I’m an artist based in Manchester, but I work all across Britain and Ireland and also in a number of European locations, especially Catalunya. In the last few years I have been working increasingly between Britain and Ireland and I see myself increasingly as an international artist. I take huge inspiration from travelling, exploring and trying to understand and interpret the invisible aspects of the culture or sense of a place. The one constant in my life these days seems to be that I’m constantly on the move.
The effects of 1916 and in particular the life of Sean Mc Diarmada has affected and inspired your current work, can you describe how and what drew you to this subject?
I’ve been aware of the significance of the year for some time – and the whole area of memorialisation is one that fascinates me and is integral to the proposal I made to the Leitrim Sculpture Centre for this residency. I have been looking at the ways in which an individual’s life and actions can come to be venerated and be seen to represent a wider set of ideals or values, both in terms of recent history (the last hundred years) and more ancient history (the megalithic tombs of five thousand years ago). Here in North Leitrim, Seán Mac Diarmada has come to be seen as a local hero, and his role in the Easter Rising has been the subject of a lot of research and reappraisal. The ceremony two weeks ago to rename Lower Main Street here in Manorhamilton as Sraid Sheain Mhic Diarmada is an example of the high regard in which he’s held. I feel that in 2016, Ireland as a whole is reappraising the legacy of 1916, and that interests me in terms of what it says about the notion of national ideals of society in a 21st century European context. Ireland held the Marriage Equality referendum last year and this year, (next week in fact as I write this), the UK is holding a referendum on membership of the EU. The results of the UK referendum will have a big impact on Ireland, North and South of the border, which is a reminder of the War of Independence and the struggle of Mac Diarmada and the other organisers of the Rising. What is the role of the nation state in people’s imagination these days and what is the legacy of the cause for which Seán Mac Diarmada died? These are some of the questions I have been asking myself recently.
Since arriving in Leitrim, I have spent a lot of time in Kiltyclogher and Corranmore at the Mac Diarmada house. I have been doing a series fo drawings and studies of the house and also the memorial to Seán Mac Diarmada by Albert Power. I have turned these drawings into prints using Copperplate etching with Hard Ground and Aquatint and these techniques and processes of translation really interest me. My impression of the house – through drawing there in several sittings over a period of several days – is that it has become a kind of shrine or place of pilgrimage, where people come to feel some sort of contact with Seán Mac Diarmada in his family home. I have tried to capture something of the sense of the place, the stones and timbers from which it is built, the contents of the house, furnishings and religious ornaments, cooking implements and the rifle around the hearth – the centre of the home and the scene of much conversation, discussion of formative ideas, storytelling, singing etc over the years. I have tried to capture the atmosphere inside the room, with light spilling in from the landscape out of the windows, the view over the Leitrim and Fermanagah hills, in an attempt to record or respond to the hundred-odd years of memories that are contained within the stones of the building.
As a general rule, do you explore the political sphere through your work?
I wouldn’t say that my work is overtly political as a rule, but the political sphere is one of several lenses through which I investigate the world. As an artist, I always try to understand the sense of a place through exploring its invisible, intangible attributes, and these are often political, cultural, lingusitic, historical. I sometimes liken this process to the mushroom hunter uncovering not just mushrooms (the visible, edible fruiting bodies) but the whole mycelium which is the vast network of connecting fibres which is buried below ground and invisible, but which in fact forms the substantial majority of the single organism of a fungus.
Having said that, I think the political and historical often come to the fore in my work, although I usually try to mediate these through sculptural processes of abstraction rather than employ explicit statements, such as with my work “Third Bridge” in Derry. For my exhibition at the LSC I will be showing some work which is consciously about the political (for example my reworked version of the 1916 proclamation, translated into Catalan) as well as work which is more reflective/ philosophical, and deals with themes of memory and mortality through exploring the materiality of stone, and also its role in memorialisation – such as my sculptural poem, ‘What Matter/ Cén t-Udar”.
Describe your route to becoming a full time artist?
I studied at Middlesex Polytechnic (Foundation) and Manchester Polytechnic (BA Hons
Three-Dimensional design) in the 80s and then worked as an assistant to various artists in London, New York and Manchester (Michael Gitlin, Patrick Dougherty, André Dubreuil and David Mach) I also worked for a while in animation before deciding that I wanted to make sculptural work that had some degree of direct social engagement. I made what I thought at the time was a considered decision to work mainly outside the gallery (although I’ve come to reassess that decision lately!) and so specialised in public art. I’ve worked on over 50 projects for public spaces across Britain and Ireland and some in mainland Europe. I have made work for group exhibitions and commissions but never had a solo show until now. I spent some time in the nineties trying to develop studio spaces with specialist sculpture facilities in Manchester as there weren’t any (which seems surprising for such a large city). In the end, I set up my own small sculpture studio which is where I am based today, alongside several other artists working in sculpture/ 3D design. I’ve done a lot of work supporting early-career artists, working as a co-ordinator and manager of placement and professional development support programmes for emerging artists and designer-makers. I’ve also worked as a curator and lead artist on temporary programmes of art in the public realm. Alongside this I’ve done a lot of Creative Education work in schools and colleges, worked as an Associate and Visiting Lecturer in universites and art schools across England and Catalunya, and also as a public art consultant in England and the Isle of Man. I work in collaboration with other artists in different projects, including as part of cross-disciplinary art/ theatre/ outdoor installation projects with companies like Macnas in Galway, Handmade in Hebden Bridge or the Lantern Company in Liverpool. I also do architectural metalwork for private clients. I’ve come to see all these things as being different facets of my work and have given them equal importance, as they have all been part of the mix needed to sustain myself as a full time artist Now, however, I’m trying to return to exploring and developing the core of my practice as an individual artist, and so this is why I applied for the residency at the Leitrim Sculpture Centre. It’s been fantastically enjoyable and reinvigorating to spend time developing my work here.
What artists do you admire and why? How do you see their influence in your own work if at all?
I guess I like lots of diffent artists from different disciplines. It’s always hard to name a select few but here are some that spring to mind, perhaps because I’ve seen their work recently: Nikolai Astrup for his incredible otherworldly paintings of Norwegian landscapes in vivid colours and dreamlike compositions, Pauline Baynes and Edward Ardizzone for their beautifully evocative children’s book illustrations, Pipilotti Rist for her sensual immersive video work which seems to evoke pure emotion and feeling, Richard Serra and Eduardo Chillida for their incredible explorations of the materiality of metal and startling sense of form and place in the landscape, Alexander Calder for his wonderful kinetic sculptures, especially the Almadén Mercury Fountain at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona, which combines the political and historical in a captivating sculpture which is mesmerising, thought-provoking and not at all literal , Olafur Eliasson for his hybrid architectural/ sculptural interventions, Ernesto Neto for his incredible organic Installations which feel almost like walkign through the innards of a giant creature in the Brazilian rainforest. I’ve recently fallen for Rembrandt’s etchings, which I’ve been massively inspired by during my own etching experiments, and Gertrude Hermes for her fantastic body of work spanning sculpture and print.
In terms of contemporary artists, I really like what Michael Fortune and Aileen Lambert are doing with socially engaged work around 1916 Song project, the Backroads to the Rising and also the social record of the Dresser project. I love Selma Makela’s paintings that suggest a sense of vast universal forces and explore perceptions of deep time contrasted with the lives of peripheral creatures in marginal earthly/ unearthly landscapes, and I think Guyan Porter’s recent sculptural and installation work exploring notions of immortality and systems of belief is really moving and thought-provoking.
Do you keep notebooks, photo diaries or ideas jotters to inform later projects have you a system when approaching your work?
Yes, I have a number of different systems! I take photos all the time, as I’m working, as I’m travelling around, as a record of what I’m doing, of anything I see on my travels that interests me, and as a record of things I wnat to look into further when I get the time. I keep a number of notebooks, one in which I write down everything that I need to keep in mind on an everyday basis – this could be work related or the minutae of my life, shopping lists, reminders to call people, that sort of thing. I also keep a couple of ‘fragment books’ – small notebooks that I carry everywhere and make sketches in or record thoughts specifically related to my art practice. I then have larger sketchbooks in which I make studies, drawings, paintuings, collages etc to return to in other work. For instance the book in which I made the ‘Mac Diarmada Hearth’ drawing. I always end up carrying a large bag around, laden with books, camera etc.
Can you tell us about your residential experience at LSC.
Well as I already mentioned, it’s been a fantastcially reinvigorating time for me, and hugely enjoyable. I’ve found the LSC to be a very welcoming place, with great facilities and a very supportive environment in which to make new work. I’ve been really enjoying learning new skills and techniques here and have benefitted from really enjoyable, creative discussions and interchanges with other artists in different diciplines. I’ve especially enjoyed learning stone carving with Jackie McKenna, stone letter-cutting with Seamus Dunbar and etching with Cróna Gallagher. The residency has been critically supportive and I have had huge support from Seán O’Reilly as curator and Director of the LSC, as well as lots of informal critical discussion with artists such as Christine Mackey, Fiona Mulholland, Di Henshaw and in fact all the LSC artists.
The residency has given me the time to really explore in depth some ideas I have had bubbling under for a long time. I’ve also really enjoyed investigating the landscapes and historical sites of North Leitrim and have had some great advice from David Spence and also Paul Gibson at the Kiltyclogher Heritage Centre on this. I feel connected to several new networks of artists and arts organisations in Leitrim, Sligo and the wider North west region and this is opening up all sort of interesting ideas for the future.
Sculpture is your practice of choice, which mediums do your prefer working in and scale wise what is your preference?
During the early part of my career I chose to specialise in working in metal, especially Steel, and this is something I became known for and actively chose to pursue. I like metal for its versatility and malleability and and different metal processes can be suitability for working at different scales and in different forms – from structural steel work to fluid forms in cast Iron or Bronze. However, recently I’ve been branching out, choosing not to be restricted to one material or group of materials anad associated processes. Instead, I’ve been exploring many different materials both for their material qualities, their sense of materiality, but also for their cultural resonance, their historic significance within the place they come from and their deeper meaning to the people who work with them in the many different traditions, not necessarily artistic, with which they are associated. An example of this approach would be in my 2014 commission for ‘Changing Tracks’ a pan-European public project which I took part in in County Mayo, Girona (Catalunya) and Northamptonshire (England). For this project, I made an installation, ‘the Museum of Interconnected Events’ which was sited along former railway lines in all three countries, and which comprised a series of sculptural cabinets, containing artifacts, photographs, archival documents, poems and songs which related to micro-histories exploring similar themes to explore a common European cultural heritgage. I researched both the contents and also the different materials which comprised the outer ’shell’ of each cabinet,. These included: natural cork and ceramic fruits from Catalunya, turf, seaweed and Su Gán rope from Mayo and shoe leather and aluminium raliway components from Northamptonshire. Each of these materials was chosen for their aesthetic and material qualities and also for some aspect of historical significance relating to their production or the industries which gave rise to them and which intertwined with the communities of people that made their livings from working with them.
So increasingly I find that I have no preference for a single material but am exploring as many new ones as I can, in response to the specifics of the project or situation. For this work at LSC I am predominantly working in, with and about stone. I am interested in the materiality of stone and also in its use as a material associated with memory and memorialisation. The local limestone is very dominant in the landscape and I have discovered that the name ‘Leitrim’ derives from the Irish for ‘Limestone Ridge’ which is very descriptive of the landscape in these parts. The stone represents the very ground from which the land springs – it is, in fact, the land itself. It is also raw, elemental and takes many forms in its natural state. I am working with found field stone, limestone mainly but with seams of Chert – a hard, flinty material, that makes it difficult to cut. For the installation “What Matter/ Cén t’Udar” I am taking these lumps of field stone and carving into them the letters of a poem I have written (and had translated into Irish by Caoimhín O’Súilleabháin). The letter-cutting has been hard-going, with the stone itself being inconsistent in quality – sometimes hard, sometimes crumbly , sometimes actually splitting in two just as I am completeing carving it. I like this unpredictable quality and the dialogue with the material, the effort required to co-ordinate hand and eye and brain, and the visualistaion of the Cló Gaelach letterforms and then the realisation of cutting them into this hard material, that has been used for centuries, millennia in fact, for the purposes of recording and marking the passing of time and lives.
How important is engaging with the artistic community to you as a creative?
It is very important indeed. I find that the process of discussing ideas and sharing knowledge and skills is not only fascinating but really useful in getting under the skin of a place. I’ve already mentioned some of the artists I have met and worked alongside or shared ideas with at the LSC but I would add to that list the wider groups of artists that I have met, through for example the Manorhamilton Print Group, other resident LSC artists such as Peter Fulop or artists who have contributed to the Mac Diarmada exhibition. Also others who I have worked with directly, such as Scott Coombs with the letterpress work for ‘La Proclamació de 1916’, or alongside during the various workshops at LSC. I have been to a couple of exhibitions at the Model in Sligo and am planing more visits to the Yeats and Hamilton Galleries and the Dock in Carrick-on-Shannon – I would like to have been to more but just haven’t had the time! Still, I have made a good start with connections with the artistic community in Leitrim/ Sligo and the wider North West as I have done in Mayo/ Galway and Derry when I have worked in those places – I’m gradually working my way around the whole of Ireland…
Spending time in different places and taking in the culture is important to you and your work, can you explain why?
I mentioned at the start that I travel a lot and find huge inspiration in vsiiting new places and exploring the intangible qualities of a particluar place. The many qualities that make
up what we think of as culture can take in some varied and unexpected explorations. I gave the example of the Mycelium earlier and this is because I find the process of uncovering the hidden connections and invisible attributes are what inform my visual arts practice. I am interested in many areas that are not necessarily visual and might include historical, political and religious aspects of the culture. They might also include geographical, geological or other physical aspects of a location. One thing that always fascinates me is language and when I travel I always try to learn something of the language of the place I am visiting. Over the thirty years I have been visiting Ireland, I have been fascinated by the Irish language, which I find beautiful. poetic and expressive in its written, spoken and sung forms. However, I’ve always felt a bit daunted by Irish and found it much harder to consider learning than say Catalan or French. During my stay in Manorhamilton, I’m happy to report that I’ve finally started learning Irish, although I’m still only at the very beginning. I have been going to Ruth Smith’s Irish conversation class and also have been having a fascinating correspondence with Caomhín O’Súilleabháin who has been translating my poem and other texts for me. I’m finding that understanding the Irish language is enriching my understanding of Irish culture and hope to continue learning the language. Literature, music, poetry – what we might think of as high culture are important ways of approaching the culture of a place, but so are things like food, language, folklore, archaeology and interaction with landscape and just chatting to people – and I enjoy immersing myself in all of these when I go somewhere new.
Talk us through a typical working week/day for artist Noah Rose
I have been trying to set my alarm early recently as I have so much to do and I’m not a natural early riser. I find that I get more stuff done early in the morning or in the evening. While I’ve been here at the LSC i’ve developed a bit of a routine – I’ll read the news online while having breakfast, catch up with some emails/ Facebook etc and then try to do any essential tasks in the morning such as ordering materials or speaking to people about essential processes. This morning for instance I ordered the letterpress plate for my letterpress work ‘La Proclamació de 1916’ and have then been looking at paper suppliers for the printing process. I would then go to either the stone workshop, metal workshop or print workshop depending on which process I’m involved in. Today it’ll be print. I’ll work on after lunch and into the evening depending on how much I have to do. Last night I was working until 10.00 in the stone workshop in order to finish carving my poem. The rest of the evening might be spent doing some research, writing or drawing and/or catching up with or friends and family on the phone. Occasionally I might have the odd pint at Heraghty’s, especially on a Friday evening which seems to be the night everyone’s out. Manorhamilton is a very sociable place, I have found!