Letterfrack’s annual Sea Week festival is underway. It’s an exciting programme of events – music workshops, conferences, walks and visual art all of which have the subject of the sea at their core. This annual celebration is running for many years now under the guidance and boundless energy of Leo Hallissey and it is always a welcome opportunity for the community to reflect on the gift of our natural surroundings here in Connemara. Last Saturday night, I went along to the opening of the Small Works exhibition taking place in the Connemara National Park. This year the theme is the ‘Island’ and this exhibition is a collective whereby artists who are living and working in the area are invited to participate. The really interesting thing about this show is that everyone presents their work anonymously. In this way, established artists ( some known on an international scale ) are shown alongside much lesser known artists and the viewer is invited to see each piece on it’s own merit, without partiality or bias. Another distinctive feature of the show is the prices – everything on view is for sale at the agreed price of €90.00 unframed or €130.00 framed. This idea of bringing art to the people by making it affordable is supported by all of the artists who allow their work to be shown at a low value and it gives people here the opportunity to buy an original artwork, some perhaps for the first time. Leo introduced the show with this in mind and he spoke about it as a ‘hymn of hope and generosity’ and a ‘reclaiming of values’. These things are worthy of praise, what we are left with really after the shock of the last four years and the excess that went before it.
‘Where Sea meets Sky’
Music is always an important part of the evening and this year was no exception as we were treated to a number of tunes from young local musicians before Galway city arts officer James Harrold took the floor and officially opened the show. He spoke about the islands in terms of mythology and dreams, as symbols of life and interesting places to explore. He was full of praise for Letterfrack as a thriving community of artists and a place of enormous energy and diversity, characteristics which make this small place shine out among other larger western towns. He also spoke about our unique landscape and coastline, how privileged we are to have the sea at our side and how enriching this is for our community when so many counties are locked in by land.
‘Detritus of my studio arranged as an Island’
My own first impressions of the exhibition took account of the way it was presented and all credit to the meticulous eye of curator and artist David Keane and painter Mary Hession. The show has a real sense of cohesion in spite of the enormous variety of work and scale, framed and unframed pieces. I recognised some of the artists by their style of painting and drawing and in some cases by their chosen materials. However I was unable to pin down most of the pieces and I really enjoyed the sense of mystery that this brought about and the close examination of each piece that it prompted. I found it inspiring to see such a variety of responses to one theme, like a chorus of quiet separate voices singing together. Some of the pieces can be clearly read as island forms, other paintings suggest it with colours and other imagery. All of them made me look at my own work in a new way and question how I might explore new materials in the future.
The artists participating in this exhibition are – Barrie Cooke, Margaret Egan, Bernie Dignam, Mary Donnelly, Debbie Watkins, Alice Coyle, Brigid Sealy, Laura Cull, Jill Scott, Angie Williams, Oilbhe Scanell, Gavin Lavelle, Margaret Irwin West, Tania Gray, Mary Hession, David Keane, Leah Beggs, Will O’Kane, Karina Heaslip and Dorothy Cross.
Don’t let this one pass you by, it’s well worth a visit and it runs till October 29th.
Cover image by David Keane