This past October, in the early planning stages of Arts In Ireland 3, Matthew Allen and I met several times over lunch to try and structure a course that would meet several objectives: The first was to provide an experience that would help each student to grow and develop as an artist. The second was to determine the best way to integrate visual art and music based on the belief that the two disciplines share common ground in the area of conceptual development and in the ways artists in both areas think about their work and how it grows into something visual or musical. Add to these two important areas the logistical planning necessary to transport 14 students to a foreign country to do both 1 and 2, and you have the skeleton of what we were trying to accomplish.
Let me begin by addressing the latter. The Burren College of Art, in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, was the perfect location and the perfect facility for this “experiment.” The people that run and operate this place did everything within their power to make the experience the best that it could possibly be. They truly embraced our students and made them feel welcome and at home. They provided the time ,space, and inspiration for our students and this course to succeed. The only thing that they could do better would be to use some of that Irish mystique to control the weather. I guess you haven’t really experienced Ireland unless you have been there in the rain.
The course was designed to provide a setting where students would produce nearly a regular semester’s work in three weeks. They were asked only to develop a concept based on the “vibe” they got from being in Ireland, and to run with the idea. For the visual artists the goal was to produce a body of work that best expressed some part of the experience they had while in Ireland. The volume of work was determined by the complexity of the project. For the musicians, the idea was to become immersed in Irish music and using both traditional instruments (penny whistle) and not so traditional instruments (saxophone and Midi) create several compositions that synthesized the many sounds they heard while in Ballyvaughan.
Because of this combination of music and visual art, our critiques took on a different flavor. Although I think the critiques supported the notion that we do share ways of thinking about the creative process, the combination of artists in both disciplines deepened and enriched the experience. I know that I personally learned a great deal about how musicians think and feel when creating music and performing it, I think the musicians took away a new perspective on how making visual art works as well. I think we all recognized the common ground we suspected existed.
The key to the success of any venture of this type is the quality of the people who are a part of it. I would like to thank Matthew Allen for being the best partner possible. The students really appreciated his commitment to them through this process.
Now a few words about each student:
Rachel Vergara: Rachel was inspired by the format of the imagery of the Book of Kells. She produced 4 works of art using the medium of the scratch board. Anyone who is familiar with the Book of Kells and it’s illuminations, understands that Rachel’s idea was ambitious to say the least. However, her meticulous style of working and her determination to succeed, produced a beautiful and inspired set of drawings/paintings. I believe that she will continue this work through the summer and the final project will be on display at homecoming in the fall.
Sedra Davis: Sedra went through a few ideas on her way to developing a set of pen and ink drawings based on the mythology of the Magpie. Her final project was thoughtful, and well conceived and I think she grew tremendously as an artist through this process. She is a self-described “reserved personality” but I must tell you that most of us are still waiting to meet that part of her. She has an infectious laugh that can fill a room and she can cook a mean curried chicken. Sedra will also continue to perfect her project at Wheaton this summer where she is working and is also planning the exhibition that will feature the work of A in I 3.
Gilda Rodrigues: The “quiet One.” I didn’t know Gilda very well until this course except for an occasional meeting in the hallways in Mars Fine Arts, at Wheaton. She turned out to be my seat mate on our flight to Shannon in June and I began to get a glimpse of her quiet subtle humor. The work that Gilda produced was a complete and pleasant surprise to me. She developed a set of pen and ink and pencil drawings that incorporated her deep spirituality with myths and legends of Ireland in a beautiful and sensitive way. It was crazy to watch her skill level grow with each piece. Her work ethic was incredible and her concentration was sustained for long periods of time working on these detailed and imaginative drawings.
Amy Magaletti: Amy was the one lone photographer in the group. She began developing a very distinct and heavy style during my intermediate photo course last semester at Wheaton. This style continued to develop while in Ireland. I think the inclement weather worked to her advantage as her concept was best expressed where the elements were most visible. Amy also has an alter ego named Abby. Without prompting and without warning, she would begin talking with a British accent. This will serve her well as I believe she is soon to be heading to London for the Olympics.
Christina Cannon: When I think of Christina, I think of a young woman with tons of determination. She sets her goals, works hard to achieve them, and is always successful. She produced a set of ink and watercolor abstracts of the landscape and rock surfaces of the Burren. Christina was in my Drawing 1 class and my Photo 1 class at Wheaton but I never realized that this girl truly is an artist. Sometimes you lose sight of what’s really happening while teaching a course to a class of twenty but I was really impressed with her artistic and interpretive approach to her work. She also achieved one of her primary goals of riding a horse in Ireland.
Tyler Matayoshi: One of our four musicians. Matthew could probably write a far more accurate description of Tyler but I’ll give it a whirl. Tyler is a very talented musician who I would describe as having a feel for his instrument. Its not enough to merely play the notes but to play them with a sensitivity and “feel” that makes them come alive. Each day, One could hear Tyler’s saxophone playing an Irish tune from the third floor of the turret of Newtown Castle. Not sure if the castle has ever experienced this phenomenon. His music has been recorded and if you come to our opening in the fall you will be able to hear his compositions first hand. I believe he also set a record for Guinness consumption on consecutive days. (one, maybe two per day) Sorry Mrs. Matayoshi……
Stephanie Hoomis: There is always one person in every group that acts as the “glue” for the group. I believe that this person was Steph. Always talking….My God, I’m not sure how this girl breathes. And the laugh….there were four donkeys not far from Stephanie’s house and I think they all fell in love with her laugh. When she got rolling she could easily have been related to them. However, in the studio she was a dynamo. A truly natural artist with so much raw talent that we haven’t even come close to knowing what she is capable of producing. For this course she produced a set of gorgeous pastel portraits of older local men. She has a way of capturing the essence of a person using an unusual choice of colors. She has a gift that I hope will only continue to grow as she continues at Wheaton.
Lyndsay Cooke: Lyndsay is another of our artists who has tremendous powers of concentration and when she’s in her groove she stays there for hours. Her paintings were based on the concept of “home” and what that means to her. She blended images of traditional Irish cottages with torn Gaelic text from old books found in Galway. Her inspiration was a combination of her life as the child of a professional athlete who moved the family around a great deal, and an idealized sense of what “home” is in Ireland. I believe she’s a natural as the way she moves across a canvas is reflexive and free flowing. If Lynn Miller reads this…..she ran every day, rain or shine! You should be proud of her.
Nate Hunt: Nate is avery smart and gifted musician. I think that this course was very valuable for him. He found himself surrounded by 13 talented people all working at an inspired level, and I think this really elevated the quality of his already wonderful work. When he played recordings of his musical compositions, every face in the room began to smile because they recognized that he had grasped the sense of place that is County Clare. He too has stated that he will work his compositions to a finished level over the next couple of months. Nate is also a “super shopper.” He and Tyler just may win the “most presents for family” award.
Hilary Lahan: “Thank you” “Thank you” Hilary is perhaps one of the most polite students I have had the pleasure of teaching in my many years at Wheaton. So much so that Matthew forbid her from saying “thank you” at the end of practically every sentence! She is also a versatile and talented musician. Her compositions cut to the quick of Irish music. She gave a private concert to Mary Hawkes-Green, the President of the Burren College of Art, and Mary was shocked and amazed at how quickly she was able to understand the feeling of the music of the Burren. Hilary also is responsible for what has become the anthem of Arts In Ireland 3. I believe that this tune will also be played and sung at homecoming.
Alex Strawbridge: Our resident food expert! I won’t go into the details of why she has earned this title but suffice it to say that she knows the molecular construction of a Taco! She also chose one of the most difficult mediums of all, oil pastels. Her work grew significantly in the three short weeks of this adventure. If it’s possible for one person to radically mature in style in a period of three weeks, she accomplished it. Her detailed pastels of stone buildings became three dimensional.
Lauren Andres: Lauren hates me…. really, she almost told me so. That was at the beginning of the course. I think she appreciates me more now. Lauren has always been able to draw well. Really well. Her style was one of being able to render her subject realistically, almost mechanically. My goal for her was to work to un-lock a different kind of creativity where she produced work from the opposite side of her brain. From her soul and from her heart. A very painful experience sometimes. To her credit, she did it! She made some of the best art I have seen her make since I have known her. Not without tears and not without angst but WORTH IT! To her mother….Bless you!
Amira Pualwan: Amira is one of the most natural and gifted young artists I know. She created a magnificent set of watercolors and pencil and ink pieces. She drew her inspiration form what she experienced in and around Ballyvaughan and produced works that anyone would want to purchase. She has a future as a very successful illustrator based on the work she produced in Ireland. She also has the uncanny ability to text her BF while painting and holding a conversation all at the same time. She is also a very fast walker. To look at her, you wouldn’t think so but she has been heard to say…”watch out old man,” as she passed me by.
Andy Cavacco: Last but not least….Andy is a wanderer and for good reason. He is always recording and photographing everything he sees and hears. His senses are always on full alert. He then takes all this stuff and works them into musical and visual compositions. Amazing! The sound of a loose stone being walked on
ends up being a part of a musical composition accompanied by a bird chirping. Wheres Andy? To be followed by, “oh, here he is.” Nicknamed “little Matthew” because of structural similarities and mannerisms. Andy, you should be honored.. Andy is the classic example of “all who wander are not lost.” A talented artist and a gentleman.
Thanks everyone for all that you brought to this feast that was Arts In Ireland 3.