Gillian Turner @ Cill Rialaig Project

Gillian Turner @ Cill Rialaig Project

Gillian Turner

From 1 July to 1 August this year, I was an International Artist in Residence in the remote area of Ballinskelligs. Co.Kerry, Ireland. My home at Cill Rialaig was a restored famine cottage about 5km from the nearest village.

This remarkable artist retreat has six cottages, a Meeting House and laundry room. The view from my cottage door was astonishing: an uninterrupted vista across some remains of ancient cottages, over nearby fields to rugged a headland, then ocean and distant hills beyond the town of Waterville.

The changing colours were stunning and every morning was a delight – no matter what the weather - the light and colour were superb.

My cottage consisted of 4 rooms: kitchen, bathroom, loft bedroom and a large open area which is general living space and studio. The glass-ceiling studio is hidden from the road, and its modern design comes as a surprise after the rugged look of the stone exterior.

Light floods in and given the length of the summer days here, that amounts to a great deal even on days of continuous rain.  Experiencing the Irish landscape in such weather was great: the Atlantic Ocean pounding rocks, the sound of the sea all night and the cosiness of working inside while rain lashed down had its own special rewards. Apart anything else, I created some spectacular ‘rain works’  just outside my door!!

Over the four weeks there were  about 7 artists in residence plus me; most were from various parts of Ireland with one from Scotland, another from France, and myself being from somewhere impossibly distant! The atmosphere was welcoming and friendly but with understanding of the privacy that such an artists’ retreat needs. Some artists were there only for a week or ten days, others for two weeks. My four weeks residency was unusually long and an acknowledgement of the distance I’d travelled from Australia.

My other neighbours were sheep – flocks of them! These lovely animals provided me with some interesting wool to make brushes, and they are great characters as they wander with total freedom around the cottages and tracks. They will even try to visit the studio, and I was advised to keep the lower half of my door closed!

The peace of this place, the aloneness was comfortable, and one of the benefits of such a location where there is little distraction: no TV, no internet and no passing traffic. It allowed complete immersion in the process of creating art, of writing, and being at one with the land.

The wild flowers were superb in July, especially wild red fuchsia which was in abundance.

The walk to the beach cafe – the nearest  WIFI for internet, a decent coffee and chat with the locals – took nearly an hour. I could do it in about forty minutes, but the lure of photographing the landscape or writing about it was often more powerful than the desire for a coffee and reading emails!

Cill Rialaig is about being in the land, feeling its nearness and experiencing its many moods: silent shrouding fog that set my cottage in the clouds for two days, lashing rain and high winds from the Atlantic that occasionally rattled the roof and howled around all night, the breath-taking clarity of early morning light, and the stillness of the full moon on a warm evening. Yes, and even swimming on Ballinskelligs beach in the coldest sea on a very hot summer afternoon.

This residency also offered me time to write as well as continue my visual arts work. In the end, the two came together in what has become an ongoing project: The Wandering Skellig Monk – An Unexplained Journey.  Beginning as a poetic response to Skellig Michael (Great Skellig Rock), this developing fiction includes an extended poem, drawings, and the start of a ‘found artifacts’ collection that will, I hope, be part of an installed exhibition.

Cill Rialaig is a rare opportunity for artists and is in serious need of support. Artists pay only a nominal amount for electricity and water during their time in the cottage. Financially things are tight everywhere in Ireland, and this must necessarily impact on such a place as Cill Rialaig; it is located in one of the jewels of Ireland: the Ring of Kerry.

The landscape is stunning and the generosity of the locals is wonderful. I was offered the chance of a lifetime, and for that I am very grateful. The great news is that I’ll be returning to Ireland next year to work in the Burren, and then  returning to Cill Rialaig in 2014, which seems impossibly distant, but I look forward to immersing myself in the Kerry landscape again.

Gillian November 2011

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