'Inishgort Lighthouse', by Marie Wood.
Fast weather, freedom and magic
Almost a year to the day since her first exhibition in Westport, Marie Wood (pictured right) will open her second solo show in the town this Friday, April 1, in The Clew Bay Hotel. The artist has previously exhibited widely in Scotland and England; her first solo exhibition was in the National Gallery of Scotland, and she has twice exhibited work at The Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. She also took part in the prestigious ‘Mayo God Help Us’ group exhibition in Claremorris last November.
Entitled ‘Birds … are loose in the loft’, the upcoming Westport show will consist of more than 30 oil and multi-media-collage pieces, all created in the last 12 months. The artworks range in subject from Irish country dancers, inspired by Museum of Country Life images, to the ‘awesome beauty’ of Wood’s adopted Clew Bay.
An effervescent Mancunian in her early sixties, Wood moved to Mayo just 18 months ago with her husband, Jay. The traditional cottage they now call home hugs the shores of the rugged Rosmoney coastline. It was a ‘great, great move’, she tells The Mayo News. “It’s probably the best place we’ve ever lived.”
The couple, who have been married 42 years, are well used to upping stakes. “I was born in Manchester. Before we moved to Mayo, we’d done quite a lot of travelling about for jobs. We lived in Cumbria for ten years, and then we lived in Scotland for ten years. Then we moved back to Birmingham, where we both had met at college.”
A whirlwind romance, Marie and Jay got engaged just six weeks after they first met. “I’m the eldest of ten. I’m from a big Irish Catholic family. He’s from a Protestant English family,” Marie chuckles, placing faux-horror emphasis on ‘Protestant’. “It caused a few problems when we first met, but I think my mother’s nearly forgiven him! His father was a Church of England vicar – so imagine that, bringing him home!”
Jay has proven the ballast in Marie’s artistic voyage. “He’s my best pal. I probably wouldn’t be doing this now without him. I’ve got his full support.”
A creative, talented craftsman himself, he makes all of the frames for Marie’s work too, from found wood. “They’re wonderful – in fact it’s a bit disappointing sometimes, ” she jokes, “because you bring things into the exhibition and people go ‘Oh my god, the frames are fabulous!’.”
Although the couple had always thought they would retire to Ireland, where they’ve been visiting ‘for years and years’, a health scare prompted an earlier-than-planned move. “My husband had a mini-stroke … it just pushed us into saying ‘Let’s get a life; let’s push everything forward and let’s just do it now’. So we just did it. We’re risk takers, and we don’t have a family, so we were able to do it. And he looks great – he’s healthy and happy – and I think it’s been the best move for us.”
The wild weather and winsome landscape of west Mayo have been hugely inspiring for Marie, who has found herself creating art almost everyday since she arrived here.
“It’s breathtaking every day, even in the bad weather. We call it ‘fast weather’, because it shifts so quickly … Bad weather also keeps you in the studio,” she quips with a giggle.
“I love the exhilaration of it though. I love walking in the wind. I know people will be thinking, ‘Ah she’ll get over it soon’, but I’ve lived in places that get it much worse, and for longer. And this fast moving, shifting weather you get here – as an artist, I’m there with my camera the whole time. I’ve got my life’s work already just from the ideas of got from being here for the last 18 months. It’s so exciting!”
Her photographs are ‘like my sketch book’, says Marie. “They’re my visual references. I’m always looking for the abstract in my everyday life. So, for example, reflections in puddles feature quite largely in the work that I develop from the photographs.
“I’ve a series of works which were taken from puddles, mainly from puddles outside the sailing club [Westport Sailing Club in Rosmoney]. I’ve got the outline of a puddle photographed, and in the puddle you’ve got just the edges of various bows of boats, and the masts that seem to be going down to the bowels of the earth – so you get this visual frisson of looking that kind of questions the perspective.
“I am really fascinated when people say ‘I don’t understand abstract art’ – really, if they open their eyes, they’re looking at the abstract every day. Things like reflections. It’s the excitement, for me, of that visual disturbance that you get: you understand what it is, boats reflected in a puddle, but when I represent them through my collage and mixed-media technique, it becomes quite abstract.”
Marie’s first exhibition in Westport was also mixed media, but it included sculpture – there’s none in the upcoming show. “I haven’t done any sculpture since I’ve been here, which is interesting,” reveals the artist, the fact of it giving her pause for thought. “That’s where the excitement took me really.”
That free-flowing, spontaneous approach to creativity lies at the very heart of her upcoming exhibition – and its intriguing title.
“It was a neighbour who came out with this wonderful phrase. He said one day, ‘I can’t remember such and such … the birds must be loose in the loft today’, and I just loved it. It’s poetry, and it resonated with me, because you couldn’t cage my ideas. My ideas are ‘free in my brain’ if you like, always flying about.
“Jay and I were scrabbling about thinking, ‘What are we going to call this show?’, and it just came to me and I thought, we’ve got to call it ‘Birds are loose in the loft’, because it hints at that freedom.”
For Marie, the creative urge often strikes suddenly, textured by exhilaration and elation. “I hope that my work reveals the excitement that I feel and magic that I see,” she says.
Just such an urge was the inspiration for ‘Inishgort Lighthouse’, one of the pieces in the upcoming show. “Coming across Inishgort – we were out on a boat, coming home from Inisboffin or somewhere one evening – I remember just seeing this beautiful, pearl of a building on the horizon: Inishgort. The sun behind it.
“It’s that thing that artists are always trying to capture, the magical vision and the excitement, and then trying to translate it through processes and materials. I’m completely driven to do that. And it’s wonderful. I do feel that I’m in a privileged position to be making my art.”
Perhaps all the more so because it wasn’t always the case. After studying art at university, Marie ‘fell into’ teaching it, and although she loved her job, she found that her own creativity was forced to take backseat. “It left me no space to make art, because I gave everything to the kids and to the job,” she says candidly. “I got out of it for all sorts of reasons, but I was basically burnt out of it to be honest. I gave too much.”
Describing herself with a hearty laugh as ‘an escaped teacher’, she hasn’t looked back, embracing her new life in Mayo as a full-time artist with gusto, and a profound sense of gratitude. “I decided to go for it, again with the support of my partner, the lovely Jay, who has just always encouraged and enabled me to fulfill a dream.
“He understands the way I look at things and puts up with my overexcitement at times,” she smiles, “because he shares that wonderment of this wonderful place we now live in.”
‘Birds … are loose in the loft’, an exhibition of new work by Marie Wood, will be on show in The Clew Bay Hotel from April 1, to April 30. It will be officially opened by celebrated milliner Lina Stein at 7.30pm this Friday night.