TOMORROW NIGHT, the Town Hall Theatre bar hosts the opening of a fascinating new art exhibition, entitled Claddagh Images - Real & Imagined, by 6 Degrees West, a Galway-based collective whose members are graduates of the GMIT's art and design degree course.
“We’re all mature students who graduated from GMIT in 2009,” group spokesman Kevin Neary tells me over a Saturday afternoon chat in Tigh Neachtain. “We did the Access course which entailed six years of study which was quite intensive. After graduating we formed 6 Degrees West as a way of keeping the collective together, because it is easy to lose a sense of community once you leave college. We wanted to find a way for ourselves to stay in touch and keep generating work. Since then we have done various exhibitions as a group and some of us have had individual shows here in the Town Hall, such as Anne McCabe.”
Neary hails originally from Mayo and has lived in Galway since 2002. He describes the artistic motivation behind 6 Degrees West; “The vision of the group is basically to investigate set themes. A lot of the time it is local themes we have explored, for instance our last exhibition, a year ago, was based around the Mutton Island lighthouse. We investigated themes around the lighthouse, embracing heritage to a degree, and used that to inform our work. In this exhibition inspired by the Claddagh we have done similar. We had a heritage graduate come and give us a talk on the area and that was a starting point for us. Our vision is to keep working and to find themes that inspire each other.”
How would Kevin describe his own work? “What interests me in art is oil painting, I love to get into the physicality of it and grappling with the medium,” he replies. “I actually did video for my degree course and I’ve been into photography too. I like doing landscapes and abstract work and experimenting with a lot of things.”
The exhibition sees the group using the Claddagh area, its environment, and history, as inspiration for the work they are showing. Neary gives a taster of what audiences can expect from the work on show.
“The work generally comprises oil paintings and there are also some acrylics," he says. "Mary Hynes is an abstract painter and she has taken the Cleggan disaster of 1927, in which 44 fishermen drowned, as her inspiration. She has done research on the story; one of the only boats to have survived it was a Claddagh hooker, the Truelight.
"Mary also works as a counsellor and her experience of dealing with people in many different situations also informs her art. The Cleggan disaster would have represented a massive loss to the community in its day and there would have been no counselling or support mechanisms to help people cope with it. There were communities in Cleggan that had to be abandoned because their livelihoods were destroyed in the wake of the disaster.
“Diane McCabe is interested in the theme of decay and she has looked at a decayed boat in the Claddagh,” Neary continues. “The boat echoes the decay of the old Claddagh village, which was a self-contained community outside of Galway city environs that had its own laws and customs and governance. When the large trawlers began coming in that changed that old way of life and Diana’s work deals with the decay of that traditional culture and how the way of life changed through the depletion of the local fishing industry. The Claddagh also changed architecturally because the old village was destroyed in the 1930s to make way for better housing and there are no remnants of the old houses. That’s relevant today as well because we’re in a digital age which has changed the way we ourselves live, and we can see livelihoods in our own time become obsolete.”
While those two examples delve into the past for their inspiration, the 21st century Claddagh also makes its presence felt in the show.
“There is work in the show that addresses modern day Claddagh,” Neary observes. “One example that is featured is the culture that we see around the Claddagh basin where you have a social scene where people will be drinking there on sunny afternoons. That creates a paradox in that Galway is a friendly, sociable city but this activity is thought of as anti-social in some quarters, some people don’t want it yet it is also part of what Galway is. I’ve looked at the social scene around the Claddagh in my own paintings and depict that, and Isbeal NicAoidh would be doing a similar vein of work as well. We’re all thrilled to be exhibiting in the Town Hall bar, it’s a great venue.”
Exhibiting alongside Neary and Hynes are Belinda Deutinger, Corey Naughton, Isbeal NicAoidh, Diane McCabe, Ann Marie Cusack, and Therese Burns. The exhibition will be opened by The Irish Times journalist Harry McGee. The show runs until mid-November.