29 May 2022

Mary McCarthy

Artist who values 'the healing qualities of art' in her life and practice

Mary McCarthy

Born on the north side of Limerick, close to River Shannon and the Westfield Wetlands, I feel privileged to have enjoyed such a happy childhood.

With my parents (Mary and Billy) and nine brothers, we often went on long country walks, taking-in Cleeve’s Riverbank, Coonagh, Doonass, Castleconnell and Killaloe. Indeed, during the summer time mum and dad packed us all into their Volkswagen Minibus for picnics and adventures at the seaside. So from early on I felt a special affinity with nature and still love being out and about in the fresh air. This love of nature and my local environment was nurtured and encouraged throughout my school days in the Salesian’s Primary and Secondary School at Fernbank.

I used to doodle quite a lot in school and many of the margins of my copybooks were filled with sketches and doodles.

It was in secondary school when I first began to see myself as an artist, and I am very thankful for the wonderful example and inspiration that Sr Sheila, my art teacher, gave me. In fact, she encouraged all of her students to enjoy and have a sense of freedom with the creative process. A gift from one of my brothers, (painting by numbers), when I was 12 years old initially sparked my love of painting. However, it would be many years later, with numerous twists and turns, before I continued my formal art education at Limerick School of Art and Design.

The opportunity to go to Art College began six years ago when I enrolled in a FETAC Art, Craft, and Design (Level Five) Course, at the’ Red Tech’, on O’Connell Avenue.

My initial motivation for applying was to lift my spirits and awaken my creative self after being a carer for my parents until my Mum’s passing in 2010 followed by my Dad in 2011. Thanks to the foresight and encouragement of that wonderful team of teachers on the course, I began to formulate a portfolio in my second year, and then applied to LSAD. To my delight I was accepted and continued my journey exploring the depths of my creative self. This college experience has been invaluable and challenging but in first year I felt the college system a bit overwhelming at times. Therefore, I would like to emphasise to any person taking that first step to return to University as a mature student, or when starting out from school, having a group of friends must be part of your survival guide.

Despite this, throughout those four years, I felt a range of emotions and questioned my capability to stay the distance on a number of occasions.

This might have resulted variously from having projects to complete or simply from the pressures of daily life as a single mum with a teenage daughter. Therefore, the support and encouragement of my fellow students, friends, and family, allowed my creativity to flourish and opened-up a world of new possibilities for me. For example, I travelled with the college to see the sights and galleries, both commercial and private, in a number of countries, including England, the Netherlands, Germany and France. It was on one such trip to Leipzig and Berlin, in Germany, when we visited the Bauhaus Design School that proved to be a turning point in my art work. After this I began to focus on structures, experimenting with various colours, tones and shades. While applying new techniques to my oil painting and exploring the use of oils on newspaper in my studio work, my final year project began with researching colour, form and space, as Healing Tools. This project seemed to jump from the pages when I concentrated my explorations locally in the Limerick Area. In fact, it became a stepping stone to further explorations and studies of the healing qualities of art in the creative process.

Presently, I am in my first year of an MA in Art Therapy, in Crawford College of Art, Cork.

I am very grateful, as my work was recently chosen by Naomi in the Hunt Museum, as the Curator’s choice for the month of November, and culminating with an informal talk in the Captain’s Room. My love of the natural environment is at the core of this work and forms an integral part of my research and completed portfolio. The depth of the latter is borne out by more creative possibilities and varied perspectives than I would have ever realised prior to my experience in LSAD. In my observations and research I work with photography and with the process of converting an image into its inverted or negative self. The results can be fascinating and in many cases it is these images that form part of the inspiration for my subsequent paintings.

My most recent series on the ‘Bridges of Limerick’ was really a natural step from my riverside walks and observations and I feel that this will be a theme in my work for a bit longer.

In fact, I love to stroll across the bridges of Cork and other cities too. Being an Artist today has different challenges to those experienced by artists in generations gone-by. However, I have come to realise, that for me at least, even if I had never picked up a paintbrush, I am still an Artist. It is in every fibre of my being, and as a result my life is filled with many creative possibilities. Furthering my education in art has, without question, enriched my life, improved my skills and widened my opportunities. I would encourage every person to explore and realise what gives them that extra zest in their step and then follow that passion with every heartbeat, every day!

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