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Behind closed doors

A weekly feature highlighting the artists and craftmakers who are working during the coronavirus crisis. If you would like to be featured, email margaretroddy@argus.ie

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Mary Wallace

Mary Wallace

Mary Wallace

'People in Dundalk, apart from my family, probably don't realise I'm an artist,' says Mary Wallace (nee McConnon). When Mary left her native town for Wexford after her marriage, she was working as a solicitor and she continued to practise law for many years.

A past-pupil of St Vincent's Secondary School, Mary studied at UCD and worked in Daniel O'Connell's solicitors for a few years. During that time, she was involved with Dundalk Theatre Workshop and Junior Chamber, and is still a regular visitor to town.

Her road to Damascus moment, which led to her making the 'huge life changeover' from art to law, came about over twenty years ago when she saw a notice for art classes with the tempting question 'So you can't even draw a straight line?'

'I thought this was something I would like to do as I was always very crafty,' she recalls. 'The children never got a plain cake with Happy Birthday on it - it was always a web or a dinosaur!'

The class was led by an experienced tutor who challenged the students to draw for three hours every single day for a year. 'Seventy people signed up for the class and only seven stuck with it,' says Mary. 'I literally did what I was asked - I drew for three hours every day and a the end of that year, I realised that art was what I wanted to do.'

'Within three or four months of completing the course, I handed in my resignation.'

Mary recognises that she was lucky that she was able to make that choice, as her children were still quite young and it could have been tempting to continue to strive to combine a career in law, with motherhood and working as a part time artist.

Shortly after making that momentous decision, Mary began exhibiting her work and now holds an annual exhibition to coincide with the famous Wexford Opera Festival.

Although the festival cancelled for this year, Mary has been busy working in her studio and is looking forward to The Silence - a multi-media project documents Ireland during lockdown ,curated by Pat Carroll which goes live on Saturday.

While her practice has seen her working in watercolours, creating images of flowers, fruit, fish and bowls, for the past five years she has been inspired by the Japanese art of Kintsugi.

This, she explains, goes back to medieval times and involves the repair of broken ceramics. Rather than trying to make the repair invisible. Kintsugi makes a feature of the cracks, often highlighting them in gold.

'It's a lovely philosophy which celebrates an item which is loved and repaired,' says Mary.

These beautiful repaired bowls can often be found in Mary's paintings, along with cherry blossoms which are associated with the Japanese celebration of Spring.

'While journeying from Dundalk to Wexford, I became really aware of the beauty of the hawthorn and realised that we have our own native plants which also mark the seasons.'

She began incorporating them in her work, and during lockdown was delighted to discover that she had two wild cherries growing in her garden.

Alongside her interest in Kintsugi, Mary is also influenced by the Japanese concept of Wabi sabi which can be described as seeing beauty in imperfection and the acceptance of things as they are.

This, she feels, ties in with her involvement with The Silence project, and indeed a piece of her artwork based on ancient Ogram writing has become the logo for this virtual arts event.

Mary had formed a 'virtual' friendship with fellow Dundalk native Pat Carroll, who runs the Art in Many Forms page on Facebook and Instagram.

She appreciated the support which he had given her down the years, and didn't hesitate when he asked her to get involved in the project.

'I assumed he would want me to do a painting but then he asked her to compose a piece of writing to accompany a photograph by the Cork based photographer Rob O'Connor whose images of the empty city streets inspired the project.

'It is great to be involved in this thought-provoking project which came about as a response to the stunned quietness that came over us all in March,' she says.

She had enjoyed the sense of slowness brought about by lockdown, spending time in her garden and her studio, working her alchamy on sourdough as well as on art paper, and catching up with family on Zoom. But the time has not been without sadness, a close friend died as did a much loved family pet.

Her writing for The Silence reflects on her experience of this time. 'It's not all about grief and sadness. That's not the type of person I am.'

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