DOCKED IN WESTPORT Mayo artist Pauline Garavan (right) with Alexandra Shackleton at the launch of ‘Shackleton’s Endurance’ in Athy. The artwork is now on show in Westport Town Hall Theatre.
Walking into the foyer of the Westport Town Hall Theatre on one of those spring days that takes you by surprise, a wall winks at you, catching the low clear sun. It glints seductively, its shimmering silver drawing the eye. As you approach, you realise the wall bears an image of a ship. A ghostly figure, shining brightly against a night sky.
‘Shackleton’s Endurance’ is an artwork created last year by Castlebar-based artist Pauline Garavan to mark the centenary of the rescue of the crew of his ship ‘Endurance’ after it had become trapped in the Antarctic ice of the Weddell Sea.
“I made the piece specially to mark the centenary of the rescue of Ernest Shackleton’s crew off Elephant Island in the Antarctic on August 30, 1916,” Garavan tells The Mayo News. “The work formed part of Co Kildare’s official celebrations of the event in [Shackleton’s birthplace] Athy last year.”
The centenary event also included the unveiling of a statue of Shackleton in the town by sculptor Mark Richards. Garavan was present at the celebrations, which were also attended by Shackleton’s granddaughter, Alexandra Shackleton, and cousin, representatives from the Norwegian and Chilean embassies, an Honour Guard and Colour Party of the Irish Naval Service and a range of dignitaries. Jack L also performed at the event, singing ‘The Wearing of the Green’.
“The guests were then invited into the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum (which houses a permanent exhibition devoted to Shackleton), and Alexandra Shackleton officially opened the exhibition, ‘By Endurance We Conquer: Shackleton and His Men’. The guests were then invited to view my work in the library up on the first floor. It was a wonderful experience to be part of this great occasion.”
Garavan’s piece is based on a famous night-time photograph taken by crew member Frank Hurley, photographer on Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition (1914-16).
Walking closer to the work, you realise it is made up of rectangular sheets of metal, six across, six down, each bound to the other by two rings on each side – to this viewer, somehow suggestive of the sails on the ship’s three masts, especially the forward square-rigged mast.
The evocation of unfurled sails juxtaposes the ship’s naked rigging and skeletal masts; sails tied up, impotent against the weight of the packed ice in which The Endurance became lodged in January 1915. The ice would ultimately crush the vessel ten months later, causing her to sink as the still-stranded crew looked helplessly on. This in turn set in chain an epic fight for survival and, ultimately, one of the most famous rescue missions of modern times.
Moving closer still to Garavan’s work, it becomes apparent that the image is made up of writing, painted onto the silvery aluminium using oils. This writing is, in fact, “thousands of very closely condensed words, which are taken from the extracts of Shackleton’s diary that he kept on the Endurance Expedition and which he included in his book ‘South’,” the artist explains.
In the image’s tonally darker areas, the words are compressed, perhaps evoking feelings of pressure, of being squeezed and crushed; in the lighter areas, the letters are ‘lightly inscribed and spaced’, conveying feelings of being lost, scattered in a vast, empty landscape. Two polar-opposite states, but ones that must have been felt simultaneously by Shackleton and his crew during the ten months they stayed with the ship as it lay wedged in such an immense and open white wilderness.
The painstaking attention to detail that must have been required to create ‘Shackleton’s Endurance’ is evident in Pauline Garavan’s earlier work also. In 2013, the artist exhibited a collection of painting, drawing and sculpture in Westport entitled ‘Rusting Roofs’, a captivating study of texture, colour and shape focusing on the rusted galvanised roofs of sheds and long-abandoned dwellings that are so familiar in landscape of the west.
Garavan has a degree in Art & Design from GMIT and in Fine Art from Sligo IT. She has shown her work in the RHA Annual Show on a number of occasions, and in Belfast’s Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition.
Her work featured in the 2008 Taispeántas Ealaíne an Oireachtais in Cork, and to coincide with the Volvo Ocean Race in 2009, a selection of her ‘Sea’ works was exhibited in a group show in The Kenny Gallery, Galway, and she was also chosen as one of the artists to exhibit in the 2015 ‘Mayo God Help us’ exhibition in the Claremorris Gallery. She is a listed Gallery Artist with the Leinster Gallery, Dublin. Her work is found in private collections in both the US and Ireland.