Through Irish paintings, ceramic art and photography, Contrasts transports one to landscapes with a sense of the ancient

Photographer and cross-cultural projects manager Áine Edwards came to India on her first trip some 16 years ago, volunteering to help a cousin set up his software firm. And then, three years ago, Googling to find connections between India and Ireland, she found there were hardly any. Yet, she knew Indians were going to Ireland. “We have a lot of common history, but it seemed as if it was wafting away.” Fascinated with the idea of fostering cultural exchange and building ties, Áine, a photographer, brought painters Victor Richardson, Maeve Mcmanamon, Dorothee Roberts, Carol Booth and ceramicist Sara Roberts, together for Contrasts. This venture was supported by Culture Ireland and the Irish Embassy at New Delhi. Honorary Consul General of Ireland in Chennai, Rajeev Mecheri, optimistic for the two countries coming closer on this platform, said “Art and culture is fundamental to any society.”

A sparkling universe

For the Irish, India is a large country. Richardson describes Ireland as one of the world’s smallest with a population of 4.5 million. “The population of Chennai alone must be more,” he laughs, admitting to an assault on their senses on arrival. Yet, the artists show no reticence, displaying the traditional good humour and warmth the Irish are famous for. It is this even and earthy temperament that reflects in their paintings, a rare genuineness in a world that has forgotten to see things simply. Tripping us back on memory lane to the years of Impressionist art, painting vivid landscapes by daubing pure colours on canvas in pointillist technique, Richardson’s canvases are reminiscent of Gustav Klimt’s. “I was not a trained artist. I painted this way much before I found out about Klimt.” His sparkling, bubble-popping universe encapsulates The Frozen Stream and The Grand Canal. Áine Edwards’ photographs follow — brilliant prints, equally startling in capturing the rich Irish landscape. Her Wildflowers, Wild Coast is of a picturesque walk close to Sara Roberts’ home in Cork County, where Richardson also lives.

At home by the sea, ceramic artist Sara Roberts cannot imagine being away from her font of inspiration. As the colours of the sea change with weather patterns, Sara captures the impressions on ceramic. “My kiln is just four cubic feet. Besides, large pieces are likely to crack on firing.” These constraints defined Sara’s unique approach to make small and concise pieces. She applies colours on the more porous clay after the first bisque firing. As colours change when dry, Sara prepares test bits for the final result she wants — to invoke a feeling of wild stormy or calm sea. Other artworks are made of fragments cut from the moist clay after creating initial texturing. Her delicate fabrication reveals careful detail in the foreground of rocks, coastal brush and bric-a-brac washed up by the sea. More distant sea and clouds are rendered atmospherically.

Carol Booth’s enigmatic paintings are on Italian Fabriano paper, which she first prepares with rabbit skin glue, a base for oil painting. “It is the contrast of light in Ireland, a softer grey light,” she says, that inspires. When the sun came out and transformed the mountain at Wicklow Pass, her imaginary world grew in a painting of gold, black and blue swirls. Booth starts a piece with an idea and does not actually paint the place, but the feeling she associates with it. Her alchemic strokes capture the unique glacio-karst landscape of The Burren. In her paintings of the massive Cliffs of Moher and the magical Three Islands, where monks lived on seagulls’ eggs and seaweed, Booth draws from pertinent moods and memories of place.

Cultural connect

The watercolours of Maeve Mcmanamon range from the softer hues of the Irish countryside to her more vibrant interpretations of India. Mcmanamon’s painting of an Indian flower seller holding an umbrella is awash with summery colours that are less likely in Ireland. Men carry boats in browns and blues with a sudden burst of T-shirt pink. Opposite, Dorothee Roberts’ oils etch out lively statements of familiar scenes, Indian and Irish. Common to all the artists is an engagement with light and its glowing transformation of landscape. A love for family, mythology, community and folklore characterises both nations, surmises Richardson who believes contrasts between communities are superficial and what really people want out of life is quite the same.

Contrasts is on at Artworld till February 6.