Wednesday 26 July 2017

Don't mess with a Fairy Tree

New work by Mary Noonan and Peter Burns is on show at Claremorris Gallery. Mount Street, Claremorris, Co Mayo until November 15.
New work by Mary Noonan and Peter Burns is on show at Claremorris Gallery. Mount Street, Claremorris, Co Mayo until November 15.

Niall MacMonagle

Mary Noonan, a Mayo woman through and through, having spent years studying art in the Big Smoke, returned to her native county. Always drawing, Noonan's mother remembers how her daughter, before she ever even held a paint brush, was an artist-in-the-making: as a child she used to make patterns with her finger on fogged-up car windows. Noonan's NCAD degree show drew on The Quiet Man and how the west of Ireland landscape, around Cong, was represented in John Ford's 1952 film. Recent work features that Mayo landscape, but this time Irish folktales play a part. Piseogs are colourful, Irish oddities: never dig a grave on a Monday; if a farmer driving cattle to market meets a red-haired woman on the road he should turn around and go home; never bring hawthorn into a house but if fastened to the outside of barns on May Day it will keep out evil spirits and ensure plenty of milk during the summer.

"Growing up on a farm," says Noonan, "I heard superstitions and stories about fairies associated with a fairy tree, always a hawthorn tree, very often standing alone and it was never felled or interfered with by a farmer. If it is, it brings enormous bad luck. This painting stems from that superstition, but I embellished it and transformed it in my own way." Noonan is also intrigued by the notion that fairies are fallen angels.

In this image, the ordinary and the strange co-exist: tree, field, hills, mountains are familiar; what's the hovering eagle doing? And why is that ladder on fire?

The brushwork is soft; the image appropriately childlike. An unsuspecting person – Noonan says "it's a he or a she" – is climbing into the hawthorn. There is a sense of foreboding and mystery and humour but hardly a funny, ha-ha humour. The eagle on high or the climbing, flickering flames below mean certain doom. She believes that "artists show a different side of things"; here's proof; and though still painting, Noonan is no quaint practitioner.

Noonan and artist Fionnuala Hanahoe have just launched an art app for young children called Make Some Pigs in Scribbaloo's Studio [www.scribbaloo.com]

New work by Mary Noonan and Peter Burns is on show at Claremorris Gallery. Mount Street, Claremorris, Co Mayo until November 15. www.claremorrisgallery.com

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