Artists let loose on Lockdown

VIRTUAL Exhibition sees eight artists give their response to Lockdown

If you were asked to respond with one word to the lockdown, what would it be?

That was the jumping off point for eight artists in their endeavour to create a work of art for an online exhibition to help fill the Cootehill Arts Festival shaped hole punched in the social calendar by the pandemic.

Festival organisers turned to Emily Jones, who has curated the festival’s previous visual arts events, to enlist seven other artists across a variety of disciplines- painters, potters, printmakers, poets and prose writers are included.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see how they all come together, and how different it’s all going to be,” says Emily, her English accent undimmed by her 16 years in Cootehill.

The contributing artists and the words that anchor their response to ‘Lockdown’ are as follows: Emily Jones (Resilient), Noel Monahan (Theatre), Paul Galligan (Mask), Jackie O’Neill (Grounding), Marie Smith (Contact), Ross Cochrane (Farce), Rebecca O’Connor (Dream), and Gary Kiernan (Impend).

“I think there’s a lot of pressure on the artists to come up with a monumental piece but that’s not really the point - we’re not looking for a signed, finished piece in a grand frame. It’s more, how are we responding to the situation? We tried to ask them to keep the time limit down on their work, so they are not agonising for a long period of time – we want to keep that spontaneity. They literally had three weeks to do this.”

The Lockdown exhibition will be projected on a video loop in Cootehill Library window, with the original pieces being displayed in various shop windows around the town, from July 16-29. Postcard packs featuring photos of the works will be available free in the hope that their audience will send them to loved ones around the world thus giving the artists a global audience and partially subverting the whole idea of lockdown.

While organising and participating in the project has occupied some of Emily’s lockdown time – which is precious given she’s a “full-time mum” to Dylan, Tadhg, Sarah Shields and Hattie-anne - the pandemic scuppered her plans to fully relaunch her own artistic career.

“This was supposed to be the year of my first solo exhibition for a long time,” explains Emily. A “good majority” of the work for her first solo exhibition is complete, but Emily laughingly admits to having been “slightly” relieved when the pandemic thwarted her exhibition.

“I’m 40, I had my 40th birthday in lockdown. And I think your confidence gets seriously knocked by life. Certainly when I was younger and studying sculpture I was a completely different artist from what I am now. I second guess myself - that’s the experience I’ve had, and you do worry and you do think: Have I missed the boat? Am I making a mistake by doing this? I do find that quite nerve-wrecking.”

A graduate from the illustrious Yorkshire Sculpture Park at Bretton Hall with a degree in fine art, her nerves sound endearing rather than well-founded.

“In Bretton Hall I was surrounded by Henry Moore – he was a big influence on my definitely, Barbara Hepworth as well, another good Yorkshire woman,” says Emily.


She hails from Herefordshire in England’s West Midlands, and her roots were a key theme for her exhibition. “I was coming back to missing home, and this idea of where home is, and you can make a home.”

She refers to a beautiful Welsh word, Hiraeth, which resists direct translation into English.

“It describes this feeling of missing home and being homesick – but it’s the home you remember as a child,” she says, adding the word also speaks of “longing or desire, or a sense of regret”.

For Emily, her longing was for a secure home and time when her both parents were still alive, her mother has since passed.

A monoprint on board with acrylics from Emily's cancelled exhibition.

“My life is here in Cavan, in Cootehill, but there’s a part of me that’s always going to miss that idea of home. And I don’t know if you ever lose that feeling – that’s where I was going.”

Without the room needed for sculpture, she has devoted herself to print making, and often runs workshops on the process. The Celt wonders if it’s not awful pressure in making mistakes?

“No I don’t think so, because I quite like happy accidents.

“I like the fact that you don’t really know exactly what you are going to get. So either it can be absolutely brilliant, or not, and there’ll be mistakes,” she says stressing that she’s not precious about it and views it as “a quite quick, responsive process”.

Plus points

Sadly the restrictions have meant we will have to wait a little longer for an exhibition devoted to Emily’s home inspired work, and make do with her contribution to the Lockdown project. Emily is hopeful that there could be plus-points emanating from the lockdown.

“I hope that we can look at this time and go right we have experienced it, we have lived through it, what did we learn? What can we take on? I hope big changes are going to happen.”

She’s not just saying this in the sense of changes socially and politically, and notes that she has had more time to nurture creativity in her children.

“Maybe there will be more of an importance put on creativity.”

“That could hopefully be a very positive thing – that people’s confidence could grow in their work because they have actually been able to give time to being creative, and go ‘yeah, I like this, this is one thing I’d like to keep.”