New thoughtful exhibitions open at Custom House

Going Out

Ciara Moynihan

A new solo show and a new group show are opening in Custom House Studios this Thursday, August 20. An exhibition of paintings and prints by Norah Brennan entitled ‘My Halcyon Days’ will open alongside ‘Terrain’, which will see paintings by Marian McHale, Eileen Ferguson and Fiona Cawley on show. Both exhibitions will run at the gallery until Sunday, September 13, and both have reflective themes, frequently centring on the past and memory, as well as the natural world.

‘My Halcyon Days’
Norah Brennan was born in London and raised in Mayo and has exhibited widely around the world. She works primarily as a printmaker but also produces works in paint, mixed media and collage. She describes calls ‘acts of remembrance’ as ‘a cornerstone’ of her daily art practice.
“My art has evolved from memories of emotion and feelings of time, place and events. Some are half forgotten or remembered. They are seen through the fog of time and heavily influenced by the present … Making art allows me to emotionally engage with the defining moments of my life as well as the changes and challenges that the passing of time brings. At the same time it facilitates creative expression and engagement with the world around me. Abstraction allows me to work instinctively.”
Brennan says that she often develops a piece as she works, allowing this instinct ‘to kick in and take me where it will’.

In the group show ‘Terrain’, reminiscences, recognition and rediscovery form the basis for Marian McHale’s exploration of her local landscape and the rugged bogland near Turlough, Castlebar. Striving to maintain the recognisable essence of the environment, by using personal concentration of composition, form, light and colour, the objective of her artistic endeavour is to expose Turlough landscapes ‘through abstract depictions revealing their multiplicity of colour, shade and the light’.
Marian describes the essence of the finished works as ‘the synthesis of seasonal floral forms and shapes, which flourish and dissipate in the creation of the paintings. The fusion of form and content may deter precise description or interpretation, as the battered surfaces of these paintings suggest the relentless making and unmasking of images, when they emerge as an apparition’.
Edinburgh artist Eileen Ferguson’s paintings are based on a research visit to the Occupied Territories last year. “I was based in Bethlehem and worked as part of the Olive Tree Campaign,” she explains. “The works are based on images from this visit and are mostly oil collage on canvas or board and vary in size from 140x100cm to 35 x25cm. Adopting a ‘multilayered’ approach, the artist is interested in ‘the social/political landscape and opening a dialogue with my art practise and images developed’.
As such, her narrative works incorporate landscape but are primarily concerned with a sense of place, memory and history.
“Unearthing the layers of the past the mental worlds of people who lived there brought to light in the trappings and textures of the place.  Her observations are poignant and at times sharp not at all cosily nostalgic conveying the idea of time offering a sense of possibility but also loss,” wrote Aidan Dunne in an Irish Times review.
Fiona Cawley, was born in Sligo and raised in Ballina, paints landscape and figurative scenes. The work is loosely painted using gestural brushstrokes, thick and thin paint and evocative colours which are an emotional response to her surroundings and personal life experiences.  
Though mostly representational, some paintings often evolve into abstracted depictions spontaneously painted from memory and the imagination. The paint dictates the beginning of each painting and the artist uses her imagination when it comes to the subject matter.
Her paintings in this show are recent work, either started or finished during the pandemic lockdown. Some portray a lone figure within nature, which is a repeated theme in the artist’s work and represents the artist herself finding solace in nature. This body of work was inspired by how the surrounding landscape nurtured its inhabitants and proved to be an escape from the experience of lockdown.

The Custom House Gallery at The Quay, Westport, is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, and  Saturday,Sundays and Bank Holidays from1pm to 4.30pm.