Portrait of me, my life: Limerick artist inspired by Tuam scandal

Aged 60, Beth Nagle graduated with her degree in art and is now exhibiting her work in the Hunt Museum

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

Portrait of me, my life: Limerick artist inspired by Tuam scandal

Artist Beth Nagle in the Hunt Museum in front of one of her works Picture: Adrian Butler

EVERYTHING we do is a self-portrait. Artist Beth Nagle has always been guided by the words of American novelist Chuck Palahniuk.

“We have no scar to show for happiness,” he said.

“Everything is a self-portrait. Your fingernails. The lining of your stomach is a document. The calluses on your hand tell all your secrets. Your teeth give you away. Your accent. The wrinkles around your mouth and eyes. Everything you do shows your hand.”

Beth agrees. “There are so many elements of who we are in our work,” she told the Limerick Leader.

There are the life experiences that can define a person, drawing deeper brush strokes through their soul.

And in Beth’s case, sometimes they metamorphosize back out onto a piece of stretched linen or paper.

A mother of three boys, one of her sons died tragically aged nine following a heart and lung transplant. 

Then, while she was at art college, she received another devastating phone-call in April 2015, that her grand-daughter Lola, had died aged just 17 months after contracting meningitis.

Those experiences are now “part of my tapestry, they are my life experiences, just like an unravelled jumper, it’s there. It’s a part of our history.”

And sometimes, unwittingly, those experiences make their way to the canvas.

Having worked a variety of jobs, art was always in her heart, and at 55, she took the step towards her real desire, and signed up for an art portfolio preparation course in the Limerick College of Further Education on Mulgrave Street.

Then she went on to do her BA honours degree in Fine Art (painting) at the Limerick School of Art & Design, and graduated at the age of 60.

Now, her work hangs in the Hunt Museum.

Her three-part installation Honora has been on display in the Hunt since 2014 as part of its permanent collection, after she won first prize in the college’s exhibition.

But her most recent work has taken its inspiration from the scandal that shocked the country in Tuam.

Her atmospheric piece, Clandestine, an oil on linen measuring 4ft x 4ft, with its grey and muted melancholic tones possesses an other-worldly sense.

The layering up and partial erasure, blurring and scraping of the painted surface depicts the notion of time and history and of revealing the world of the subterranean, sacred resting space of these human remains. 

As a child, Beth was always interested in art. It was her ‘thing’. 

Moving to the UK with her parents aged three, she returned aged 11, lived in Dublin, and came back to Limerick, where she studied homeopathy while her children were at school.

“It was the best decision that I made, because here I am today doing exactly what I love. I was in there with all the school leavers, 18 year-olds, but I just liked being around positive young people, and they could learn from us too as mature students. The treatment of mature students in LSAD was outstanding; it was just so encouraging.”

“It was a full on course, very demanding academically, in terms of coming up with new and innovative ideas.”

Women in art, and indeed in many fields, have to work harder than their male contemporaries and for a long time “didn’t get a look in”, she feels.

“Today women are unafraid to speak up in this patriarchal society we have been living in for many years.”

Among her inspirations in the art world is Jesse Jones, “a real Dublin girl”, who has been selected to represent Ireland at this year’s Venice Biennale, and Vivienne Bogan, another contemporary artist from Limerick.

Before her brush touches a canvas, preparation is key – research, studies in philosophy, architecture, photography – all form the basis of her work.

“Then I put everything away. When I start working on a canvas, things happen by chance, and it could go in a different direction to what’s in my head.”

“Everything we experience in life shows in our work. The elements of your whole being goes into something that you actively pursue.”

- Beth Nagle will discuss her work in the Hunt Museum on Wednesday, April 26 at 11am. It is free and all are welcome to attend