Sunday 19 November 2017

What Lies Beneath: Potting Shed, Shankill by Elizabeth Cope

Potting Shed, Shankill by Elizabeth Cope, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist

Potting Shed, Shankill by Elizabeth Cope
Potting Shed, Shankill by Elizabeth Cope

Niall MacMonagle

'I would paint anything, almost anything, no one subject is more important than another," says widely-travelled artist Elizabeth Cope, and anything and everything includes the River Blanco, Texas; her Aga cooker; the Saltee Islands; famine-stricken Somalia; Australia's Northern Territory; the Poolbeg Stacks [which St Varadkar tells us he saved, no kidding]; glue-sniffing kids in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Munch's studio in Ekely, Norway; her husband and children; Carlow's sugar beet factory; streets in Crete; Sao Paolo; cliffs at Varkala, India; portraits of Molly Keane; Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich; Dervla Murphy; petrol pumps; nudes; her experience of the menopause; and this higgledy-piggledy potting shed at her home in Shankill, Co Kilkenny.

When Cope was nine "my sister Phil came home from Paris with a box of paints and the word Picasso on her lips". Home was a farm in Kildare, it was 1961 and Cope's world changed. A prolific painter for over 40 years, "the day after the birth of one of my children, I was painting".

In Potting Shed, secateurs, two lawn-rollers, a sieve, rotting beams, a wooden toy bird, potted withering plants, a tray, a blue drum might seem unlikely, uninteresting subject matter but in superb colourist Elizabeth Cope's hands the result is harmonious and beautiful. "I like to work quickly against the odds and isn't it all about paint and colour?"

Her art has always captured the energy of now. Up at dawn, Cope, a morning person, loves to work in natural light and her favourite colour is yellow, "although they say yellow is a sign of madness". Though believing that art should never be pretty she says that it can be beautiful. Her work is on the side of celebration but "I like to challenge the prettiness. I'll deliberately include an open scissors or a chainsaw in a still life. For Cope, "art is the cushion between us and our innate savagery. One has to distil positive energy to carry us forward from one day to the next. Art doesn't answer questions, only asks them".

Paintings by Elizabeth Cope at the Oriel Gallery until November 27. ELIZABETH COPE seduced by the smell of paint, with essays, interview and 200 illustrations has just been published by Gandon Editons (gandon@eircom.net)

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