Friday, November 23, 2012

My Journey Continues in Scotland

East Aquhorthies Stone Circle

This part of my journey has taken me on to Aberdeenshire in Scotland where I've been staying with cousins for the week.  The first day was glorious with clear skies and bright sun and we made hay...visiting 3 stone circles and 2 other archeological sites, and also the graveyard where my grandparents are buried.  It's wonderful how I feel connected to this place through those grandparents and my cousins.

View from the window at Coreenview Farm

Midmark Kirk Stone Circle with crosses from the cemetery casting shadows on the recumbent stone.

The stone circles here are quite different from those in Ireland.  The circles I've seen here in North East Scotland have a recumbent stone at the head of the circle, flanked by 2 standing stones.  These circles are oriented to the rising or the setting of the full moon.

I began to ask my cousins for stories of my grandparents that they had heard from their grandparents.  My grandparents were born in Scotland and emigrated to Canada in the early 1900's. My cousin Carol and I went to the Old Meldrum archives to try to research more about them. I am reminded of my earlier post from Cill Rialaig.  I took photos of a 'stone circle' that an Irish sculptor had created in the ruins of a house at Cill Rialaig. The artist wrote on 7 long narrow stones made of red Kerry slate to honour Sean O'Conaill, a famous Gaelic storyteller who had lived here.

They die untold
Untold we die
This land gave us stories
Story Shapes our soul
Once she spoke
Now she whispers
Keep listening.

The idea of stories was on my mind in Ireland and I find myself searching for my own family stories here amongst my cousins in Scotland.

My great grandparents lived in this house and they both eventually died there.
View of the house from the road

Carol and I drove up to this house and I introduced myself to the people who have lived in it for the past 35 years.  They kindly showed us inside, and took us up to one of the upstairs bedrooms that had the original pine panelling-something directly from the past-that I could touch.

My cousin Ian gave me a photo of my grandfather, and is also sending me the old fiddle that my grandfather used to play.  I didn't know he played the fiddle.

John Robertson

 I will go home from here with stories.

If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. 
—Barry Lopez

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cill Rialaig -Last Day

Endings and beginnings.  As I pack up, I also wrap up in my mind what I take away from this place.  One of the biggest lessons I've learned is about the gift of letting the day unfold as it will,. My friend Rebecca Crowell wrote a wonderful post about learning to follow her intuition.  Of course this is always the case in painting abstraction where you have to trust that what you do will eventually resolve itself into a painting. But this journey to Cill Rialaig has helped with that lesson.  In some cases, I've been forced to stay in the moment as in driving a car with a stick shift on the wrong side of the road on steep single-track roads with no guard rails, around corners where you can't see what's coming.  I am totally in the moment then!

It's been important to give in to the beauty of the day and to the rhythm of life here.  Some days have been grey, overcast and windy  where the studio skylight is pelted with rain and small bits of hail. It was good to stay inside and focus on my work those days. But many  days have cleared at some point to glorious, blue skies and it was impossible to stay indoors.  Giving in to the rhythm of the weather has been important.  I love that changeability.  My cottage looks out onto the Ballinskelligs Bay and the islands of Scariff and Deenish.  I have taken hundreds of photos of those islands with the changing skies over them. The light and sky change by the hour. Yesterday a cloud nestled right down on Cill Rialaig and I couldn't see the islands at all.

I wrote in a post from home  just before I left that I was looking forward to experiencing that thin place between the worlds. I can feel this at some of the ancient sites.  The trip here has been expanding in many ways.  That's the blessing of travel--the way it cracks open my mind and breaks me out of my daily life and routines, forces me to try out new ways of living, and keeps me in the moment.  Simply following the unfolding of the day has been important.  It brought us to the ancient hermitage site up the road, just when the biggest rainbow I'd ever seen, shone over the bay.  Our spontaneous decision to stay for the night after we'd seen Rebecca's artist friend, gave us time the next day to visit the Irish artist Charles Tyrrell, whose work Rebecca and I saw in Dublin last year at the Royal Hibernian Academy. He lives at the far end of the Beara Peninsula in a very remote place.  Getting there was a journey itself , stunning views and terrifyingly narrow, steep roads but it was a delight to visit his home and studio and chat about painting. He was most generous with his time and his conversation.

 Later that day we had time to visit the incredible stone circle at Uragh.

My work has moved in directions I would not have expected but then I came here with the idea of letting it move and change with the energy of the place, working mainly in black and white.  Although this work is not about the land in a direct way, it is heavily influenced by the land.  How can it not be, with the stunning views on clear days and the wind and rain sometimes lashing at the cottage on others?

Cill Rialaig November 2012 © Janice Mason Steeves

Rebecca leaves for home on Friday and my journey continues to Scotland. I will miss this rather primitive little cottage with it's paint-splattered concrete floor, the steep ladder to the bed/loft area and  the old plastic radio with it's big dial tuned to the RTE Lyric station.  This afternoon I'll walk up to the hermitage site where I've been so many times now and sit for a while in that prayerful place.   Thank you to all who are involved with making Cill Rialaig available for artists.  Thanks to this land and to the ancestors.  Go Raibth Maith Agat.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cill Rialaig Artist Residency Week Three

The adventure of being in Ireland continues.  I begin to get into a routine of life and then it changes.  I had a wonderful visit from my friend Mary Meighan, who leads Celtic journeys in Ireland.  We walked up to the ancient monastic site just up the road from Cill Rialaig.  After spending some time in the site, Mary offered a Celtic Blessings to us for our work, blessings upon the ancestors of the land  that they might guide us and blessings to the people at home who helped us be here.  Mary and I also visited other ancient sites that day.  Part of the journey was to talk to people about where the sites are.  We searched for the holy well of a female saint and asked for help from construction workers, from the women who work in the Cill Rialaig Arts Centre and from a woman in a white hairnet who works at the Skellig Chocolate factory.  Everyone is more than eager to help if they can.  The woman in the chocolate factory knew of St. Finian's holy well across the road on St. Finian's Bay but not the other well that Mary was searching for. But she phoned her daughter, who did know.  Sadly the well isn't accessible any longer.  Part of the enjoyment in finding these ancient sites are the people you meet on the way and the stories they know.

My time here is a balance of painting and hiking and seeing the land around this area.  I often feel guilty if I'm not painting.  Yet it's the hiking, the driving the narrow winding roads, finding the ancient sites and just sitting and looking out over the sea that is deeply feeding my soul.

Rebecca and I did a strenuous hike up to the top of Bolus Head at the very end of the road that passes through Cill Rialaig.  The road ends and turns into a grassy, wet path dug deep with sheep hooves.  We had to climb a stile to make the final leg of the hike to the top.  At the top we were given  magnificent breathtaking views out over Finian's Bay and the Skellig Islands to the right and then to Ballinskelligs Bay and out onto the Atlantic beyond.  The winds were stronger up here and it was much cooler but the day was as usual very changeable.  It was gorgeous and warm at the top but on my way down, just as I neared my cottage, showers came and I was wet by the time I got home.

Today we are in Eyeries, a tiny village on the Beara Penninsula to visit Rebecca's artist friend Sally Bowker who is at the artist residency called Anam Cara.  The GPS said our trip would take 2 hours, We finally arrived 5 hours later, tired from trying to stay on the narrow winding roads while craning our necks to see the spectacular views along this section of the Ring of Kerry.

This morning Rebecca and I are off to visit the Irish artist, Charles Tyrrell, whose work I saw last year at the Royal Hibernian Gallery in Dublin.  Large abstract minimalist work. He has a studio near the little village of Allihies about 7 miles away.  And then we have many stone circles and standing stones to see before we get back to Cill Rialaig.  We may spend another night away rather than drive in the dark on the winding cliff roads.

My friend Mary Meighan's mother told her, "When God made Time, He made plenty of it."  Mary said that Celts believe in "the fullness of time, not the scarceness of it".  I'm heading out today with that attitude.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cill Rialaig Week Two

Each day, I catch my breath again and again with the beauty in this part of Ireland-the light, the changing sky. Rebecca and I are driving and hiking in this incredible part of Ireland.  Our travels have taken us to the vast Inny Beach in the nearby town of Waterville, where we walked the length of the beach and  created an Andy Goldsworthy stone sculpture using the lines on beach stones.  

We drove to Valentia Island over a mountain on a single-track road edged with high grass-covered stone walls.  Some kind of terror in that effort!  But the views from the top were out of this world and the island was like a fairy land, with enormous ferns and palm trees here and there.

And almost everywhere we've gone, we've seen brilliant rainbows shooting out of low-hanging clouds.  Breathtaking.

On the way home from Valentia Island,  we stopped at the beach at Finian's Bay.  It was about 5:30pm, the sun was setting and the sky was clear and golden.  The tide was out and a local dog was playing in the surf.  But the magical part was that off in the distance were the sacred Skellig islands, the setting sun making them floating castles of gold.

I'm doing some writing here but not as much as I'd hoped to do.  I've mainly been focused on painting and working with the limited palette I'd set out to use.  It's been an exciting journey seeing how the land and the weather is influencing my work. I'm not sure how these pieces will translate into my work at home, or even if they will directly change my work.  But surely it will to some degree.

Matisse said:  " I am made of all that I have seen".  

And so I am much richer for all that I have seen here in County Kerry.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cill Rialaig Artist Residency-End of Week One

I just walk out the door of my cottage and the sights change each hour with the weather.  The cottages are perhaps 200 metres above sea level affording a spectacular view down Ballinskelligs Bay to the east and out onto the Atlantic to the west.  The clouds are the main attraction.  They change hourly creating patterns of light and shadow on the islands and peninsulas.  Sheets of rain can be seen approaching from many kilometres away.

This has been such an exciting week.  We had Hallowe'en here and although no ghosts or goblins visited the cottages, we got together with three of the other residents for a Hallowe'en party in the meeting house.  We lit a huge peat fire, drank some wine and chatted until midnight.  The light in the sky when I came up to the meeting house before our party, was so spectacular that I took a few photos with my camera braced on a nearby stone wall.  The photos captured the heart of Hallowe'en at Cill Rialaig!  it looked very spooky here.

I've been painting small works on paper using mainly black and white.  I wanted to limit the colours I used to try to capture the essence of my experience here.  It feels like I can capture the strength and wildness of the land and weather by using this limited palette.

The highlight of the week so far happened today. Rebecca and I decided to hike up the one-track road that goes past  our residency.  There is an important archeological site about 2km along.  Some concrete stones help you over the sheep fence.  It was  a hermitage in about 600AD.  Today there are only the ruins of what would have been perhaps 6 or 7 round huts and surrounding the huts are the remains of a stone wall.  There are two standing stones there.  Each is carved with a circle intersected by a cross.  As we were wandering around the site late  this afternoon, it started to rain and then we witnessed the most spectacular rainbow I have ever seen.  It was breathtaking right from the beginning.  I took a photo of one of the standing stones, with the rainbow behind it.  As time went on the rainbow became ever more intense in colour and grew wider and wider as it moved out onto the bay.  The sky darkened and the rain continued.  The rainbow shone into the bay like a bolt of lightening from  beneath the dark grey blue cloud and connected the sky and the water.  It was intensely magical.  It felt like a magnificent gift from the hermit monks who lived here, at the edge of the world, communing with God.