Saturday 21 April 2018

What Lies Beneath: 'The Rocking-Horse' by Ita Quilligan

'The Rocking-Horse' by Ita Quilligan, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist

'The Rocking-Horse' by Ita Quilligan.
'The Rocking-Horse' by Ita Quilligan.

Niall MacMonagle

Ita Quilligan visited a friend's house in Blackrock 30 years ago, knowing it would soon be sold. She wandered about, chose her spot, set up her easel and, in the space of three hours, she had created this painting of a comfortable, elegant - and soon-to-be-dismantled - room.

Light pours in through bay and side window, casting a golden glow on the marble-topped side table beneath a gilt-edged mirror, on the casual arrangement of arm chairs, on plants and Indian carpet and especially on the rocking-horse, a centrepiece that Ita Quilligan, now 95, still remembers especially for its bright red saddle.

Quilligan's first art teacher was Miss Elizabeth [Lolly] Yeats. This was in the late 1920s.

"Miss Yeats wore a big hat; she always had these bits and pieces, decorations, trimmings, attached to it"

Was she posh? "No, no, the sisters, Lily and Lolly, they were very poor. Lolly was tall, well she was tall to me. But then again, I was very small. And she was just as much a genius as her brother."

Though always interested in painting, 11 children meant she spent more time pushing prams than painting. But in her sixties, Quilligan was exhibiting in Dublin's Taylor Galleries, the RHA and in Edinburgh. A member of the Back Lane Painters group, she has travelled to Cork, Connemara, the Dordogne.

"I've always painted in the spot itself. Going out is always exciting. I wouldn't work from photographs," she says.

Miss Yeats had taught her to use watercolours good and thick, which prepared her well for oil on gesso on canvas, her preferred medium.

"Definite outlines don't interest me." Softer, gentle, sensuous brushstrokes are her hallmark: "I like to 'skelp' at the canvas with freedom," she explains.

Wood carving is another passion. Today, poor eyesight makes painting difficult, but she opens her set of instruments with delight and deftly wields a chisel. Right now she's working on a piece of driftwood that her son-in-law found for her on Sandymount Strand.

"I'm not sure yet what I'm going to make of it." A rocking-horse? No. She's been there, done that. But her attitude is: 'rock on'.

Sunday Independent

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