Monday 18 December 2017

My blue heaven... in our home by the coast

Artist Olga Fitzpatrick spent her childhood by the sea, which she adored. So imagine her delight when her partner surprised her with a new home on the coast. Edited by Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

Olga Fitzpatrick’s studio, which is clad in cedar, has large expanses of glass, which afford her stunning views of the everchanging sea, just a stone's throw away. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Olga Fitzpatrick’s studio, which is clad in cedar, has large expanses of glass, which afford her stunning views of the everchanging sea, just a stone's throw away. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Olga Fitzpatrick inside the studio, which is full of examples of her glass works and ceramics, as well as the raw material with which she works. Photo: Tony Gavin.
The living room is cosy, comfortable and a tad cluttered with Richard’s huge collection of books. The paintings are mainly his, too — he collected a lot of them during the seven years he spent going back and forth to Russia when he was working. Photo: Tony Gavin.
The guest bedroom, which is furnished with a brass bed, is hung with seascapes; Olga feels they are calming and conducive to sleep. Photo: Tony Gavin.
The kitchen is compact, but very user friendly. 'We share the cooking. I like to bake but Richard is the better cook,' says Olga. Photo: Tony Gavin.
The farmhouse that Richard Mulcahy bought seven years ago is over 100 years old. It came with 170 acres, and these are now mainly planted with trees. Photo: Tony Gavin.
The clay figures by Olga are a group of goddesses entitled 'Nanto Suelto' which formed a sculptural installation for 'Sculpture in Context' at the Botanic Gardens in 2013. Photo: Tony Gavin.
A close-up of some of Olga’s clay and glass artworks - in which are embedded ferns and grasses that she collects in the area around the studio. The quirky seated nude figurines, which are perched on top of the shelf, are hand-made by Olga and decorated with metal oxides. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Artist Olga Fitzpatrick's studio - a stone's throw from the home she shares with her partner Richard Mulcahy - is in a magnificent location, perched on the edge of a promontory overlooking the beach and sea in Co Wexford.

It's a location any artist would kill for, but it's particularly apt for Olga, who not only derives inspiration from her surroundings, but who actually uses the plants and grasses that grow at the seaside in her gorgeous molten glass and ceramic artworks.

Inside the studio, as well as the clay and paints and plants and other detritus of an artist's typical workspace, there is a photo that Olga considers almost symbolic. It's a simple, quite unremarkable picture of her mother as a child holding some flowers, but it means a lot to Olga, because it represents two of her great loves: family and nature.

More than that, for Olga it expresses a continuum of sorts. As a child, Olga's mother was also bursting with creativity, but never got the opportunity to explore it due to family circumstances, whereas she in turn, with Olga's father, gave Olga herself every chance to explore her potential.

"I'm a Cancerian - family means everything to me. Both my parents, Irene and Jim Fitzpatrick, were very creative," Olga says. "Mom became a hairdresser, but she had to give up work in those days, when she had kids. My dad worked in the post office, but is brilliant at calligraphy - they really encouraged myself and my older brother Neville, who trained as a chef. Actually, Neville was a very influential figure in my life growing up, we're all very close."

Originally from Howth village, Olga studied art at Limerick School of Art and Design and quickly made up her mind to specialise in ceramics.

"I made wacky hats in first year, so the tutors were pushing me towards fashion, but I was drawn to ceramics. I loved the clay - I loved the fact that the material came from the ground; underneath it all, I'm a very earthy person," she explains.

In those days, Olga's work was completely different - she specialised in life-size figures of old ladies. "Even the tutors thought I was an absolute nutter. They told me I was being too ambitious, but I love old people and I used to go and interview them, so that's what I made in college," the pretty fortysomething explains.

Graduation brought Olga back down to earth - she realised she couldn't actually make a living from creating such figures, and she decided to look for work, while contemplating where she would take her art.

She initially found a job with disadvantaged children, which really suited her empathetic nature. After two years there, she went on to do art therapy in Maynooth with people with disabilities, which she also loved. She stayed there for a further two years, before deciding to concentrate on her own art.

"I loved it, but you know the way you flop around in your 20s, not knowing what you're at. It was then I decided I really would like to make a go of the art," Olga says.

She still needed money to live and she decided waitressing would be the ideal job, while enabling her to keep her creative juices for her artworks. "I worked in a cafe called Manifesto and then had my studio nearby," she recalls.

About eight years ago she also got a day's teaching at Ballyfermot Senior College and she juggled both jobs with her art. Soon after she got a teaching job at St Mary's junior school and gave up the waitressing completely

In 2004, she met Richard, an entrepreneur who's been involved in many business ventures over the years, and now has a timber supply company in Wexford.

"He says he's a farmer and that his crop is trees," Olga says with a laugh, adding, "He's very into sustainability".

Richard - who is the son of the cardiologist Risteard Mulcahy - also appeared on RTE's Secret Millionaire. His project was a charity based in Limerick; he chose it because he had gone to school there and had been encouraged to leave, as his superiors didn't like it when he began to sell condoms to his peers - it was, after all, the early 1970s and religious teachers didn't appreciate such enlightened enterprise .

They met when Richard became Olga's landlord after she moved to Rathmines. "I was never one for going into pubs and my friends used to say, 'you're never going to meet anyone, how can you, you never go out'.

"Anyway, I rented the place from him and we became mates, and we used to go for coffee. It was an old-fashioned, taking-its-time kind of thing. Then, slowly but surely, I realised, 'I like this fella'," Olga says affectionately.

"There's a bit of an age difference - 16 years - but it works for us. I'm a very frenetic kind of person, particularly coming up to a show, but he's a real quiet, calm force behind all my madness. He's great, such a support to me."

The couple have two cats whom they adore; there's Wriggly, and Seymour, after Philip Seymour Hoffman, as they got him the week the actor died. They also had another cat, Toto - "the love of my life" says Olga - but they lost him a year ago to leukaemia, and Olga is still bereft. "I didn't realize he was so sick, it was the hardest thing putting him down. I think people think I'm mad with the animals, but I made a ceramic headstone for him," she notes with a sad laugh.

Richard and the cats are based full-time in Wexford, while Olga spends four days each week teaching in Dublin, before heading back down on Thursday. "I hotfoot it down on Thursday evening - this is where my heart is," she admits.

Prior to moving to Wexford, Olga did a very different type of artwork, and fascinating work it was too, including an enormous piece comprising 200 white bowls to honour survivors of the Magdalene Laundries. "The whole idea behind the bowls was women as vessels, containers of memories, of stories. They were white bowls because of the laundries. I exhibited them the week the women got the apology, which was great. I still have them, I'd like to exhibit them again," Orla says, adding, "Those women's stories are very important and I wanted people to be moved."

Ever since Richard bought the 170-acre farm in 2007, and they moved to Wexford, her work has been all about landscape and the sea.

"The house is over 100 years old - it was a derelict building when he bought it; there was a tree growing inside it. I remember Richard bringing me here. I sat on a pillar and said, 'you're bananas','' she recalls with a laugh.

But Richard, as with all his ventures, knew what he was doing. He gutted the house, took down the gable wall and slid a timber-framed house into the shell that was left. This now comprises a compact kitchen and cosy living room downstairs, furnished with an eclectic collection of artworks, many picked up by Richard during the seven years he went forward and back to Russia in the late 1980s; at the time he was working quite a bit with Aer Rianta.

Upstairs, there are two bedrooms and a bathroom. The guest bedroom is home to a brass bed, which was the first bed Richard ever bought. "Richard went to town with his mother and she made him buy this bed even though it was IR£300 and he only had IR£100 as his budget," Olga relates with a laugh.

The studio - built of natural cedar in keeping with the environment - is a separate building several hundred yards from the house, and it's here, with the sea all around her, that Olga draws and shapes her ceramic and glass creations; these are then fired in a kiln, which is in another of the farm buildings.

"The studio was Richard's present to me - he's always encouraged me to take my art seriously and since I've had the studio, my art has really kicked off for me," Olga enthuses, adding dreamily, "At night, when the sky is pitch black, apart from the stars, we come down and look out to sea. I've always had the sea, first in Howth, now here. I feel so privileged."

Through her artworks, Olga shares that privilege with us.


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