Unique Home in Borrisoleigh
Just about a 25 minute drive from Greenville, down several narrow winding roads typical of those you find in the depths of rural Tipperary, in the hills of Borrisoleigh, is the home of artist and horticulturalist Ciarnad Ryan and her husband Tim Davis.
As most people who know me will be very aware, I love old houses, and old things in general. Ciarnad and Tim’s home is one of the nicest I have ever been in. I don’t say that lightly. Dating back to the 1780s it was originally owned by a land agent called Kelly who came from east Galway to Tipperary. He supervised 400 acres of land and built the house as a type of country fortress, well equipped for dealing with any intruders. This house and its sheds are now a work of art in progress, with the walls stripped down so one can see the original stone work, or old wall paper, or the different colour plasters that were applied over the decades. The interior is minimalist in design and every item has been selected with taste, and fits perfectly into the environment – a theme that runs through our conversation.
Damer House Gallery
I met Ciarnad at an opening in Damer House Gallery in 2015 . I was immediately captivated by her work. This exhibition showcased her second largest body of work, the theme of which was the wolf-dog. Ciarnad tells me the story behind this. One of her friends from her time studying Agricultural Science at UCD (her first degree), specialising in Horticulture, left Ireland to live in California. Ciarnad’s friend’s best friend was a dog called ‘Cara’ who was almost a type of bodyguard for her owner when they went walking in the mountains regularly together. Her friend moved back to Dublin and brought Cara with her, who was put in quarantine for several months and pined badly for her owner and her freedom. Better days would follow when finally they were reunited and during a very cold and snowy spell in Dublin, Cara was once again able to run in the snow, like she used to do in the mountains in California in winter time. This scene, this story, struck Ciarnad – the sense of freedom it embodied, the importance of being in one’s own environment. The art work that followed captured this and a technique she uses of dripping the paints on the canvas worked superbly with the colour palette of this body of work.
Ciarnad’s first degree, as mentioned, was in Agricultural Science and she then went on to specialise in Horticulture. After she was awarded her degree she worked in several cities in Ireland until, in 1998, she got a job at Creagh Gardens in West Cork as a horticulturist. West Cork was coming alive at this time. People were moving there who loved food, art, gardening, music – coming together to form a type of alternative community where creativity was rife. Here she met Tim Davis, a shipwright from Wales who was repairing old boats in the area. The two got married 12 months later, a Humanist wedding, a very special day. Ciarnad lovingly mentions her father’s understanding of her as a ‘nonconformist’.
One only needs to meet her and her husband and see their world to understand how well he knew his daughter.
Patricia Hurl’s Lectures
Patricia Hurl, now one of the two great Directors at Damer House Gallery Roscrea, played an important role in Ciarnad’s life when she embarked on a second degree in Visual Arts in the Noughties. The degree was through Dublin Institute of Technology and students spent part of their time studying at Sherkin Island. Patricia taught a course on ‘Self and Landscape’ and her lectures emphasised the importance of ‘putting yourself in your own environment’ and ‘painting what you know’. These were messages delivered powerfully and absorbed completely by Ciarnad .
Her first body of work reflected this message, completed as part of her degree from DIT – she looked back at her childhood memories as inspiration. Ciarnad’s journey began in Dundrum in Cashel, where she grew up. Her father Mick Ryan was a local vet, her mother, Anne, a gifted teacher and seamstress who loved style and as she put it, ‘always had us turned out well’. She was one of four children. Not surprisingly then her first collection explored this relationship between memory, context and loss. Using a technique called ‘freeze framing’ she looked back on old cine recordings from her childhood, freezing different images and then capturing them through a sketch or a painting. A bit like animation in reverse – one deconstructs a recording to focus on one image at a time. These work also helped her come to terms with the grief of losing her father who died during this time.
Moving Back to Tipperary
The couple eventually moved from West Cork to a boat in Terryglass, and Ciarnad got a job lecturing in Dublin at the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown in 2010. They also had a base on their barge on the Grand Canal Basin in Dublin for a year, tied up outside Facebook HQ, and they would move regularly from the Grand Canal to the Royal Canal, from city centre to rural Kildare. Currently the barge is in Westmeath.
However they were on the look out for a special place to situate themselves when the property in Borrisoleigh came on the market. They saw the beauty of the location and of the house and this is now their home and studio – a space for them to work in – and work on. Tim is also an artist and has done a lot of the work on the house himself.
Capturing Sheds and Ruins
The third body of work is going to revolve around sheds and ruins, not surprising given their location now and the many examples of houses falling down one finds in rural Ireland. She explains she will be using different colours this time from the ones used in the wolf-dog series and I am excited to see them as they emerge later in the autumn.
A Studio with a View
Ciarnad’s studio overlooks the little gate entrance to their home and a tree that is situated in their rustic garden – the perfect environment for her to work in. The paint she uses for canvas works is oil, including the family and the wolf dog series, but she uses them very thinly to bring up a layered effect which makes them behave and look like watercolours but are much longer lasting and more robust. ( Watercolours can disintegrate with time and are very susceptible to damp.).
She talked about using Rabbitskin glue to prepare a canvas before she works on it and I get the impression that for this artist, producing something of quality is what matters, not turning pieces or prints out at speed. She likes older styles in art involving drawing, landscape, figurative pieces. While there are conceptual artists whose work she does admire, one can see her visual preferences coming through in her own pieces.
She showed me her notebooks, which she uses all the time, a type of diary, with drawings and photographs or paper cuttings that may or may not become the focus of an art piece. For note book work Ciarnad uses any thing except oils because they take so long to dry and she will need to turn the page etc. So she uses acrylic, inks, charcoal pencil and pastel when working on her notebooks.
Tipperary – An Alternative Creative Hub?
In recent times progress has been made to promote Tipperary as a whole from a cultural point of view and Ciarnad talks about the number of people doing really interesting things in the county in the arts, food and drink and gardening sectors. While it might be a stretch of the imagination to think of Tipperary becoming a type of alternative creative hub in Ireland – it is certainly a very nice thing to contemplate. For myself, in researching this blog, and promoting the people I am interviewing, like Ciarnad, to my readers and my guests at Greenville, I have found a real sense of community in having like-minded people around me. I also feel a sense of inevitability – showcasing the arts is something I have always done and love to do, an intrinsic part of my career trajectory to date. I feel energized and proud of what is happening in Tipperary.
We have not yet a piece by Ciarnad Ryan at Greenville but the hope is to rectify that situation before very long. When I do I will build an interior design around it, or adjust an existing room design, so that the painting works to inform the overall atmosphere of the room.
I want to share her story with my readers because her art intrigued me from the moment I saw it at Damer House Gallery and her journey has inspired me. She has lived a highly authentic, courageous and creative life. Her work is fully in context. I know she will appreciate that.