After following her calling and studying art in New York, Mayo native Deirdre Walsh returned home to the West of Ireland, where she paints en plein air in one of the most idyllic spots in the world. She speaks to Artclick.ie about her studies, inspiration and current work…
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in County Mayo in the West of Ireland. The village of Partry is located between two lakes – Lough Mask and Lough Cara, and it has a mystical landscape.
When did you first become interested in art?
I have memories of the intoxicating smell of new watercolours as a child. I have been interested in art as far back as I can remember.
How did you pursue your desire to be a painter?
Art school became a distant dream as I was gently elbowed into University. I was haunted by my desire to paint. While teaching High School in New York City, I realised I had to follow my dream. So I walked into the Art Students League of New York and began my career as a painter. I studied under Richard Vernon Goetz for over three years. He walked up to me in class one day and said, “You need to go back to Ireland and paint”, and I replied, “Someday”. He looked at me intensely and said, “There is no such thing as ‘someday’. There is only now”. He died a few days later and that was my turning point.
What is the artistic lifestyle like? Take us through a typical day.
My typical day starts early. I’m up at 6.30am – I need a clear mind in order to paint. When I paint en plein air, it is usually morning or evening because of the light at those times. Studio work is usually in the morning also. I don’t paint all day – two or three hours of intense work is about it. The rest is preparation and clean up. On days when I lack motivation, I set a timer and make myself go into the studio.
Do you paint every day, or only when the inspiration hits you?
I have learned that waiting for inspiration could leave you staring out a window for hours. The secret is, just do it!
Choose one of your paintings and explain your inspiration behind it.
The painting entitled, Neiphin, was done en plein air. I wanted to capture the cold air of the day. It was difficult to keep my fingers warm – I worked speedily. During the process, I lose a sense of where I am. I am transported and eventually the cold brings me back to reality. My inspiration for this one was the way the weighty mountain communicated the cold weather.
What is your favourite place to paint?
Lough Carra, which is a limestone lake within viewing distance of my house, is one of my favourite places to paint. It has a mystical quality and is set in a soft landscape. It appears and disappears in a sort of mirage and it is a constant challenge. It will take my lifetime to paint it.
Which artists have most inspired you and why?
If I were to choose one artist who has inspired me, I would have to say John Singer Sargent. I can spend hours looking at his work. Other than that, the simplicity of John Henry Twachtman’s snow scenes is breath taking, and Monet’s colours.
What are you working on at the moment?
Most recently I have been working on a series on Lough Carra, capturing the subtle changes in light through the seasons.
Are you working towards any upcoming exhibitions?
The Lough Carra paintings were on show over the summer in The Customs House Studios in Westport, County Mayo. And I also have work in a group show in London.
Deirdre is a driving force in the promotion of progressive art projects for the aged, both in care settings and in the home. In a happy coincidence, a number of her original paintings adorn the care home CareChoice in Malahide, County Dublin. It is worth quoting Deirdre directly to fully appreciate her passion for teaching:
‘The main aim was to give the artists a voice. In my opinion there is an artist within everybody. People also seem to be able to overcome their physical disability. I’ve had people with very restricted movement as a result of a stroke, and I’ve seen them push themselves that bit further. And in doing that, in a way, they’re creating their own therapy. Just trying to stretch that bit further, really making the effort.
I believe we all have a creative side or an artist within. The artist may not always be a painter, but I have a conviction that everybody can paint. Everybody can be taught to see. I think learning to paint is about learning to see. And we have the ability to see things that we haven’t seen before, if we are allowed to go through the process. It’s a whole new world really. I often encourage people to just try it even. Try a painting course, because I think you see the world differently after. You see objects, landscape, light differently. In a way, as an art teacher, I would always have seen myself as someone who is trying to cure a certain blindness.’
extract from Creative Reverie