An Introduction to The Irish Paintings, Memory and Heritage
I always knew that one day I would need to reflect on my background and my struggles with identity through my work. The paintings shown here are the beginning of a personal exploration into my heritage and memories.
My parents were part of a wave of Irish people from rural west of Ireland who immigrated here in the late 1940s. My mother helped to build the, at that time, new NHS working as a nurse’s assistant and in Care Homes. My father, who was initially a professional boxer, spent most of his working life in construction and haulage. In years to come their generation, and subsequent ones, would be known as ‘The Forgotten Irish’.
I remember hearing on the radio many years ago an Australian man saying, ‘to know your heritage gives you your place in the world’. Over the years I have dipped in and out of trying to find that invisible part of myself, an Irishness of sorts. The holidays on my grandparents’ farm. The stories, my grannies cooking over open fires and the fuss made over us London kids, as well as the humour and beautiful countryside has always stayed with me.
Approaching this deeply emotional and personal search I looked at archive photographs taken between the late 19th and early 20th centuries of rural Irish people. I was particularly moved by images of the poorest women and their work; I felt a connection. My mother washed blankets in tubs as a child and she placed great store on the healing power and nutritional value of seaweed. As a child and young person, I witnessed the end of this era.
These artworks were painted to memorialise and honour these women, my ancestors, and their occupations, which included raising children, now of the past. To contemplate their strength and purpose in shouldering fundamental burdens and hardships, rather than marvel at their deprivation, though the paintings may appear to follow in the tradition of rural genre painting. The figures are not represented with sentimentality but with dignity and stoicism and represent a social commentary relevant to contemporary matters of identity.