Nollaig Rowan is a Dublin-based writer who also has a house on Sherkin. Her work has won many awards; her stories have been heard on RTE and one has been adapted as the screenplay for an award-winning film, which has allowed her to attend a plethora of film festivals and enjoy a taste of red carpet life (photographic evidence has been sent to me on a regular basis!)
She is also a good friend.
We have chatted about working together on a collaborative project for a good while now, but life and other demands have always intervened.
Until this year.
Way back in the spring, an email arrived from the organisers of 'West Cork Creates'- the arts and crafts exhibition, showcasing creative work to complement the amazing 'Taste of West Cork' food festival. They were calling for submissions to their 2016 show that were collaborations between creative creatures of diverse disciplines.
This was it - the external impetus for Nollaig and I to get together.
We had always discussed using her Haiku poems as the inspiration for painted pieces.
The theme of the exhibition this year is 'gardens', so Nollaig selected some Haikus that would fit the brief.
It was then that the complex enormity of working collaboratively hit me. Working solo, one can do as one pleases, but suddenly I felt very aware that I really truly had to please someone with my art and, what's more, they would and should have a say in the development of those paintings.
After a thousand sketches, emails and cups of tea together, I started to try out some ideas in paint.
I realized that one (very beautiful) Haiku was impossible for me to develop in to a visual form as the words took me to a place that bore no relation to the actual words and imagery of the Haiku. That was a very strange moment for me and made me understand better the particular skills of graphic and ‘commercial’ artists, who work specifically to the client’s brief.
This was a dialogue, full of compromise, complete honesty, head-scratching and laughter.
But back in the earlier stages of the experience, Nollaig could see my difficulty with the third selected haiku and kindly found some other Haikus with which I could work.
I fell on her poem about artichokes, as the image created in my mind was so immediate and strong - reminiscent of my secret ‘flora’ drawings.
I felt very strongly, however, that the actual Haiku should be part of the final piece – a true integrated artwork, not simply a visual response. Nollaig agreed. I also felt equally strongly that the text on the paintings should be written in Nollaig’s hand, even if I subsequently embellished, glazed and painted over them.
We discussed how the poems should sit within each painting. Nollaig understandably wanted the visual Haiku form to be preserved, but it was the scale and positioning that was important to consider – and, in fact, in one poem, the Haiku is repeated, changes form within the painting and finally the whole poem disintegrates in to scattered words. This fits beautifully with the sense of the Haiku and the overall imagery developed.
The project has been an enormous experience for me. The freedoms far out-weighed the constraints. I have found the process extraordinarily liberating and enjoyed having ‘permission’ to work in a way that it is totally different and using a palette in one instance that is completely alien to me.
I am interested to see how it is now affecting my own painting. Watch this space.
When it is all over, Nollaig and I must sit down, glass in hand, and have that “ how was it for you?” conversation. There is always so much more clarity in hindsight than in the moment.
In the meantime, glimpses of some of the works have been seen on Facebook and Twitter, and there will be no more revealed here.
All three completed pieces can be seen at the ‘West Cork Creates’ exhibition in the O’Driscoll Building, Levis Quay, Skibbereen, West Cork, opening on August 5th and continuing throughout the food festival in to September.