The artist Agnes Martin wrote that a studio should be a sanctuary for inspiration, a space devoid of busyness or clutter, where one is to be disturbed “only if the house is burning”. ( Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances ) I’d have to admit that mine is more along the lines of the Francis Bacon studio but it is interesting to read someone else’s impression of it (especially a teenager’s impression) so today, I have a guest writer on Scéalta Ealaíne. My niece Ella Gregory has written an article entitled: “The most interesting place I have ever been” (!).
I was eleven years old when I first saw my uncle’s workshop. My mum just dropped by for a quick cup of tea, since we were in the area. He answered the front door in his worn overalls, his forehead glistened from the heat and his stubble was flecked with colour. His rough hands were stained blue and his eyes twinkled when he smiled. A cool breeze hit us, freeing us from the heavy summer air. He led us through the dark hallway to a sun-filled kitchen.
The house smelt of weak tea. They chatted while sitting at the table, as I sneaked quick glances at the packet of biscuits but, not daring to move, trying to resist the temptation. A blue-stained hand dug into the packet noisily. It struggled to be freed, but the hand emerged, closed. My eyes drifted up, he grinned down at me, his opening fingers trailed crumbs, and in his palm, he revealed a chocolate Digestive. He winked, offering it to me.
I clutched it tightly, the chocolate melting at my fingertips. I wandered towards the open glass door, feeling the light air breeze through my hair and freshen my sweaty skin. I gazed at the colourful scene, mesmerized. The different colours moved as one. I slipped outside. Walking alongside them, never taking my eyes away, I watched in awe at the fluttering petals moving like butterflies. I knelt down, my bare legs against the damp grass. I didn’t notice the shed until my uncle approached me, kneeling down to where I sat, inviting me to take a look. I tore my eyes away from the exotic flowers and followed in the shadow of my uncle.
The door creaked open and he ushered us in, mum and I, as the light from the door streamed in. At first, the only thing I saw was a big table covered in newspaper, stained in blues, reds and greens. On the walls he had paintings, some finished, most unfinished. I saw sketches, plans, ideas drawn onto the newspapers. I saw eyes, sad eyes, looking at me. I saw piles of waste and rubbish, all strewn in the corner, waiting to be made into something spectacular. Something he made. Something he will make. I saw paint bottles, full, empty, splatters of paint dried up. I saw colours I have never seen before. I saw a man, looking at me with loss and guilt in his eyes. A woman’s lost eyes. I saw beauty and sadness. I saw sculptures that people will never see – paintings that will not be put in galleries, beautiful leftovers that were not rubbish. I saw a face that I recognised and others that I didn’t. I saw my uncle like I had never seen before. His paint brush elegantly stroking a man’s face to life. With such ease. I saw magic.
I could have stayed for hours but we only came for a quick cup of tea. I did not leave the studio as a different person. I left as me. But I had gained something. I was unsure of what I had gained, yet sure it was powerful. I was led back through the house, through the sun-filled kitchen towards the light coming from the door. Inhaling the last scent of weak tea. Opening the front door and once more gazing up at his face, breaking into a smile. I walked out, the hot heavy summer air hit me, as I turned towards my mum.
Now friends, I did consider adding a photograph of the inside of the studio but then I thought the better of it; I thought that Ella’s description sounded much more interesting than messy reality. So I added a couple of images of my older paintings instead. Perhaps these were the ones she saw hanging there at the time. These days, I’m working on some more Tinteán paintings, for an exhibition in An Gailearaí in Co. Donegal this April, as well as some work relating to the Easter Rising. As always, your comments are welcome. Slán go fóill, eoin