Local Art: Nuala Monaghan

Nuala Monaghan is an artist and teacher in a community centre in Lawrencetown, she is also part of The Shore Collective, who were due to have an exhibition up this year around the story of Mad Sweeney- which has since been postponed to 2021. Nuala spoke to The Jumble Magazine all about her background with art, teaching, working as a collective, the legend of Mad Sweeney, and the obstacles 2020 has put in the way of the arts. 

I’ve loved drawing from no age and have always been a deep thinker… I had a very creative upbringing with my parents encouraging us to try everything, I played the trombone, participated in choirs and orchestras and things like that. Mum said I was very well behaved until my sisters came home from school, they used to wind me up and once she saw me getting annoyed she would just bring out “the colouring ins” as a distraction and the balance would be restored.

I think Art is the real magic in this world. It has all kinds of healing powers, it doesn’t matter if you’re 2, 20, or 120.

Now I teach Arts and Crafts in my local community centre in Lawrencetown, and work with people of all ages and abilities. It’s important to have variety in your life,  and get an insight into the world from people from all walks of life. 

In terms of the local Art scene, all I can say is Covid has cut it at the knees like so many things. Creativity is instinctual though, and you can see people continue to share and connect and create online. I’m grateful to still have my classes, it’s very brave of everyone to keep going, but we all need some form of normality and a way of expressing ourselves. A lot of people I work with are vulnerable, so we’re just very careful. It’s really important for everyone to get out and see and do; we are humans, not robots.

I always have some other part time work alongside it to give me some structure to my weeks. 

Over the past year I’ve been doing craft fairs and putting out feelers to see what kind of art I can make money from. Like a research period I guess, I’ve discovered people like my pet portraits and wedding invites in particular. 

I have other plans for future projects I want to do for myself, and lock down gave me a bit of time for reflection and further self discovery as an artist. I always play about with ink and recently acrylic ink too, but when we initially went into lock down I couldn’t stop thinking about the places I’d been and how I was so lucky to have seen so much of the world; drawing from photos of different holidays and landscapes, beautiful European architecture, etc. You figure out what works best for you when you’re only thinking about enjoying yourself, because that’s when your real heart and soul goes into it. When you make something not for the finished product but purely because you enjoy the process. I think it’s really important to make time for yourself because of that, so you don’t become disillusioned or overwhelmed by it. You could be making coffee everyday but if you don’t make one for yourself once in a while the fun goes. 

The Shore Collective is a group of individual Artists based in Mount Zion in Lurgan, who work together and create exhibitions, do craft fairs and classes. I only became a member a few months before Covid and they had already chosen the theme of Mad Sweeney – the Shore Collective had been working towards this exhibition for over a year at that stage, and when I heard about it it was about 4 months before it was to begin, so I just sank my teeth in. I love Celtic Mythology, studied Irish through to A-Level, I’m a casual tour guide in the Navan Fort Centre in Armagh – so you can imagine I was over the moon when this opportunity came along. 

Sweeney, a Pagan, comes home to find a priest marking out his land, chases him, and the priest curses him to become a crow and travel throughout Ireland going insane…It’s like a tale of the small man who got in the way and was made an example of. 

I wanted to play with imagery of Sweeney as a heroic figure for Paganism. He fought for his rights and cruelly cursed by a church. There was a lot to work with. It made me think about saving souls and Saviours, and what those things are.

I asked Dan from Cloakroom Q to model for me because he’s so expressive, a lot of Cloakroom Q’s music has that sort of intense depth that I wanted to show in Sweeney. 

I drew loads of pictures of him with markers and pencils in a sketchbook, played around with inks and different textures, tried painting with an actual feather as well – then scanned and manipulated further in Photoshop. I knew I wanted to stick to those purples and blues of a crow’s feathers, they’re very emotive colours, reminiscent of sadness and respect for death.

I also wanted to do a massive portrait with Sweeney looking like an icon. I hadn’t painted like that in a while and this just seemed like the perfect chance to do something really OTT.

You can check out more of Nuala’s art on Instagram and her website.

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