“You’re not the only one to do that,” says a smiling Marilyn Gaffney when the Celt admits he had to look up the word ‘Anamnesis’.
It’s the title of the Castlepollard artist’s latest exhibition on display in Cavan Townhall.
According to wikipaedia anamnesis is the philosopher Plato’s wondrous idea that “humans possess knowledge from past incarnations and that learning consists of rediscovering that knowledge within us”.
We’re on the right track.
“I was on residency in ‘La Muse’ in France back in 2010,” explains Marilyn, “and it’s funny because all of Plato’s sayings were on the doors, so it’s hard not to be influenced by certain things you see visually - writings on the walls.”
Marilyn’s interest is piqued by memories of the past.
“Van Gogh’s Starry Night, he would have painted that through his memory of a place where he was before - that’s where my interests lie.
“As well as that, places I aspire to create are places I have been before, but I am also influenced by where I am now. It’s hard not to be inspired and pulled in by Cavan and its rural setting,” says Marilyn, who has to divide her time between her artwork and planning her wedding, just five weeks away.
The work is very unusual in its presentation - the works aren’t simply mounted on walls. She has actually constructed an enormous bare wooden frame reaching from the floor to the ceiling to display her work. It gives the feel that we’re still in the studio, but it’s essentially creating frames within frames. It’s custom-made for the Townhall exhibition space and will have to be adapted for future venues. She delights in the fact that the launch saw such a crowd that children and viewers were actually walking in through the gaps in the frames - surely that’s interactive art at its height. As you view many of the works, you are also confronted by the backs of canvasses. Obviously, being an artist, process is equally, if not more, important to Marilyn, who has a first class honours degree in fine art from Sligo Institute of Technology.
“I’m interested in how I work with the materials and it’s not so much the illustration or the painting,” says Marilyn.
She adds: “I’m being very up front about how I make the works, and you can see that by the backs of the canvasses as well. It’s a very revealing thing for an artist to do. I would always term my work as painting, even the whole install as well, because how I work in the studio is like a painter - I mightn’t be an artist who uses paint full-time.”
Many of her works include collage elements generated from “mistake marks” from printers.
“I’m always gathering the end of ink cartridges to use,” she says with a laugh, explaining that these ‘mistakes’ becomes part of her ‘pallet’. “I’m never going to find the same colour again... because the interruptins you get are always going to be different. How I work that way is like a painter, because when you mix your oils together, you will try to get the same colour but you will never will.”
Amongst the dozens of works, we settle on the stunning piece, which gives the display its title, Anamnesis. In support of her claims that she is a painter, if a little unconventional, at first glance it looks like its painted on silk, but it’s actually a mixed media of collage, painting, and marker on polythene sheeting. It’s a truly unique technique she has created herself.
“You can see the different floral arrangements there, that’s my basis of the different flower arrangements last July in Cavan. It’s from a display that I saw, but I placed it with other flower arrangements.”
This beautiful image of flowers dominates the foreground, before, with a nod to the humour of her surrealist influences, we’re literally led up the garden path, and enter the unsettling twilight dreamscape of Marilyn’s unbridled imagination. In the drawing phase, she sets aside every day concerns and loses herself.
“Ultimately, everything goes out of my head, and I’ve come to a place where it’s just fixed on the drawing. I’m not aware of the actual lines that I’m making. It’s kind of an automatic response, it’s like automatic drawing. My unconscious I suppose is doing the work.
“I’m getting lost within the foliage, but not even aware of the foliage; it’s the drawing itself in the different techniques,” she says, pointing to varieties of precise, intricate detailing.
The Celt notes that while Marilyn got lost in its creation, the viewer can’t help but get lost in the finished piece, whilst intense colours fight for the viewer’s attention.
“It’s kind of like Hieronymus Bosch’s and the Garden of Earthly Delights... I suppose that would be a big inspiration for me, and the busyness of it too.”
Marilyn used to put figures into her landscapes but she felt that maybe she was giving too much to the viewers, helping them towards conclusions.
“The viewer now can make up their own memories of the place and have their own relationship to it. I’ve given them enough engagement - this is what I noticed on the opening night - everyone’s bringing their own memory to each place which I found interesting.”
Do you feel like you’ve been in the place you’ve depicted before?
“I do, I do feel like I’ve been here before.”
You’d be freaked out if you actually came across this location in real life, the Celt jokes.
“People have said to me Marilyn in Wonderland, but I think it’s a little bit more grown up.”