Sunday 19 November 2017

What Lies Beneath: Ohura by Anne Le Marquand Hartigan

Ohura by Anne Le Marquand Hartigan, Chalk on paper

Ohura by Anne Le Marquand Hartigan
Ohura by Anne Le Marquand Hartigan

Niall MacMonagle

When Anne Le Marquand Hartigan read about how, during the war, on Jersey, where her father was born, "the Nazis had forty French women brought from France for their pleasure and entertainment and once done with them, they sent them back on a unseaworthy vessel and all forty women drowned near La Corbiere lighthouse, it angered me so much that I wrote a poem about it and later a play. Women were just viewed as throwaway".

Now divorced and Dublin-based, Le Marquand Hartigan has many stories to tell. Engaged at 18, married at 22, she studied art at Reading University but dropped out. "I had five children in six and a half years," later a sixth, and now has 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Last December she held an exhibition of recent drawings, next month she publishes six books simultaneously - her collected plays.

A volume of short stories is with a publisher and she's working on her eighth poetry collection. She has also begun writing a memoir.

Energy! "It's a great word, 'energy'. It's gritty. It's gutsy. It's like breeding. It's a belief in life."

Her father, an eminent endocrinologist, married her mother, a nurse from County Louth, and as an only child, growing up, her holiday destinations were her grandparents' homes: Jersey and a farm at the mouth of the Boyne. In 1962, she moved to that very farm with her family, and theirs was the very first organic farm in the country.

"In Ireland I became a writer. Back then, artists were out of date, art was minor. It had no heft. Ireland was not a sympathetic place for artists. Writing yes, but there was nothing behind art and you can write a poem on the edge of a table but you can't paint big."

One son now lives in New Zealand. She's visited seven times and in Ohura, in 1987, in 30 minutes, she made this work. "Ohura, in the North Island, is a most odd place. A tiny town surrounded by mountains. There are 12 religions all with their own churches."

Using chalk on paper, her focus, in this sketch, is the Ohura landscape minus people, buildings.

The hills are alive, the sky is alive. The energy is there. Nothing nutty here.

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