Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre
Majella O’Neill Collins lives and works on the island of Sherkin, just off the West Cork coast. Her work relates directly to her experience of living on an island, surrounded by water, where sea and land meet at gravelly and sandy beaches, mudflats and cliffs as well as at piers, docks and slipways, and defined by the ever-changing weather and light.
Majella makes paintings which try to make sense of what it means to live in this remote, rural and beautiful part of the world. Although she works in a studio that overlooks the coastline and spends many hours looking at the land and sea that surround her, her paintings are not painted directly from nature. They are made in the studio and evolve through reflection, through dealing with the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface and through a physical and emotional relationship with paint itself.
Majella’s way of painting is based on intuition and experimentation. She believes that painting is a means of reshaping experience of the world, of examining, formalising and giving shape to perception. Her work is rooted in her own personal history and her own direct experience. Each set of paintings marks a particular time or stage in her life.
Her cove and inlet paintings are concerned with movement, flux and power. They swell and spill out from the confines of the canvas, they engulf the viewer with a sense of vitality that comes both from the sweeping mark- making and the visceral use of paint and colour. Her crossing and home paintings refer to journeys, not only the physical passage from mainland to island but the human journey of life. Her sea paintings show a surface broken by waves and currents, by reefs and rocky outcrops, these elements have become structures with which to explore the surface of the canvas itself. Recently, Majella has begun to take a bird's eye view as in Flying over the Dock. The organisation of the surface plays off thick paint against thin, flat areas against broken ones, and, in places, naturalistic colour against distinctly non-naturalistic colour. Her pier paintings are a dialogue between representation and abstraction. There are references to the physical structure of the pier itself, overlayered at times with sweeping marks which may indicate the thrill of 'pier diving' - a common summer pastime for generations of Sherkin children.
Throughout, Majella's work continues to demonstrates her keen interest in painterly concerns – in mark-marking, in layering, in the sensuous textures that wet oil makes, in the drags, rubs and smudges of wet oil on wet, and in the challenges imposed by the medium itself.
Niamh Ann Kelly
Majella O’Neill Collins has consistently drawn inspiration form her native West Cork. Over recent years her paintings have explored the textures of this environment and the rough mystique of its climate. Her paintings stand firmly on the sea front, in the face of wind and wave and play forcefully on the erotic charm of the might blue that is the sea.
As any work of art holds the trace of a time, a painting retains an image of the ideas and impulses that compelled its production. In form that image is various. For O’Neill Collins, the forms she paints relate directly to the land and sea that surround her. As the sea creates heights and crevices, while the rock formations at its coast protrude and retreat, her paintings rise and fall with borrowed energy. Her exploration of the textures of her physical environment and the impact of the sea on the land is transposed into an idiosyncratic language of painting. Veritably moving towards the syntax of abstraction, the paintings of O’Neill Collins never quite lose sight of their origins in both the manifestation of her locale and the more generalised emotional ebb and flow of life’s turns.
Core to her expression is the language of paint itself. Gradations of tone, virtual modelling with pigment, traces of gesture are all central to her articulation. This concentration of focus on the application of paint results in surfaces as vigorous as the climate O’Neill Collins inhabits: the textures, colours and sweeps of paint generate a narrow of the sea’s movement. The resultant canvases are planes of painterly blues – moving between the very light and the very dark – that suggest the changeable nature of the sea and evoke the land it alternately strokes and assaults. As these paintings bring into view the variety of marine forms, colours and tempos and also present a deeply personal reflection, the sense of sea O’Neill collins exhibits is at once abstract and representational. The sea as a poetic force is long renowned for its properties of power, mystery and above all, its potential for immersion. Its invocation in art has often embraced the more passionate aspects of human wondering, as it does in O’ Neill Collins’ paintings from the blue.