In 2014, effervescent artist Marie Wood and her husband J quit the bright lights of Manchester and settled into life in a traditional cottage hugging the shores of Rosmoney, Westport. Here, she opens a window onto her daily routine as an artist, and why she and J chose to move to Mayo.
On waking, guessing the time by the quality of light leaking through the curtains, I draw the curtains and check out the day. If it’s raining I will already know by the drumming on the roof!
If it’s sunny or dry I will be excited by the prospect of my daily 30 minute speed walk, with my camera slung around my neck, ready to capture the magic of the day; a sunrise (in winter) inverted clouds, reflections in the bay, bouncing light off the water. I will still walk in the rain, which can be exhilarating!
While on this walk, I always think about what I’m going to do in the day, working through what needs to be done first. If it’s a new artwork, preparing a palette of pre prepared colours, and savouring the idea of getting really messy with paint. If I’m already working on a piece, I will be problem solving in my head.
Interspersed with all the ‘art shtuff’, I will be thinking about J, family and friends, especially the loss of a dear young friend recently … also mundane things like a raggy toenail, or how to get the loo to flush quicker, or, did she really say THAT? All of these thoughts swim around in my head, but I still take time to stand and stare … so I guess it’s not really a speed walk after all!
I usually arrive home to a set table, ready for breakfast. J and I will talk through our day and share our thoughts and musings. We have a variety of breakfasts, from Flahavans Porridge, or banana seeds and fruit, to ‘Kirstin’ toasted seaweed bread, or a bacon and egg butty on a Saturday morning!
J manages all aspects of my exhibitions – promotion, design, hanging – and he makes all the frames… I just make the stuff! So, we take the opportunity over breakfast to see what needs doing; although sometimes I think J thinks I’m a mindreader and should not have to ask him the ‘obvious’! That’s what comes of 45 years of marriage!
Breakfast done and dusted, I usually head off to the studio, about 10.30-ish. A four-minute walk past the most exquisite backdrop of Clew Bay and the ever-present Reek. I open up, fill the kettle, get some music on and have a look at what needs to be done, then I’m off into my own wonderful world, and the time flies by.
Creating is not all joy, though. Sometimes you have to ‘scrape it all off and start again’, but what’s amazing is that somehow, the work finds its own way out, and I’m usually ready to grab it and run.
I do go home for lunch, and J and I will discuss what we’re doing – and invariably wait for the best postman in the world, Conor Waldron, whose smile and craic always brighten the day. Back up to the studio about 2pm, and I carry on until I feel like I’m done. That can be from 4pm to 6pm, whenever I feel like leaving – I’m not getting any younger you know!
I usually walk back home via the beach, and if Luna the springer spaniel is at home, I spend some time playing with her, until she gets fed up with me.
J has found his metier, and does a great deal of the cooking, which he loves. Lucky me. The early part of the evening is spent catching up with e-mails and phone calls, stocking up with wood and laying a fire. People drop in for a chat and a glass. We lay the table again for our evening meal, and sum up the day … and so to bed and dreams, and thinking and planning.
The move to Mayo
For us, the biggest difference between living in Manchester and living here is that our life in Ireland is only bound by the constraints that we put in place. When we were living in the UK, we were not ‘time rich’. The pressures of city living were not what we were looking for, and we knew we wanted to move. In hindsight, I think Mayo chose us, rather than the other way ’round! We had always intended to retire to Ireland, given my Irish connections [Wood has family ties to Donegal] and our love for the country, but our plans were accelerated after a health scare that made us rethink our lives. So J gave up his second re-incarnation (he was previously a head teacher, but retired early), and we soon found ourselves in Mayo.
We contacted a number of estate agents with the following set of criteria: We wanted, a small house, studio/workshop, had to be near the sea, we wanted mountains, and close proximity to a small town. Well, we got it all in spades, and the most important extra has been the people! Their warm acceptance and friendship, the fun and laughter, and being amongst people who genuinely care about you, has made this the best place we have ever lived.My art has soared, the inspirational landscape continues to feed the soul, and I have never been as productive, with offers of exhibitions, and work flying off the easel before it’s dry!
Mayo has been bounteous, generous, and is now home.
Poor J has had little time for his own projects, as he has been my full-time manager and frame maker extraordinaire! He is a talented craftsman in his own right, and has ideas for making some stunning furniture … we’ll make it happen.
In conversation with Ciara Moynihan
Marie Wood has exhibited in Scotland, England and Ireland; her first solo exhibition was in the National Gallery of Scotland, and she has twice exhibited work at The Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. An exhibition of her current work, ‘One Eye Sees … One Eye Feels’, is running in The Clew Bay Hotel Gallery, Westport, until April 30.
Name: Marie Wood
Tell us something most people don’t know about you?
I am very good at gurning.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?
The most unusual thing I ever ate was an orange cake made by J when we first met 46 years ago…before he became a good cook. It was a sponge cake with a whole orange in the centre – peel, pith and flesh intact – and truly disgusting…we laugh about it to this day.
Is there anyone whose life you envy, and why?
I don’t really envy anyone, but I admire many, two of whom are Mhairi Black SNP and Catherine Connolly TD, for their intelligent, incisive and very human approach to politics. Oh and of course Gabriel Byrne, for obvious reasons!
What do you miss most about being a kid?
Climbing trees and building bogies (handmade go-karts).
What’s the best advice you ever got?
Start the day with breakfast, or else you will develop piles! Always do the former, never had the latter!
Name three things that are always in your fridge?
Kirstin’s seaweed stock, milk, good-quality pork products.
Who was your first hero?
My art teacher, Pat Owens. She taught me so much and was like a second mum.
What makes you nervous?
Reversing down narrow lanes near the sea, and parking.
What’s your most-prized possession
A piece of found gnarled wood that became a profound connection with my father-in-law.
If money was no object, what would you do all day?
I would make art, but be able to afford all the resources and materials to enable me to broaden my arsenal of media. And I would like to experiment with bronze casting.
But I’m not desperate….