Monday 21 October 2019

My Favourite Room: 'You couldn't paint in an average kitchen - but this is so big, there's no problem with mess'

 

Roisin in her kitchen with her whippet, Bear. The units were originally baby blue and she had them recently sprayed a deeper shade of blue, which is a good contrast to the raspberry splashback. Photo: David Conachy
Roisin in her kitchen with her whippet, Bear. The units were originally baby blue and she had them recently sprayed a deeper shade of blue, which is a good contrast to the raspberry splashback. Photo: David Conachy
The back of artist Roisin O’Farrell’s home near Bray. Roisin planted the garden herself when she first moved in 20 years ago. The kitchen extension was added in 2007
Roisin was very close to her grandmother and so her teacups, dating from the 1930s, have pride of place on the shelves in the family room. For Roisin, the teacups are a real symbol of family love, and they feature extensively in her paintings
Roisin in the studio side of her kitchen extension. As an artist, she’s particularly known for her series depicting wellington boots. Just beyond the glass doors is a lovely deck where Roisin and her girls eat when the weather permits. Photo: David Conaghy
Roisin loves her attic bedroom which she has decorated with works by different family members, including her mother
The family room off the kitchen is home to several family mementos, including the bell use's sewing machine. "I love it, and the fact that she bought it for two-and-six a week," Roisin says fondly
Roisin uses this cosy sitting room most frequently in winter because of its lovely open fireplace. The mantelpiece was originally pine, but Roisin prefers it since she painted it white
More paintings by family members can be found in the hall including a painting by Roisin’s cousin, Deborah Donnelly, who is known for her cow paintings. Wellies feature in Roisin's real life as well as her paintings - she likes to walk Bear in the nearby woods

In recent weeks, a lot of people have made decisions about their future careers and opted for courses which will hopefully lead them in the right direction.

When it comes to deciding on a career, many younsters choose to follow in the footsteps of their parents. It makes sense. If a certain profession or business has been in the air around you all your young life, you've soaked it up by osmosis and learned all about its workings - giving you a confidence in your ability your peers may not have.

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However, for some, the thought of following in the footsteps of parents and other family members, particularly if they've been successful, can be daunting - paralysing, even - so much so that a young person may decide it's too much to take on, and this is exactly what happened with Roisin O'Farrell.

She wanted to study art after finishing school, but she was too scared and instead went down a completely different route. In hindsight, it's a route she is glad she took, as it prepared her for her now successful career as an artist.

The back of artist Roisin O’Farrell’s home near Bray. Roisin planted the garden herself when she first moved in 20 years ago. The kitchen extension was added in 2007
The back of artist Roisin O’Farrell’s home near Bray. Roisin planted the garden herself when she first moved in 20 years ago. The kitchen extension was added in 2007

These days, Roisin exhibits widely; both her original work and prints are sought after, and she has an online course teaching business skills to other artists - all a far cry from the diffident young woman Roisin was when she was first embarking on a career.

"I come from a family of professional artists - my aunt, my cousin and particularly my mum were all artists," Roisin recalls. "I was good, but I was totally crippled by a lack of confidence. The thing is, I was judging myself against people who were really good. Of course, what I realised later is that I was a beginner at the time, and I was surrounded by people who were experienced."

Fortunately, Roisin had another interest: she loved animals, and went to England to study veterinary nursing. After qualifying, she worked there for a year, and went on to become the manager of a large practice; this gave her invaluable business experience.

When she came back to Ireland, she opted to take her managerial skills to a different level and worked in various different businesses and did a lot of marketing. During this time, she got married, and she has two daughters, Aoife (now 20), and Bethan (now 16).

Throughout her work life, Roisin continued to paint, and fantasised about becoming an artist. Then, just over 10 years ago, in her late 30s, the perfect opportunity presented itself. "I remember saying to my mum, 'It's not too late, I could still become an artist'," she says. "It was just wishful thinking. Then, within a year, I was made redundant, and I decided to give art a go. I said I would work on my technique, do some courses, paint every day and give it at least a year."

Around this time, Roisin's marriage ended, and working from home while the girls were still small made perfect sense - though, of course, she was not yet sure that she was going to be able to make a living. Painting was all very well, selling the work was another matter.

Roisin in the studio side of her kitchen extension. As an artist, she’s particularly known for her series depicting wellington boots. Just beyond the glass doors is a lovely deck where Roisin and her girls eat when the weather permits. Photo: David Conaghy
Roisin in the studio side of her kitchen extension. As an artist, she’s particularly known for her series depicting wellington boots. Just beyond the glass doors is a lovely deck where Roisin and her girls eat when the weather permits. Photo: David Conaghy

Fortunately for Roisin, she was an early adopter of social media, and this got her noticed. She did a blog about her work, and a gallery owner, Declan Mulvany in Killarney, read it and invited her to Kerry.

"I did a little blog. I thought only my mother was reading it, but obviously Declan was, too. He looked at my paintings, and he said, 'Your work is very small, you could paint bigger'.

"Of course, I had no confidence, but he persuaded me that I could do it, and he gave me a show. That show, in 2010, sold out, and I'm still with the same gallery in Killarney," she says. Roisin adds that she believes her experience in marketing and management gave her invaluable skills in progressing her career as an artist.

"A lot of my success is down to my professionalism - I'm good at deadlines; keeping up contacts with galleries, and I work very hard on social media," she says.

She is so conscious of the importance of social media that she has a person in the States who works remotely on her web design when necessary, and a couple in Bali who look after her social media. And she has also devised a course in business skills for artists, which she teaches online.

Of course, the art is the basis of everything she does, and she has developed a reputation for her large, colourful works, which are done in oil painted a la prima. "A la prima is very quick, it means 'wet on wet'. It wouldn't be as quick as watercolours, but it would be a lot quicker than the other form of oil, which is layering," she says.

The family room off the kitchen is home to several family mementos, including the bell use's sewing machine.
The family room off the kitchen is home to several family mementos, including the bell use's sewing machine. "I love it, and the fact that she bought it for two-and-six a week," Roisin says fondly

"A la prima suits me because I'm very impatient, and I love the texture of the juicy oils, and I love working with the [palette] knife, which appeals to me. I do about two paintings a week," Roisin explains, adding with a laugh, "I could have 30 drying in the utility room at any one time."

She paints in the kitchen; it's the way of working she opted for when the girls were smaller, and it suits her to continue there. It's a place that really suits her themes, which seem to vary - she has done series depicting teacups, welly boots, armchairs - but at the heart of all her work is the overriding theme of home.

"I think my paintings are all about home because I've learned over the years - my parents separated when I was young; my husband and I separated - that home and family are not just about ticking all the boxes and being perfect," she says, adding, "Everyone has skeletons, yet there is love in every family, be it single mums and dads, or blended families; and home doesn't have to be tidy. Things can be rough around the edges, as long as it's joyful, and I hope my paintings express that. Our family is a raggle-taggle gypsy band, and generationally we're all very loving."

Roisin's own home is certainly a depiction of joy; her many paintings add a great vibrancy to the decor, and there are animals aplenty - cats Rhubarb and Slinky Malinky, and her lovely whippet, Bear. There are photos of the girls at various stages, and it's full of family keepsakes like her grandmother's teacups, which have featured in her paintings.

She's 20 years in the house, having moved in the year before Aoife was born. It's a comfortable four-bedroomed semi-detached house near Bray, where Roisin grew up.

The kitchen was originally quite small, but a large extension was added in 2007, which went on to prove invaluable when Roisin started to paint full-time. "You couldn't paint in an average kitchen, but this is so big, there's no problem with mess," Roisin says. "I designed it on the back of a piece of grid paper, and then I had an architect friend who designed it properly for me."

Without realising it at the time, she ensured it was perfect for her work - not only does it open up with its two sets of wraparound doors, but also it has two large skylights, so it's permanently light-filled.

While the kitchen is very much divided into two spaces - one for painting, one for cooking and eating - the other rooms are full of family mementos. These include the school bell that was used to signal the start and end of class in her mother's childhood school, and her grandmother's sewing machine.

"My nana was very important to me," Roisin says. "When she was older, she started writing and published short stories. I really did learn from her. I was living a certain kind of life till my 30s and then everything changed. It takes hard work, but she taught me it's never too late to become who you want to be."

And in Roisin's case, that's a lovely artist. See roisinofarrell.com

Edited by Mary O'Sullivan

Photography by David Conachy Gavin

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