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Art retreat, Greece

Just back from a long-awaited stay in the Cyclades, spending two weeks working in this studio space on Paros. It was an opportunity to refresh and find a quality of lightness that had been missing since before the pandemic.

Published May 26, 2022

Studio shot 2022 1

In the zone

Having a fortnight to focus exclusively on art-making, without distractions, in a comfortable, bright studio thoughtfully fitted out by my hosts Irini and Jim, was such a pleasure. It allowed me to find new ways to work and reflect on possible routes forward. Arriving with a suitcase laden with materials, and more I had bought in Athens, the stay was approached in an open-ended way. I was quickly immersed in - if not a  little overwhelmed by - the richness of the environment, which convinced me to let subjects of interest present themselves and go where they encouraged me to go. This resulted in some intriguing twists and turns, including an unexpected move into 3D.

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A lighter touch

Surrounded by flowers and plants, wild and permacultivated, and a persistent airy breeze, I quickly felt that some techniques I had been using were too heavy-handed. This image is from my first full day, gently printing direct from various specimens onto Wenzhou, using water-based ink. I had few tubes with me, so it was pure coincidence that the blue and white recall the Greek national colours. Some sheets were used for cut-outs, which reminded me of willow-pattern porcelain, a medium that shares the translucent quality of rice paper. I didn't think too much of this exercise at the time, using it to help me get my bearings. But there is a quality to the results I hope to return to.

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Captivated by grasses

I was especially struck by a type of grass  (image, top right, and video below), which grows freely on Paros. As well as the way it shimmers en masse, I enjoyed the movements of one-off strands playing against the direction of growth of other plants. Over the course of its lifecycle, its colours range from a slightly glaucous green to a pale warm tone that glows in low light. Its enticing forms include a composite spikelet with curved, hairy and oblique segments. I was most drawn to the dark lines formed by the pairs of awns that protrude at a slight angle then flick audaciously outwards. Lovely to look at, when dried out these became stiff barbs that can pierce clothes and cause discomfort.

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Cutting and assembling

Drawing series

Drawing series

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Separate and together

I haven't been able to identify the exact variety of this grass, but it may be related to esparto, which is used for certain kinds of weaving. Having finished some exploratory drawings, my next impulse was to try to make a parallel form using weft thread, tissue paper and masking tape. Although fragile and a little clumsy, it had a similar tone and capacity to move with the breeze. I then tried to work in some visual elements I have been using recently: black ink lines, the grid/textile, horizontal and vertical components and folding. The result (above and below) is more systematic than the first paper construction, but, importantly, retains some of its dynamism. I enjoyed drawing directly with scissors and assembling these responses to the grasses. There is still plenty to mine, and so the project is ongoing. 

Living in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, which is located by the coast in Ireland, I took to borrowing pebbles from the beach during lockdown, using them as a constantly renewable source of inspiration. So it wasn't surprising that from among a collection of stones and rocks left in the vicinity of the studio by past visitors, I found two that spontaneously came together in what seemed like a natural pairing. One, the colour of graphite, is hard and angular but has a shallow indent into which the other sits neatly. This is a pale, creamy white, its surface pockmarked with holes made by some small creatures in its softer material. The two, as one, were a compelling subject for drawings in watercolour, charcoal, pencil and other mediums, which, with the luxury of space, I could spread out on the floor. 

The other dimension to the trip was spending time with my sister Paula Hickey, an artist based in the UK (https://www.paulahickey.com). We collaborate on a project called Supi, and have an exhibition planned for August, but due to circumstances in recent times our conversations have all taken place via Zoom. While in Greece, although we fell into largely  working apart in individual workspaces, we came together at meal-times to cook, chat, respond to each other's output and exchange ideas. Several important insights emerged from this shared experience, and a deeper mode of mutual support and appreciation has been fostered. Now back home, apart from immediate benefits, we feel that the impact of our time in Greece will continue to unfold in the weeks and months to come.

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Stone pairing
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