Margo Quinn with her beautiful painting Lost Boy.

A place for almost everything

EXHIBITION Margot’s work opens in Townhall Cavan this week

When you enter Margot Quinn’s exhibition two things strike you – the papier maché woman behind the counter, and the sheer volume of work. Even within single artworks there’s often a multitude of images, and the restlessness doesn’t stop there; Margot likes to play in different dimensions in the one piece. It’s all reflective of a busy mind with a seemingly prolific idea-to-creation ratio.

“It’s like a working artist’s studio,” begins Margot as she hangs and arranges the pieces in the exhibition space at the Townhall Cavan, ably assisted by curator Joe Keenan.

The set-up is not dissimilar from her former workspace in Leitrim, before she and husband, novelist Pat McCabe returned to his hometown of Clones.

“It was in Carrick-on-Shannon, we bought an old shop and I used it as a studio and workshop.

“We moved all, lock, stock, and barrel to do this installation. I always thought of it in my head as an ongoing installation. I have artworks from every year going back 20, 30 years.

“I keep adding to it, going back to it.”

An inventory of the work on display would swallow the entirety of this page. It ranges from paintings in both oils and acrylics, to a variety of different types of print works, to quasi-painting-sculptures, the likes of which the Celt has never seen before, and whimsical sculptures made from papier maché waste or household detritus. A warmth emanates from it.

“I’m always fiddling with stuff and picking up bits and turning it into something else. It’s ordinary everyday stuff, everything can be used for something,” she says.

And since it is in the guise of a workshop, with the everything amassed in the one room, the viewer is in effect browsing through an arts installation.

“I have this model ‘Josie’ behind the counter,” she says of the papier maché lady clad in a black string cardigan, and garish skirt. “So we call the shop ‘Josie’s Art Studio & Workshop’. So she’s a little bit like my alter ego.”

She quips: “Josie is the real person really, I’m just her assistant.”

The Celt wonders if maybe Margot is more comfortable to have Josie grab some of the attention

“I’m comfortable enough,” she says of the inevitable spotlight, “but that is part of it. I make all these models and things and they say stuff for me that I can’t say. I’m not really that comfortable,” she jokingly backtracks.

“It is a very solitary thing, making art,” she notes.

And by doing it, artists are exposing their vulnerabilities, the Celt chips in.

“Of course and I work in quite an intuitive way so I don’t know what I’m going to expose.”

There’s so much here, with textures carrying almost as much of the work as colours, and form. It is quite a sensory experience being in the room. She says she's recently become aware of IRL - 'In Real Life' – becoming an expression to distinguish from the virtual.

“I like the real thing,” she says. “Where you have a real shop or a shop online - I’m not drawn to the online thing at all. Everything is algorithms where things are chosen for you, you can’t go in and rummage somewhere and discover things you never even knew you wanted. I’m trying to get back to that idea.”

The overarching theme she offers is the “passage of time and memory and a fantasy thing all mixed together”.

“I’m always trying to hold onto specific memories, and you can’t really – you can’t remember everything. But I find you remember the small little details rather than a big thing.”

An example is a strikingly large, unframed canvas which captures fragments of her three months in Pittsburgh when Pat had a residency in the university. It features amongst other things, buildings and houses, a cartoonish figure reminiscent of ‘Punch and Judy’ as a stand in for Trump, playwright August Wilson, and Giacometti’s ‘Walking Man’, which is in the city’s Carnegie Museum of Art. Giacometti’s pinched, rough hewn finish on his sculptural work is maybe echoed in Margot’s papier maché works.

“Don’t ask me why I put the duck in front of it – I just decided,” she says of the ‘Walking Man’ section.

Even within this one artwork there’s a variety of styles, which encapsulates much of the rest of the gallery. But by spending time with the work, similarities between paintings and sculptures shimmer to the surface.

She believes they all delve into her fascination with memory and her attempt to retain memories.

Would you find your subjects tend towards happy memories, since who would want to save unhappy memories?

“I suppose they are, but I don’t specifically say, I want to get this memory and get it down – it’s just things come. Like this guy here,” she says, addressing the Celt’s favourite work. “I call him ‘Lost Boy’. I’m the oldest in my family but there was a still birth before me. We used to say ‘I wonder what that older brother would have been like?’ So this is what he was – there’s his toys all over the ground, and there’s him. The odd time the family would be together and you get this strange feeling there should be somebody else here.”

The simplicity of her papier maché work is deceptive. The medium is most frequently found in national schools than in galleries you feel in this choice her playfully daring you to utter that perennial insult slung at contemporary art: ‘My six year old could do that!’

A papier maché work called ‘10 Green Bottles’ is perched on a table. The surface of the bottles are far from glass smooth, more lumpy stalagmite. She has made an unconvincing, yet still discernible likeness of a bottle - maybe a comment on the futility of trying to accurately replicate reality? However, lifting a bottle reveals buried within the layered paper, the glass bottle remains inside. The expectation of the artwork is subverted by the very fact that it has retained its functionality.

Or more likely Margot has something entirely different in mind with all these scores of paper models.

Regardless, the last word goes to her grandmother:

“I keep thinking of my grandmother’s phrase: I just want a place for everything and everything in its place. I keep striving for this and I can never get it because everything is just all over the place.

“Maybe that’s what art is about - I know artists say this all of the time – trying to make some kind of order out of chaos, you are just trying to fix things somehow. Then it will all make sense to me,” she laughs.

‘Josie's Art Studio & Workshop’ by Margot Quinn opens this week and runs until February 26.