Wednesday, 24 April 2019

After Lyra

I haven't been keeping up with my blog for some time but I felt I must do this post today after watching the funeral of journalist Lyra McKee in St. Anne's Cathedral, Belfast.

What I am going to put in is a poem I actually wrote a couple of years ago that puts forward fears I had concerning what might happen to and within Northern Ireland in relation to Brexit. I was born and grew up in Co. Down and, after studying in Aberystwyth for my initial degree, returned to Ireland to work in Belfast at the height of the Troubles.

This was a very difficult time and, on one occasion, I was caught up in a bombing incident that led me to believe myself to be dead. At this time, I was a couple of years younger than Lyra and, not to tell the whole story just now, I felt thrown into a white light by the blast; formless and bodiless, I waited to find out just what form my spiritual being might now take and, after some time had passed, came to realise with great astonishment that the golden sparkles drifting and twinking before and around me heralded my continuing being in this mortal existence!

The experience had given me the overwhelming feeling that life and death were two sides of the same coin and, somehow, I was still on this mortal side and I have been for several decades since.

I have tried not to waste my time but have tried to live, in love, as best I can and use what I've been given. Sometimes, the onslaughts of my illness make me feel not up to the struggle to continue but I know how precious life is and I take measures to help, physical and spiritual, aided not least with Arthur's continuing love and support and the love and support of family and friends. One day, I won't be able to continue and the only things I fear about this are perhaps not being able to finish things started here or that are in my head still to do and the other, of course, the wrench of parting from loved ones. But this parting will not be forever, it is the love that is eternal and everything done in and for love will not end in pain but in a depth of love so warm and so joyful, it cannot be expressed in words or contained within this mortal frame.

At this time, as well as the shooting that killed Lyra McKee, we have too, the dreadful sense of futlity and pain following the appalling violence and loss of life in New Zealand and Sri Lanka; but the cruelty and blind ideologies that led to this taking of life pale before the strength of compassion and love that reach out after such atrocities; they will not have the last word.

This poem then, is, with the greatest of sadness but in the hope and unity of love, for Lyra.


I draw words down with
every thread, like birdsong
punched out of the dark.

Light plays on silk and
cotton fibres piercing
through the virgin linen  -

sparks candle-flame and
burning heat, not velvet
consolation of petals
smoothed between
fingers but spatter of air-

cracked moment, history's
strangle-hold in the now-but-
then thinking;    diffusing and

diffusing and diffusing,
walk back further and
further, petrol-tanker
holds its load of fickle
fuel, city's centre retains
                    stone on stone  -
racing blood
           beats a normal rhythm.

Surely not again mangled flesh
sorrowed on news headlines,
torn apart to sate what God-
forsaken desire, knock on the
door and a nation's grieving
              and for what,
                                          for what?       

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Poetry and Prints at Mid Wales Arts Centre

An exhibition with a difference this time for me, as I'll be there as a poet rather than an artist!

Normally, I would give readings of my poems at exhibitions of my artwork but this time I am taking part purely in my role as poet! I've had to move away from etching at the moment but that doesn't stop me enjoying the work of others and I have responded to the print Flora-1 in a new exhibition opening very soon at Mid Wales Arts Centre.

Cathy at MWAC has done a light, airy barn conversion to extend her lovely gallery space and I'll be going both to the opening of the Poetry and Prints Exhibition on Sunday 24th March then I'll return on Sunday 31st March to read my poem Nocturnal Whispers at the special Poetry Event organised by Pat Edwards.

I know some of the artists and poets but will be meeting others for the first time. Really looking forward to seeing all the prints exhibited, reading my poem and meeting and talking with everyone!

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Talk and Workshop Limavady October 2018

As part of the War-Torn Children Exhibition in the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, Limavady County Londonderry in which I have my piece Her Pillow, the Earth, I gave a talk/workshop to a group of specially invited artists, practitioners and those with a special interest in stitch in October in conjunction with the exhibition.

Her Pillow, the Earth

This is my piece Her Pillow, the Earth and, at the Opening of the War-Torn Children Exhibition in the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, Limavady, Brenda Chivers, Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, curator Roberta Bacic and Billy Coyles who hung the exhibition were photographed by my piece.

I enjoyed giving the talk and doing the workshop afterwards with the participants.

Giving the talk. 

The centre supplied a nice big screen for my Powerpoint images and also had the necessary equipment for the sound elements of my presentation.

Getting going with the materials

Discussing techniques

Choosing the fabric

A moment's distraction!

The work continues

A little discussion at the end of the workshop

It was a pleasure to get together with those I already knew and to meet others I hadn't met or worked with before. The exhibition came about largely due to Roberta Bacic of Conflict Textiles and more about this organisation can be found on their website  conflicttextiles  with some more photographs of the workshop taken by Breege Doherty at 1200_photo-gallery-EHarrisson-wshop-050918-BD.pdf

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Willow Gallery Exhibition as part of the Wilfred Owen Festival Oswestry 2018

Exhibtions this year have been concentrationg on my conflict work as the PhD progresses. After In a New Light the two main shows have been for the Willow Gallery, Oswestry's War and Poetry, Conflict and Peace Exhibition 22nd September - 11th November 2018 and War-Torn Children Exhibition 5th September - 29th November 2018 in the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, Limavady, County Londonderry. The Willow Gallery Exhibition is on as part of the Wilfred Owen Festival, Oswestry which has a rich and varied programme of exhibitions and events, music and literature.

I have titled my work for the Willow Gallery Conflict and Redemption and it features a spread of pieces on this theme including wall pieces, film, three-dimensional textile and sound. In theme, the range covers comment on World War I with Requiem: les Fleurs du Mal, a detail from which is shown below, to pieces based on my experiences of the Troubles in Northern lreland to the work Continuum which includes images relating to the two world wars as well as the Troubles and it was made as an expression of sorrow at the ongoing presence of armed conflicts in the world.

Requiem: les Fleurs du Mal     (detail)

Continuum and other pieces in Willow Gallery 2018

Pieces in this exhibition featured those shown in Mid Wales Arts Centre in autumn 2017 and more.  I carried on with some work towards the exhibition over the summer, including during our wonderful stay in the lovely gîte in Brittany where we have been several times. It's great and slightly different every time! I always bring my work with me  -  stitching on the patio in the beautiful garden in warm Breton sunshine, what's not to like!

Self on the patio at the gîte with stitch, books etc and the nurse's cape over me!

It had been very hot in the afternoon, too hot even to work outside but the evening was perfect! I so love having the nurse's cape; that it is one worn by a nurse from the hospital I was both patient in and worked in makes it very special to me and I stitch into it with love. There is something about touching a garment that is not just a theatrical costume to stand in for a role but this cape was worn by someone when she came off duty as I would have worn mine. I loved my cape! The heavy wool is incredibly warm and wrapping it around you felt and feels like a protective blanket  -  I have put blanket stitch all round the hem of the cape because of its various connotations.  The cape's previous owner had also stitched her name into it using red thread; it has a history unknown to me, I am giving it a new one or perhaps more adding to what has already been, even though I don't know exactly what that was.

Another little view of self and cape etc

On the extreme left you can just see the table-tennis table with its protective blue cover hanging by it.  A couple of years ago on a previous holiday, I played wheelchair table-tennis with Ed. We had great fun!

The cape in what I call the 'Survivor's Corner' installation, part of the exhibition in the Willow Gallery.  (taken with Arthur's camera)

A wider view of the gallery including cape and other pieces.

The headphones on the wall are for a sound track that features different voices reading my poem 'Fragments' with the augmented sound of stitch. The voices and sound of stitch weaving in and out of one another echo in sound the multiple visual layers of fabric and thread. I felt this track was particularly appropriate for the piece on the left, Street Violence with its repeated figures and also for Requiem: les Fleurs du Mal with its multiple crosses.
On top of the cabinet is another set of headphones by the screen that shows the film Continuum.

Detail of stitching on cape.

The imagery on the cape is an evolving process and it now includes the 'Falls Road' stitched in English and Gaelic. The hospital is situated on the Falls Road. There will be more images, including words, as time goes on until I feel the work is finished. I start pieces with an idea of what I'm doing but then grow the artwork in an organic process whereby I respond to what the work is saying to me. The image of the baby has various significances to me; the infant represents the vulnerability of a young child, bringing to mind my own children and also the time when, as a student nurse, I was put in charge of the baby section of the ward where I was working. This was just my second ward and it was then that I held a baby for the first time! 

The cape with more lettering and glimpse of imagery including a Celtic Cross.

I have always loved the form of the Celtic Cross and feel it is something that can be claimed, if that is the right word, by both 'sides' of Ulster's religious divide. Two such crosses that stand out in my mind are one that I saw at Saul near Downpatrick, Co. Down and the other by the abbey on Iona. The cross on the cape is drawn from the Iona cross.

The nurse's cape represents the compassion that arises when conflicts break out. There are those who perpetrate the violence but, conversely, those who try to do something against it and who offer help to the suffering. Another of my works that speaks of peace is A Belfast Peace: In the Name of Peace, pictured below. 

A Belfast Peace: In the Name of Peace

This shows the work photographed in its entirety, including border with words taken from my poetry. Unusually for me, this is an etching and aquatint which I stitched into. The incident speaks of the candlelit vigil that was held outside Belfast City Hall and attended by many people after tragic shootings in 2009 that broke into the peace that had been holding since the 1998 Peace Process Agreement. First two young soldiers were shot dead then a policeman and poeple came out in peaceful protest against these actions thought to have been carried out by dissident republicans.

A Belfast Peace: Beneath the Surface

This is the companion work to A Belfast Peace: In the Name of Peace and this time speaks of the tensions that lie beneath the peace that has brought such prosperity and changed living not just to Belfast but to N. Ireland generally. The figures which are seen in both works are drawn from photographs I took of bronze statues of Titanic workers on the Newtownards Road in Protestant East Belfast and the image behind them is of the sculpture Rise situated in Catholic West Belfast by the motorway where it links to the Falls Road. This sculpture which represents hope can be seen from a long way across the city. These sculptures cannot be seen together in reality but are placed together in my artwork as a hope that the divisions between sections of society that still exist in N. Ireland can one day be, if not dissolved, at least accepted in respect not just by those who already live in peace in this way but by everyone of all religions and none.

Before I started to make visual pieces on the Troubles, I had started to express my sorrow at what was  happening in poetry and I gave a poetry reading/performance of my poems as part of the War and Poetry, Conflict and Peace Exhibition Opening in the Willow Gallery. As we approach Armistice Day and the celebration of the end of the First World War 100 years ago, I'm now going to give another reading of my poetry on Saturday 3rd November at 12 noon.

Self seen on the right beneath one of my pieces and audience during my poetry reading/performance in the Willow Gallery 22nd September 2018.

Myself in action during the reading!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

In a New Light: Celebrating the Precious

The most recent exhibition I have taken part in was in School of Art Gallery 1, Aberystwyth University and just finished this week.  Six of us from the Fine Art PhD Forum group had got together to organise this exhibition in which we all chose an item from the School of Art and Museum's extensive collection and made new work prompted by our chosen piece. Part of the impetus behind the exhibition was that this year, the School of Art celebrates 100 years of teaching art at Aberystwyth and also making a new work directly inspired by a piece or artefact from the School's collection hadn't been dome before.

I chose Crucifixion 1927 by David Jones because of the multiple imagery that accorded with the layering of my stitched pieces, his spirituality and also the affinity I felt between the marks of his wood engraving and my own hand stitch. I gave my section the title Reconciliation Path.

This view shows the wall in the gallery that was dedicated to most of my work on exhibition  -  one further piece Futility was shown on the opposite wall.

This is the print Crucifixion by David Jones. It is a wood engraving on white Japanese paper made for Llyfr y Pregeth-wr; the Book of Ecclesiastes published by the Gregynog Press.

The Book is seen here in its box in the display cabinet, Gallery 1, the School of Art.

The image here is of the whole cabinet and shows the book beside the artefacts chosen by Carmen Mills for her work  -  they made a nice display together.

When I started looking at the print, I began my ideas for work by sketching from the print:-

Initial sketch from the print.

I then began thinking along the lines of a piece in multiple imagery, as David Jones had done with his print and I have often done with my textile pieces and installations, so I began with a pen and ink sketch comprising images from my own drawings:-

My initial intention had been to make a two-sided hanging in multiple imagery but, as the piece grew and visual ideas developed, it became clear that the issues depicted would be better served by being viewed as two separate hangings, so Conflict's Web and Reconciliation were born.

Gunmen and poppies from Conflict's Web.

A central image for the theme of the piece, the armed gunmen are connected to one another and to poppy images by the stitches of the 'web'. The impetus for these figures was a mural of gunmen I had seen in East Belfast, making them originate from a Loyalist organisation. However, I altered the image to make it ambiguous as to which 'side' they might belong to; gunmen maimed, killed and terrorised from both sides of the conflict.

David Jones drew images of the Passion Flower in his work, drawing full blooms on each side of the embracing couple and a figure at the foot of cross holds high a bunch of the flowers in his hand. This flower is symbolic of Christianity through various parts of the flower relating to Christ and His passion or crucifixion. Within this symbolism, the leaves of the plant are said to represent the holy lance or spear that pierced Christ's side and David Jones has featured many of these leaves in the ground of his print.

The print by David Jones was destined for a book of the bible, so it was natural that he should employ a passion flower, symbol of Christianity. My work, however, was not destined for such a purpose and I decided to use the image of the poppy in all that it symbolises. The poppy has been used so very many times already but despite the universality of its use, I think it can still speak to us through the many different ways in which it has appeared in artworks, through the flower's character of tenacity through fragility and also in its most common variety, through the petals brightly red as blood.

I had made pencil drawings of poppies growing in our garden and used these images for the poppies on the hangings that I was making for the exhibition.

Poppies on the hanging Reconciliation  . . .

 . . . and as they appeared around the figure in the kitchen, one of the images on the hanging. The original here was a pencil drawing I had made in 1971 of my grandmother in the kitchen which I made into an etching. On the hanging, the etching is reproduced as a digital print on linen, then further stitched into by hand.

Futility on exhibition in Gallery 1 in the In a New Light Exhibition.

This doorway image is from my piece Aftermath

This photo of myself by my work in the exhibition shows my piece Destruction's Path on my right and behind me, the main piece Aftermath with small pieces that formed the complete work for the exhibition.

This photo of myself talking with visitors was taken at the Opening of the Exhibition.

We had a very good experience exhibiting together in the School of Art and there were some lovely comments written in the Visitors' Book about the exhibition in general with some really nice comments about my own work. I also owe thanks to those who contacted me personally to say how my work had touched them.