This is the first article in a new series devoted to walks, in which we ask artists, writers, curators and sometimes even collectors to share their photographs from a recent or not so recent meander.
Claire Kerr is an Irish artist living in Dublin. Claire’s paintings are apparently factual and resolved, yet the verisimilitude belies the intense contemplation and conceptual games at play in her small-format pictures, which frequently concern idiosyncratic trains of thought, the act of looking and an unobtrusive weirdness.
On Going for Walks and Taking Photographs, by Claire Kerr
William and Dorothy Wordsworth moved to Alfoxden in Somerset in 1797 to be near Coleridge, then living at Nether Stowey. When the three of them took to going for walks in the surrounding country (sometimes, God forbid, at nightfall to see the stars), the locals were suspicious. Purposeless walking was for people who had nothing better to do – criminals or poets, for example. For all the reasons we know, it is again frowned upon; as far as possible, we must stay at home.
Kitchen at nightfall
Nevertheless, I have a government roaming allowance of two kilometres a day, as if tethered, with at least one of those kilometres disappearing into the Atlantic to the North. I’m used to the city and like being indoors, especially when it’s sunny. I was on holiday in the West of Ireland when travel restrictions were announced at the end of March and stayed. Since then, unusually, I’ve been for a walk every day.
Some days I am in a Historical Documentary mode. Here in Cloonagh, County Sligo, I am a few miles from Lissadell, the childhood home of poet, suffragist and social worker Eva Gore-Booth, the equally interesting but less well-known sister of Constance Markievicz. Eva wrote affectionately about the landscape here, the ‘little roads of Cloonagh’.
One of Eva’s Little Roads
Unused to grass underfoot, I am enjoying the springtime. Primroses and violets are everywhere. There are some lovely weeds, Albrecht Dürer style. Every morning and evening until mid-April, overwintering Barnacle geese commute to and from the offshore island, Inishmurray, to feed here on the mainland. Every day I tried to photograph those distant specks. Then they flew back to Greenland.
In Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’, the narrator finds that his interest in or connection with people and places is in proportion to his imaginative engagement with them. He is initially disappointed in the church at Balbec, which he had imagined on a cliff battered by waves but which is in fact 12 miles inland, on an unprepossessing town square. He tries to grasp that this is the actual, real Balbec church – but unlike in his imagination, it is now competing with a distracting context and in the shadow of his picturesque expectations.
Three picturesque trees
Three picturesque trees behind a picturesque septic tank
Like the fictional Balbec coast, The West of Ireland is a wild and storied landscape. There are so many layers of history still visible it can be overwhelming: beaches where every pebble is a fossil, ringforts, passage tombs, old rundale-system fields in narrow strips. Everywhere there are abandoned cottages, overgrown walls. Sometimes, though, the West of Ireland looks like the South of France, or the African Savannah.
African Savannah at Ballyconnell
Expansive landscapes are difficult to photograph – not enough room on the viewfinder. Nearby Ben Bulben, or the high Donegal cliffs on the opposite side of the bay, come out as small and distant. Other landscapes are difficult to see free of our mental store of landscape paintings. Where there are trees under a cloudy sky in a northern light, there’s a Ruisdael. Elsewhere, sheep graze in the evening sunshine in the best 19th century manner. Twilight biblical illustrations are common. I haven’t taken many photos with a view to my own paintings although I do sometimes need specific images – the sea with a distinct horizon line, for example. Most things I set up indoors.
Sheep in the best 19th Century style
Gate with Sign
Some things are irresistible – sunsets, moonrises, blue skies, stormy skies, rainbows. We like to collect them.
Another stormy sky
I have a folder of things which look as if they should have their photo taken. A folder of accidental photos, too.
An accidental photo
Biography – Claire Kerr (born 1968 Wallsend, UK) lives and works in Dublin. She studied at Wimbledon School of Art and Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology and has exhibited widely in Ireland and internationally. www.clairekerr.art