28 Sept 2022

AGRI-CULTURE: New exhibition is based on artist Mary Burke’s visits to Limerick farms

AGRI-CULTURE: New exhibition is based on artist Mary Burke’s visits to  Limerick farms

Spraying cattle: Mary Burke has gone from diligently documenting the urban and suburban for decades to focusing on rural life for her At Home On the Farm exhibition in the Limerick City Gallery of Art

THE WORLDS of art and agriculture combine in the first exhibition of 2021 at Limerick City Gallery of Art (LCGA).

Mary Burke’s 26 paintings of her experience on five Limerick farms take centre stage in an exhibition of work called At Home On The Farm. The gallery staff are presently installing the show but it will only be available online at The exhibition opens this Thursday, February 25 and runs until May 2.

For four decades, Ms Burke has captured suburban Dublin scenes in oil pastels. These new works at LCGA represent a bold new departure - after 40 years of diligently documenting the urban and suburban, Ms Burke has made a radical shift in direction.

When LCGA invited her to work in the county, she found herself out in the farmyards where nature got a hold of her. The result is At Home on the Farm. The five Limerick farmers Ms Burke spent time with were Dan Browne, Thomastown, Effin; John MacNamara, Knockainey; June Danaher, Shanagolden; David Ryan, Lough Gur and Morgan Murphy, Glenbrohane.

Liz Kelly, creative producer public engagement with LCGA, said Ms Burke had never worked with farmers or spent time on farms before this but “really took to the whole experience and each farmer was open and welcoming”.

Her engagement with the individual farm families made an impact on Ms Burke and she speaks with genuine passion of them all.

“Take for example John Macnamara and the quality of his grassland,” she says.

“Or, the wonderful treasure trove of curiosities that Morgan Murphy has amassed in his barns and outbuildings. It was impossible for me not to document and celebrate these things.”

Ms Burke talks with equal enthusiasm about all the farms she visited - from Dan Browne’s majestic barn and traditional farm buildings in Thomastown to June Danaher’s fine pedigree Limousin suckler calves in Shanagolden and David Ryan’s timeless lakeside farm at Lough Gur abutting a 15th century castle.

The exhibition depicts the facets of each farm that were most important to the individual farmers or that made a particular visual impact on her, such as the MacNamaras’ cows, milking parlour and grass pasture, which exemplify the core priorities of his working life.

“In truth, I just wanted to capture the essence of their farms,” said Ms Burke.

“There's been a tendency in the past to romanticise the Irish landscape. I wanted to avoid that. These are working farms that are functional and lived-in. I wanted to convey a sense of the industrial farm infrastructure against the natural landscape.”

Ms Burke’s work enabled her “to escape my bubble and to see how others live their lives – to document the truth of their existence. It brought home to me the sheer variety of life on this island. It’s something I’m eager to engage more with in future work.”

For many, At Home On The Farm will resonate in a deeply personal way. LCGA director / curator Una McCarthy in welcoming this very special exhibition to the gallery, said her roots are semi-rural with most of her childhood spent at her maternal grandparent’s home in Feenagh.

“However, I am a 'townie'. I have lived most of my life in an urban setting albeit with a deep understanding of the whims and demands of a farming life. It was wonderful to receive Mary’s proposal as it chimed with what I wanted to achieve in the Gallery where the rural and urban could meet in an exciting and relevant way. This objective has most definitely met with this exhibition, At Home on the Farm, which I hope will further a discussion on the cultural and social importance of farming in Irish society,” said Ms McCarthy.

Following the exhibition opening on Thursday, an ‘In Conversation’ event hosted by Manchán Magan will explore the exhibition with Ms Burke and Dr Niamh Nic Ghabhann, University of Limerick, via Zoom at 3pm on Saturday, February 27.

Also, from Thursday, a public engagement programme will be accessible via the Gallery website including virtual ‘sound’ walks in the city; Talking Velvet, a farming poetry page; Full and Plenty, a webinar on the future of farming and food and #Choose to Challenge, an International Women’s Day conversation with women farmers whose creative practices are integral to their farming lives.

Running in tandem with At Home On The Farm is Parr’s Ireland: 40 Years of Photography, located upstairs in LCGA.

Since the late 1970s, British documentary photographer Martin Parr has been taking photographs in Ireland. Between 1980-1982 he lived in the West of Ireland embedding himself in its land and culture, capturing the area where he was based. Since then he has returned at regular intervals over the last three decades to continue this work. During that time, he captured the changing Ireland and created a series of images that present the effects of wealth and Americanisation on the country. At a pivotal time of social and cultural change these series range from the Texan inspired Bungalows of Co. Leitrim to the Country and Western dances in rural dance halls, showing an Ireland on the cusp of the Celtic Tiger era.

To date this expansive series of images made in Ireland over 40 years has not been exhibited in its entirety. In 2021 this will no longer be the case as LCGA working in partnership with Northern Narratives productions - opens a tour which will present all of Parr’s works exploring a variety of themes and events of historical and social significance in Ireland.

See for more on At Home On The Farm and Parr’s Ireland: 40 years of Photography.

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