April 2012

Art Profiles - Mary Noonan

The first in a series of profiles on artists working in and around the thriving Dublin art Community. This first profile is of watercolour and installation artist Mary Noonan based in Red Stables Studios in Clontarf.


Art Profiles - Mary Noonan from Near TV on Vimeo

July 2010

Interview with Aoife Flynn editor of Occupy Paper a new online publication for contemporary art, which will runs alongside the visual art programme in place in Occupy Space, Limerick.

AF: Tell us a bit about your academic background, did you have any influential tutors or peers?

MN: I did a diploma in Fine Art in DLIADT in 2000; in 2001 I returned to college and spent two years in the NCAD painting department graduating with a BA in 2003. I recently finished a two-year Master in Fine Art (MFA) in NCAD through the painting department again, that was in 2009. The most influential tutors I had were Robert Armstrong, Susan Mac William and Sarah Durcan. During my masters I was lucky enough to have Susan as my personal tutor in the first year and Sarah in the second. Both were great tutors with very different approaches, which I think brought out the best in me. Susan was very encouraging and always helping me to push the work further. Sarah asked the tough questions and really helped me to focus my practice. The masters was the best thing I could have done for my work. I found it very challenging and extremely worthwhile. I spent the two years focusing solely on the development of my work, trying to find my own personal standpoint as an artist.

AF: What kind of themes and concerns are explored in your practice?

MN: I use my research into folklore and superstition to form the basis/foundation for my work. There is a strong sense of narrative to most of the work and these narratives are often left open and are not clearly defined in the finished piece. I interpret stories I research embellish and change them through the process of making the artwork. In a sense I am creating my own ‘world’ in my work, using research and personal memory and experience. My upbringing on a farm in county Mayo informs the work a lot. There is a strong element of the surreal and often the pieces are quite sinister. I’d like to think that the work is a sort of an amalgam of the ‘real’ world along with another imaginary parallel world. Much of my research relates to ‘fairy-faith’ and stories about the fairies. For example what drew me to the fairly common story of the changeling was how multi layered and imaginative it was, but also how it was a way for people to explain and understand things like disease and mental illness at a time when professional medical advice was unavailable to the majority. These stories for me are a very imaginative way of explaining the unexplainable. A lot of the sources I look at were written in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century from the perspective of the Anglo-Irish, with people like Douglas Hyde and Lady Sperenza Wilde giving great accounts of folklore. I am interested in how myth and superstition have informed how ‘Irishness’ is viewed and interpreted and how it has added to what is an element of our national stereotype.

AF: Your work seems to be divided into drawing/painting and sculpture, which part is more important or stronger in your practice?

MN: I love both. I treat the sculptures almost as if they are 3D paintings, and have a very tactile approach to the 2D work. I often cut and tear the paper, with this I am trying to give a sense of the psychological aspects of what is going on in the work. By ‘doing a violence’ to the paper I am in effect leaving a physical residue and visual evidence of that trauma. I don’t think that one element of my practice is more important or stronger than the other I like being diverse and working in a number of different ways.

AF: Where does your imagery originate from?

MN: My visual research is broad and includes sources such as painters from the Northern Renaissance, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Pieter Breugal and Hieronymus Bosch to contemporary artists Verne Dawson, Dana Schutz and Ellen Gallagher. I am also very interested in illuminated manuscripts. I am happy to take inspiration from wherever I can and often the literary sources I look at suggest imagery or trigger memories. I keep a notebook with me at all times and jot down ideas when I have them. I visit galleries a lot and am quite nerdy taking notes as I go along.

AF: What can you tell us about your process in general? Give us some insight into how you work

MN: I have already mentioned tearing and cutting the paper. I work on a number of pieces at the same time, sometimes finishing a piece fairly quickly but more often than not working on something, leaving it and then returning to it at a later stage. I find I need to have a few things ‘on the go’ at the same time. The sculpture/installation Farmer’s Daughter that I showed at Occupy Space took a long time to evolve. I had the cot in my studio for about two years. I tried several things with it that just didn’t work, eventually the idea of having a landscape almost spewing itself out of the cot emerged. I was hoping to give a sense of having been born into something ‘the land’ in my case, and how ones environment and ancestry or sense of place influences someone from an early age. The fact that the land is made from very ‘unreal’ materials such as the scenics used for model railways was important to me also, I felt that the ‘fakeness’ of the materials might suggest to the viewer a detached or removed view of the land and lean towards issues surrounding stereotype and identity. I wanted there to be a strong sense of narrative as the viewer worked their way around the piece. I wanted there to be that same sense of navigation in the large watercolours. I often don’t have a very set plan for my work but rather start with a general idea and through working with the materials allow for them to somewhat suggest the eventual outcome of the work. I try as much as I can to push the materials as far as I can.
As I mentioned already my little notebook is very important to me. I jot down notes on artworks and ideas for artworks. Generally these notes could be expressions that I heard growing up, quotes from books or visual ‘diagrams’ of ideas for future work.

AF: Are there any artists out there that you really admire and maybe influence you?

MN: Yes of course, the ones I have mentioned already as well as many others. I try to expose myself to as much art as I can without getting overwhelmed! Ideas can come from the unlikeliest places sometimes, so I try to be open.

AF: How did you find exhibiting in Occupy Space? How was it working with Damien? What did you think of the similarities between your work?

MN: I was really happy to exhibit in Occupy Space, I think the space itself is great with a lot of scope to work with. Personally it was a great chance for me to show some of my bigger pieces. Working with Damien was very enjoyable, although we had never actually met before, running up to the show we kept in good contact via e-mail, so I felt we had been acquainted already. The whole process was very democratic between us, the installation was discussed and mulled over and we got on very well. It was a very pleasant experience working with Damien.

AF: Any upcoming exhibitions? What are your plans for the future?

MN: Yeah, I’m showing five watercolours in COE 2010 in my hometown of Claremorris in September, so looking forward to that. Also I was selected to exhibit in a three-person show with Peter Burns and Anne Hendrick by Patrick Murphy at the Roscommon Arts Centre in late 2011. I am working toward a solo exhibition in the Linenhall Arts Centre, which is in 2011 as well, so I’ll be busy working away in my studio at The Red Stables.

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