Saturday 24 March 2018

What Lies Beneath: Heaven is as Close as the Bottom of the Garden by Ann Quinn

Heaven is as Close as the Bottom of the Garden by Ann Quinn, Oil on board

Heaven is as Close as the Bottom of the Garden by Ann Quinn
Heaven is as Close as the Bottom of the Garden by Ann Quinn

Niall MacMonagle

From where Ann Quinn grew up in East Donegal, "you can see a glow from Derry City at night" but for Quinn her farm was "a peaceful, separate valley away from the rest of the world". The youngest of 10, she's always felt the home place was magical and special. Her seven brothers all helped with the farm work but the girls were allowed to daydream and Quinn loved to paint the world around her. As a child, her work, in pen and ink, was very detailed. "I'd draw every blade of grass" and this attention to detail has stood her in good stead when she went on to paint places in Iran, the Pyrenees, the Curragh or Irish towns. New work features detailed, textured images of streets at night, animals in fields, a flock of swans, a field of mushrooms. "My paintings are a visual diary of what's going on in my life."

Heaven is as Close as the Bottom of the Garden, a Christmas-Day-in-the-morning painting, glows with winter light. She loves December: "I like trees being bare; I like the silence. I get nothing out of summer." And the setting for this work is her brother Martin's farm, "across the field from my parents". Backlit, the trees cast shadows towards us across a field of delicate, lacy frost; bare branches are inked against a mother-of-pearl sky and those dazzlingly dramatic, Christmassy reds against the hills of Donegal are ablaze. "Once I connect with a spot," says Quinn, "I stand there, stare" and such moments of intense observation "become a form of prayer". Tiny things - "a bird might come, a leaf falls" - matter.

And that lyrical, positive title?

At the convent in Letterkenny, Quinn's art teacher, Sr Mary Clenaghan, was a vital, encouraging presence. She lent her paints, encouraged her, gave her confidence and Sr Mary often quoted her own mother's belief that the bottom of the garden was an inexhaustibly beautiful place. Quinn's inspiration is everywhere. Seamus Heaney once wrote to her to say how glad he was his poems Oracle and Planting the Alder "got entangled in your imaginative roots and branches". She's rooted in Donegal, but always branches out.

The Place Where I Stand To Look Out Over This World: new work by Ann Quinn is now on view at Taylor Galleries, 16 Kildare St, Dublin 2

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