Thin Places, London 2014: Ceara Conway. Picture: Hana Videen
Art reviews and news from Chris Hayes, champion of Limerick’s bid to be European Capital of Culture
FEW artists support themselves financially from purely the making and selling of artworks. To say most artists are either administrators, educators, or writers, if not all three and more, is somewhat of an understatement; it’s the vast, vast majority. Some embrace this, stressing how each distinct type of activity – whether it’s working alone in the studio, or holding a busy workshop, or even writing a newspaper column – is integral to your overall artistic pursuits, each feeding the other.
On the other hand, many artists see the need to have multiple roles as a simple fact of the creative life, the need to make a living. The dream for many of the artworld’s gallery assistants, technicians, third level lectures, and beyond, is to drop the job titles and simply be a full-time artist. So, it was quite rare opportunity for me as an art critic to talk with someone who actually is a full-time artist, Ceara Conway.
Conway mainly worked fulfilling commissions from The Percent For Art scheme, which allows 1% of the cost of any publically funded capital project to be spent on an art project. Speaking of this process, Conway explained:“Community or socially engaged artists often talk about this; there is a lot of letting go of whose work it is; sometimes I’m more responding to the community groups – sometimes someone would say something and often I would have to admit to myself that that was better than anything I could come up with.”
“Also, I think I was a bit limited by the briefs, because there is a tendency that the brief can only go so far. So, if you observe anything that could be very interesting – or maybe, that isn’t so positive – that’s not normally something that’s going to be made into a public art piece; that was a little bit frustrating”. She added: “I think the older I’m getting the more I want to pull back on making a living from my artwork; sometimes you’re doing so much stuff that has a really fast deadline, which means you don’t really get to experiment and explore – and the process doesn’t lead the work, the deadline leads the work”.
Yet, to suggest Conway is moving away from working with people, with communities, and in the public space would be a mistake. Conway had originally received a BA in Glass And Architectural Glass in Edinburgh, which as she explained, “From there I got really interested in having work in the public sphere because architectural glass lends itself to large scale works – and that really excited me, the idea of having a permanent piece, and having a piece that engaged people from all walks of life”. Throughout her career thus far there has always been this emphasis on engaging with people, as she says, “all my work – no matter what level it is – is about engaging people”.
For now, Conway is actively taking time to reflect on her artistic work, whilst still attempting to preserve the long standing commitment to working with people and in a public way. As Conway navigates this balancing act, I find it interesting to consider just how often it’s assumed that making money and building a reputation in the art gallery scene is the pinnacle of one’s creative ambitions. It’s refreshing, if not inspiring, to find an artist doing something I’ve heard of far too few others doing; taking a step back, to think, to reflect.