25 May 2022

The Arts Interview: Sandra Sheehan

Painter and photographer whose new exhibition entitled ‘The Colour of Joy’ opens at Friars’ Gate Theatre shortly

The Arts Interview: Sandra Sheehan

Painter and photographer Sandra Sheehan

A native of West Limerick I attended Glengurt NS in Tournafulla and then Scoil Mhuire in Newcastle West (known as ‘The Convent’).

At that time the school did not have Art as an exam subject, so I attended art classes at the Vocational School on Friday evenings. The fabulous Eileen O’Sullivan was my art teacher and a great inspiration. When I left secondary school I attended Mallow College of Design and Tailoring for a year where I studied Fashion Design. I soon discovered that I preferred the design element, (the drawing and creativity)-‘Fashion’ per se was not for me. So, I went back to my old art teacher, Eileen O’Sullivan, and enrolled in the ten month Portfolio Preparation course that she ran at the Vocational School in Newcastle West.

Originally I left school in fifth year without sitting my exams so I had to sit my Leaving Cert while doing the Portfolio course.

It was worth it in the end, as I successfully sat my Leaving Cert and this combined with my portfolio secured my place in Limerick School of Art and Design. Our year was the first to attend the new Clare St Campus. Many years later, I attended the University of Limerick and completed a Master’s Degree in Sociology (Youth, Community and Social Regeneration). This was something that I would never have pictured myself doing as an early school leaver. Today, artists like Edward Hopper inspire me. I love his sense of colour and how he captured his subjects in a scene. Matisse was totally dedicated to his own vision right-up to his death.

Creativity is in my blood and growing-up I was continuously drawing or colouring.

Both my parents are quite creative but in different areas, my mother was a great knitter and now is a very creative gardener. Likewise my father, over the years, expressed his creativity through music. He still sings in the local choir in Milford, Co Cork. My younger sister, Marian, is also an artist and studied print, as well as completing her MA at LSAD many years after I had graduated. Today, my own daughter Saoirse is six years old and already I can see her artistic flair blossoming. My son Jude, although not quite two years old, loves to put his hands in my paint any chance he gets.

Today, I work primarily as a painter, although I do love photography as well, I tend to use my photographs as references for my paintings.

Mainly I paint in acrylic and more recently using oil on canvas. I love the intensity of colour and the textures that are possible when working in oil. I believe that we get great joy from colour and colourful things but as adults we have too little of that in our lives. I intend my paintings to be that spot of colour, and hence joy, in other peoples’ lives. However, many different subjects interest me. I like to use my art as a visual journal for what brings me happiness in my life. That could be a colour-filled landscape, a striking sky, my children, an animal, or a bustling urban scene. So, my paintings are a sort of window or a snapshot of life around me.

Artists have an inherent need to express themselves creatively but you don’t necessarily set-out wanting to be an ‘artist’.

Processing life around you results in creative output, you become an artist as a result. Art College is a unique opportunity to have a dedicated block of time solely for developing your art. It is probably the only period that most artists will ever get to spend time amongst their peers in a shared work environment. Although, I attended Art College, I don’t think that it is necessarily the only path for an artist to follow. A number of the best artists I know today are self-taught and have outstanding skill and talent. Technology and access to education has changed a great deal in recent years. YouTube tutorials and online painting groups are a great resource.

Art can be quite a solitary pursuit but is one of the most fulfilling I know.

Creating art is not only satisfying for your spirit, but it can also lift the spirits of those who view it. However, I don’t mean to say that all art is, or should be, happy. Art is about all human emotions, happiness, sadness, pain, and anger. Any work created by an artist exposes the feelings of that artist in some way. Consciously or subconsciously, this has a powerful effect on an audience. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that? Strong use of vibrant colour is probably the most notable thread of commonality between those artists who interest me. Indeed, I am working to achieve this in my own art currently. In my upcoming exhibition at Friars’ Gate Theatre I have pushed my own use of colour more than ever and have worked to loosen-up my painting style. It is essential as an artist, to keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

Sandra’s exhibition ‘The Colour of Joy’ will run at Friars’ Gate Theatre from October 4-31. See the website

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