene and seem to me to be symbols of hope and optimism which is perhaps fitting as we reach the end of another year.

 

Persimmons in the snow

 ‘Persimmons in the Snow’ by Karinna Gomez

 

 

 

December is a good time for reflection and I feel grateful to be able to say that I have had a rich and fulfilling year. I thank God too that my family are all in good health. I know that this is not so for everyone and  I think of some of my closest friends especially who have had a difficult twelve months for different reasons. Whatever our circumstances, I think it is part of the human condition to look forward to the coming year with hopefulness and expectation. These are some of the thoughts which I have brought to this poem below as a kind of homage to this beautiful etching.

 

 

 

Land of Weather

after the etching ‘Land of Weather’ by Karinna Gomez

 

 

 

A

star

looks down

on that snowy

mountainscape.

It is so cold there,

wild abandoned place.

Vastness and silence stretch

sharply over snow and ice,

empty hills retreat into fathomless black.

Billow of cloud rushed by a northern breeze,

braced in the heart – a startle of persimmon trees.

 

Survivors huddle together.

Nest of tangled debris,

silver twigs, tiers

of frozen leaves,

scattered boughs.

Berries pulse a blood red tint,

flashes of gold flood

the moonless night –

 

Yearnings

of an earth bound

constellation.

 

 

 

Deborah Watkins

 

 

If you would like to see some more of Karinna’s work, you can visit her shop at www.etsy.com  – type KarinnaGomez in the search box. Her works are for sale at remarkably low prices, so why not treat yourself or a loved one to something special.