Earth watch


Artist Pauline Garavan talks to The Mayo News about her upcoming exhibition in the Custom House Studios

Áine Ryan

WITH a canon of paintings that includes rusted roofs and a multilayered interpretation of Edwardian explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance, it is no surprise that Pauline Garavan’s art has developed towards an exhibition entitled, ‘Seeing Earth’. Our planet’s many manifestations in its dialectical relationship with the human species, and the artifacts we create, are clearly what moves her as muse.
Now talking to The Mayo News ahead of her upcoming exhibition at the Custom House Studios, at Westport Quay, she explains: “My first main body of work was on the theme of the sea. Subsequent themes have been rusted roofs, grass, small glass bottles I found in my garden, which were quite old and unusual. More recently, I have done work on Shackleton and now on intimate portraits of nature.
“My process of work involves a very slow engagement with the theme. I don’t use sketch-books. Instead, I work it through in my head to imagine images, which I carefully translate into colour and form.”
Take her image of Shackleton’s Endurance, the doomed ship crushed by ice in the Antarctic in 1915. That process of imaginative engagement ‘began some 20 years ago’ when she first read of his expeditions. Appropriately, the work is now part of the permanent collection at the Shackleton Museum Athy.
“His story really gripped me. “I think it was the human endeavour at the heart of his voyages, the pushing beyond limits, the strength to endure. The landscape of the Arctic and Antarctic also appeals to me in a visceral way. It’s a terrain and world that I would love to experience,” says Garavan.

Tactility of nature
Influenced by the Old Masters, particularly Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch, she dubs herself as being somewhat ‘an old-fashioned artist’.
“What I appreciate is the attention to detail in their works. This always has drawn me in. In my own work I value detail. I value the overall image offering even more when you examine it closely. I see this same quality in artists even further back, such as Jan Van Eyck, but also in contemporary artists like Vija Celmins. I really like the work of Irish artist Katie Holten, who is based in New York,” Pauline Garavan continues.
Interestingly, she observes too that whilst she is ‘not particularly an artist of a specific place’, she is ‘very conscious’ of the influences on her art of living in County Mayo, where the tactility of nature is ever present.
“Here, it is very easy to feel close to nature. Much of my work over the years has been informed by this and my effort to be part of natural elements and form,” she says.
One can easily conjecture then how the impact of the pandemic, and its series of lockdowns, sparked a more intense focus on the importance of art in our society.
Garavan observes: “Art and all cultural expression can be taken for granted. However, during the Covid lockdown we got a sense of how central art is to our well-being. Art in all its forms allow us to access deeper aspects of our humanity, so it is really essential for a healthy society.”

Celebrating natural beauty
GARAVAN’S upcoming exhibition, ‘Seeing Earth’, is ‘the culmination of a particularly long process, which began with workshops four years ago with Transition Year students in Castlebar on the topic of climate change.
“I was helped in this by Duncan Stewart from RTÉ, who spoke to the students. From then, my ideas evolved from a focus on the perils facing the Earth to instead celebrating the natural beauty of the planet as it still is.
“The exhibition now offers a set of intimate images of the living Earth, culminating in the large portrait of the Earth herself, derived from the Apollo moon missions,” she explains.
Pauline Garavan hopes that ‘by bringing the viewer into a direct visual engagement with the beautiful Earth we can value our planetary home’.
“I would also add that the creation of this exhibition coincided with a personal journey of mine from Ménière’s illness, an inner-ear condition which was very impactful on my life, to full healing and wellness now. The images therefore celebrate life and wellbeing for me too,” she adds, poignantly.
Artistic journey
HAVING spent her early years in Belfast and, from the age of ten, living near Dundalk, Pauline Garavan has lived in Mayo, latterly Westport, for many years.
In 2000, she enrolled in GMIT’s Art and Design degree to learn more about professional art practice, and later did further studies in Sligo IT. She has shown her work at the RHA Annual Show; at Belfast’s Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition; The Kenny Gallery, Galway; and was one of the exhibitors at the 2015 ‘Mayo God Help Us’ show at the Claremorris Gallery. In November 2019, she was selected to travel to Philadelphia to show her art as part of the Straight Out of Ireland exhibition.   Pauline Garavan is a listed Gallery Artist with the Leinster Gallery, Dublin, and her work is also held in private collections in both the US and Ireland.

‘Seeing Earth’ runs at the Custom House Studios from August 26 to September 19. A Meet the Artist event takes place in the gallery on Saturday, August 28, from 1pm to 4pm. Poet and author Seán Lysaght will be guest speaker.