Interview with Rosie McGurran

Cover image ‘The Black faced lamb’ by Rosie McGurran


Rosie McGurran is a painter who lives and works in the village of Roundstone in Connemara. Originally from Belfast, Rosie studied fine art at the University of Ulster. She has received many awards including the Conor prize for figurative painting at the Royal Ulster Academy of which she is now a member. Rosie has her own gallery in Roundstone ‘The Northern Star.’ I met up with her recently to talk about her work and her practices.



Why did you decide to live in Roundstone?

I was always fascinated by the light and landscape of Roundstone. I was invited to the Arts Week residency in 2000 and I decided to stay to see what it was like in the Winter.  Twelve years later and I’m still here. I was also aware of the legacy of all the artists who had spent time in Roundstone in the past and I wanted to find out more.



What are your favourite subjects? What do you paint?

My main focus in on people, I like to tell stories in the work and set the figures in the local landscape like a parallel world that we can’t see all the time.


'Blue faced doll' by Rosie McGurran

 ‘Blue faced doll’ by Rosie McGurran




Where do you get your inspiration? What other artists have influenced you?

When I was at art college I was primarily interested in painting the human figure, I also had a strong idea that I wanted to create a figurative language that was not quite literal or totally realistic. I was influenced by Stanley Spencer at that time and the Glasgow painters of the 80’s/90’s.



Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?

There is a definite autobiographical thread to my work. I use elements of things I see every day. Sometimes I have a very strong idea of what it means, sometimes I have no idea. I think it is important for me not to over explain the work as the act of making it is explanation enough.


Photo of Rosie

 Rosie with one of her paintings




What mediums do you use?

I work in acrylic on canvas, pastel, watercolour and charcoal, not all at once though. I love drawing – it is my favourite way of working. I always work on a dark surface, I paint on a very dark red canvas, it makes the colours more vibrant. When drawing, I work on brown paper – I enjoy drawing the images out of the darkness.



What themes crop up in your work? Do these themes re-occur?

Recent recurring themes would be the sea and the landscape, water has always been a strong theme. I love the sea and I don’t like being away from it.


'Spring - Inishlacken' by Rosie McGurran

‘Spring Inishlacken’ by Rosie McGurran 




What are you reading, looking at or listening to at the moment to feed your work?

I have just finished reading ‘Art in America’ by Ron McLarty – it is a hilarious story about an unpublished writer who ends up in the depths of the Mid-West trying to write a play. I listen to BBC Radio 4 constantly – I enjoy the arts coverage and the documentaries and plays. I saw a lot of art recently in New York and I went to see the Government collection in the Ulster Museum in Belfast last week. That was an amazing exhibition, a mixture of traditional painting and contemporary art – it was probably one of the most inspirational shows I have seen.



Where do you work and how do you make the space work for you?

I work in my studio at home, it is very private and the phone doesn’t work so I can really shut myself away. I need plenty of space and I use a large piece of glass as a palette and set out the colours in sequence. When I finish a body of work I scrub down the palette to start again fresh.



What are you working on at the moment? Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events?

At present I am working towards an exhibition with Gavin Lavelle for Bog Week in Letterfrack. I will also be showing in Clifden Arts Week. I am hosting an exhibition by Margared Iriwin as part of the Bealtaine Festival in May. Also I will be holding the Inishlacken Project residency in June. In November I am going to Rome to spend six weeks preparing a solo exhibition.




What is the best piece of advice you have been given? What advice would you give to an aspiring painter?

The best piece of advice I was given – someone once told me if you don’t get out of bed in the morning and go in to your studio no one will care. It is your own personal responsibility to make the work and I would tell any aspiring artist that.


Inspiration – Kathe Kollwitz

I have been thinking about the importance of having access to meaningful imagery in ordinary life. There is something immeasurable about the affect of a beautiful painting or drawing and it need not be an original work. This brings me to Kathe Kollwitz, a German artist about whom I thought I would write here. I have a number of reproductions of her work in my home that continue to inspire and make an impression on me when I look at them. I am also fortunate enough to have visited the museum made in her honour in Berlin, the memory of which still lingers.

Kathe Kollwitz was a German painter, printmaker and sculptor who lived through two World Wars. She was born in 1867 and died at the end of the second world war in 1945. Her work was grounded in naturalism, that is to say that she drew her inspiration from real life around her. It developed a strong expressionistic style later as she sought to convey the plight of her people, especially through her prints and political posters about ordinary human struggle in wartime. This drawing below is called ‘The Child’s head on his Mother’s arms‘ – 1900.


Drawing: the Child's head on it's Mother's Arms, by Kathe Kollwitz
Image taken from else-where at


Kollwitz began her training as a painter but moved in to printmaking – etchings, lithographs and wood cuts and finally sculpture. She made drawings throughout her life. Her early drawings have a painterly feel about them and later they become bulky and voluminous, as if sculpted. Kollwitz lost a son in the first world war and a grandson in the second and she suffered serious bouts of depression throughout her life. In spite of this, she never lost the ability to transend her own suffering and portray the simple beauty in ordinary human moments. This next drawing demonstrates this well and it is called ‘Mother and Sleeping Child‘ – c.1913.


Drawing: Mother and Sleeping Child, by Kathe Kollwitz
Image taken from David Owsley Museum of Art, Ball State University


I marvel at how she has managed to evoke such tenderness and expression with these broad sweeping marks. The next piece below is a lithograph made in 1903. It is called ‘Working Woman in Profile‘.


Painting: Working Woman in Profile, by Kathe Kollwitz
Image taken from University of Virginia Art Museum


The head and the hands are the only parts of the body she has portrayed, as with much of her work. The rest of the form, in shadow here, is completed by the imagination as is the fire that casts it’s glow on the woman’s cheeks. I think the next piece below has a great physical presence to it. It is a crayon lithograph from 1920 called ‘Pensive Woman‘.


Drawing: Pensive woman, by Kathe Kollwitz
Image taken from


Finally, here is an image of perhaps the best known sculpture by Kollwitz called ‘Mother with her dead Son‘. This piece is in fact a copy of Kollwitz’s original and it was placed is located in the New Guard house in Berlin as a memorial to all victims of war and violence. The power of the piece is intensified by the starkness of the interior of the room and its single circular roof light (not shown).


Sculpture: Mother with her Dead Son, by Kathe Kollwitz
Photo taken by D. Holmes Chamberlin Jr. architect


This piece is deeply moving and an apt memorial. As with her drawings and prints, the expression comes from the head and limbs – hands, legs and feet – that emerge from the bulk and folds of carved fabric. I cannot fail to be impressed by the versatility of this great artist and her ability to convey her art with equal force and eloquence through such a variety of media. However, it is the great beauty and humanity present in all of her work that continues to inspire and affect me most.