01 Jul 2022

Art in the great outdoors around Laois

Tour begins on Abbeyleix Bog

Art in the great outdoors around Laois

Dunamaise Arts Centre invites you to escape to the great outdoors in I Was There!, an exhibition of paintings by Maria O’Brien and Jock Nichol.

The virtual exhibition, which can be viewed via the latest gallery technology on throughout March and April is now going further afield to outdoor locations near you – the first of which was at the Abbeyleix Bog Project (from 26 March-8 April)– which will be followed by more locations around Laois including some of Coillte’s forests and recreation sites.

Standing in front of Jock Nichol and Maria O’Brien’s paintings, you can just imagine yourself there: wandering along mountain forest tracks or exploring vast expanses of flora on boglands, paddle boarding through canyons or skiing at speed downhill – you can practically feel the sun on skin and crisp air whooshing past. A feeling of tranquillity or adrenalin that only being in the great outdoors can bring.

Over the past year, we’ve all experienced our walls and worlds closing in. As we continue through levels and lockdowns, while outdoors within your 5k, you’ll discover pieces from this exhibition, brought out to you to enjoy, as you cannot gather in our gallery for now!

Each artwork in the collection presents a scene in an outdoor setting within and beyond the landscapes of Laois. Jock’s landscapes, although without people, are animated by the trees and clouds within them. He notes he doesn’t consciously leave people out; trees take on a personality; and as Maria observed while the show was selected; she remembers Jock is there – just behind the canvas and paintbrush!

Maria’s paintings capture moments of activity and adventure we previously experienced in the outdoors. Painting from memory and photographic notes, her own palate or vocabulary comes through. The scenery seems to speak to her, telling her what colours to use. Flashes of brighter clothing break out from muted, natural tones, captured with a sense of fun. Using a mix of memory, her own photos taken in favourite places and other images captured in the same locations, Maria is lead to imagine other people’s stories too, wondering what else has happened there.

Both artists have observed, with some amusement, modern tourist’s habit of taking “selfies” in scenic places, often without actually paying much attention to the scenery, focused only on their own presence in the scenery. Perhaps many people fail to reverently observe the multitude of hues, tones and textures that the artists eye expertly captures. This collection offers viewers an opportunity to appreciate that great beauty beyond our current limits, to look forward to exploring again soon, and to remember:  ‘I Was There!’

I Was There! Exhibition by Maria O’Brien and Jock Nichol can be viewed on until 30th April 2021. All pieces are for sale and are catalogued on the website. With thanks to Abbeyleix Bog Project and Coillte for their support in bringing this exhibition to outdoor life!


About the artists

Jock Nichol

Working outside, immersed in the changing light, wind, cold, smells and sounds, has always been central to my process. In the experience of making the work I become a participant as much as a spectator as the day unfolds. Lately, the landscape of the bog has become my source of inspiration, from the vast horizons to the minute detail at my feet. But the constant fleeting changes are only part of a longer story. Rusting machinery sits beside 7,000-year-old bog pine and fossils of shells and reeds, from a much earlier time when this was the bed of a vast lough covering the middle of Ireland. Now laying exposed, it is waiting to return to beneath the water with the re-wetting of this post-industrial landscape.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel, this landscape has become a place of memory rather than experience. Memory filters, omits and exaggerates, certain features come to the fore, but they are not necessarily specific, tied to a particular space or time. These works are a composite, the culmination of time spent on the bog, played out in the studio where a very different intuition calls the tune.

Maria O’Brien

“My main interests are in figures in landscapes. They are inspired by Romanticism but with a modern twist. Romanticism allows the opportunity for the provisional states, flux and liminal states. Nods to Romantic painters are there too, with Wanderers above seas of fog, but with all the requisite gear and Gore-Tex. I like how the kayaks, kogools and protective eye-wear contrast with the natural environments they inhabit and interact with. Visibility and contrast in otherwise harmonious colour-scapes. I enjoy the spirit of adventure and excitement but also the solitary and sometimes melancholic atmosphere that can be captured. I question whether the figures are really experiencing nature or are at odds as represented by all their garish gear. Through my style of painting, I strive to capture the effects of light and

atmosphere, whether dramatic or serene. I am interested in optical mixing of colour. I use subtle harmonious gradients of colour to depict skies and other aspects landscapes then revel in contrasting complementary colours with the addition of the manmade in the landscapes. I also like to see the extraordinary in the everyday situations through my use of colour and light.”

Maria wishes to acknowledge that the work featured in this exhibition would not be possible without generous support from Laois County Council and Tipperary County Council. (Tyrone Guthrie Centre Bursary and Support for Artists Materials Bursaries).

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