A mesmerising seascape is immediately apparent. Your eye’s dragged in every direction across the canvas by the interplay of the tide of energetic colours and oil paint generously lathered on with a palette knife. That’s how Evelyn Sorohan’s artwork titled ‘Atlantic Ocean’ at first appears, the truth of the medium used is somewhat different.
“That’s part of the deception,” delights Evelyn. “That’s good that you think that. I want people to partly be deceived, to think - gosh isn’t that a fabulous painting - and then they’re drawn in and begin to look at it and go – God how is that actually made?”
Evelyn’s material of choice is a second cousin of oil paint; it’s actually discarded household plastic and found plastic which she has treated and carefully applied to the composition. The end result can be seen in her solo exhibition ‘Plastic Imprints’ in Clare County Museum which launches next weekend.
A national school teacher, Evelyn supervised a Green School project where the children were tasked to create a piece of art with plastic waste. While her pupils created a “magnificent big whale” the experience also triggered an idea for Evelyn.
“As an artist I thought - gosh I could really execute my own work using this as a medium. I find paint on its own boring because it’s so flat. Whereas this, it’s so textured and three dimensional, it gives a different feel to a piece.”
Now living in the Banner County, the Cavan native makes the most of her proximity to the coast, with frequent visits to favourite beaches at White Strand and Spanish Point. After a swim - “I love the open water swims” - she goes for a walk and gathers any plastic debris washed up on the sand and takes it home to her studio. She also looks closer to home for her art materials.
“I look at the plastics we use as a household – I find that we use an awful lot of one-off bottles, like milk containers, water bottles, all the fruit comes in plastics, yoghurts, sweets, crisp packets.”
Of her unusual choice of medium, Evelyn explains: “As a contemporary artist I feel quite strongly and passionately that I should be using materials that show the fabric of society. It would be much easier for me to paint with just my acrylic paint – it’s actually very very complex, and very complicated what I’m doing. It’s that intention that I’m taking something that’s destroying our oceans and reconstituting it to create fine art.”
After cleaning the plastics, she sorts her plastics into colours and dons a gas mask.
“Then I cut it up and start melting it. It shrinks and gives beautiful colours and textures. I have tens of thousands of those little leaves of paint in drawers in a little section of my studio.”
She notes that melting the substance often deepens the pigment.
“All plastics melt in a different way... When you melt it, it’s very different. It creates something new,” she enthuses.
The ‘leaves of paint’ are then applied to her canvas with glue in a collage style, and she undertakes brushwork with acrylics.
She hesitantly accepts the Celt’s description of it as a form of collage, but clarifies: “But I’m always thinking like a painter – the lines, the shapes, the form, the composition. I still regard myself as a painter, and also, when I put on the plastic I often paint it because it’s not the exact colour I want. ”
The viewers are left occasional clues as to the medium on her canvas, for example in the stunning ‘Atlantic Ocean’ the six grooves of a soft drink bottle is visible on close inspection. In the artwork depicting poppies titled Hope, the petals are partly made from red caps of two litre milk containers.
Whether it’s flowers in bloom, poppies, bouquets or waves crashing on the sea, Evelyn’s work is all centred on nature. For the Celt, she is at the height of her powers in the seascape and works depicting flowers.
Many of Evelyn’s works feature butterflies. This delicate motif was inspired by the shocking image of the plastic islands floating in the Pacific Ocean, captured in National Geographic.
“Whatever way the plastic in the ocean was floating, it reminded me of the butterfly. To me it was abhorrent, yet there was hope because it got me thinking about transformation and metamorphoses.”
By including her own household rubbish, it could be interpreted that the artist is owning up to her own complicity in the avalanche of plastic swamping the earth.
She admits to being “sort of half artist, half environmentalist” in this collection.
“I want to challenge people to think about plastic and plastic use in a different ways,” she says.
Plastic Imprints runs at the Clare County Museum from Wednesday, April 3 to April 24, with the official opening on Saturday, April 6 at 3pm. To learn more about Evelyn’s process and work, see: evelynsorohan.com