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Out There by Eoin O'Malley

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Hello! This is artist Eoin O’Malley and I’m his facilitator Orla Callaghan.

Eoin is delighted to be given the opportunity to make a contribution to the Artists Connect Blog series and to share a bit about his journey as an artist. We’ve been looking back to when it all started and thinking about the things that have allowed Eoin to keep working, what has gone well over the years and a couple of things that have been challenging along the way.

Eoin and I have been working together since 2008 at the Lalor Centre in Baltinglass, a local service centre of KARE. Eoin first started to paint when his key worker at the time, Teresa, had the simple but brilliant idea of using a pencil gripper on the end of a paintbrush so Eoin could hold the brush in his mouth. His own determination was clear from the start but continuing to work and develop would have been impossible without the support Eoin has had over the years from KARE particularly through the line manager Anne Leigh in the Lalor centre. Fundamental to Eoin’s progress though is his amazing mother Marianne who always had the vision to recognise what painting could mean to Eoin and constantly goes above and beyond to provide all kinds of help and assistance.

Painting with your mouth isn’t easy! Eoin didn’t have an easel or anything at first but he quickly developed his skills with the brush and started to use acrylic on canvas.

Eoin painting 2009     YELLOW WHEELS

In 2010 Eoin had his first exhibition, Brushwork, in the Lalor Centre. It was a sellout and lit a fire in Eoin to work even harder. Soon after that Marianne got the table easel that made a huge difference to the way Eoin could access and navigate the canvas.

 Eoin painting 2014

While Eoin was honing his skills with the brush I had to learn a few things too. I realised that I had to keep out of his way to make sure he properly owned the process. That helped set good boundaries for the methods we use to work together. Representing Eoin authentically in making proposals was another learning curve. Words are not Eoin’s thing but there’s so much writing required for exhibition and funding applications. I made the mistake of using the first person in the beginning but that just felt wrong so I figured out that I could write for Eoin in the third person but not as him.

Guidance from Arts Disability Ireland (ADI) has been an enormous help, their advice to make the voice of the artist central to the proposal is a clear benchmark to work from. They also suggest using video recordings which have worked really well in giving Eoin a platform to be fully present in applications.

In 2016 Eoin had a solo show in the Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge and also got his first Arts Council award through the Arts Disability Ireland Connect scheme for mentoring with Paul Bokslag. Paul opened the exhibition -

‘The painting on the invite for this exhibition was given the title Borderland. I think a lot of Eoin’s paintings reference landscape in one way or another. Landscapes can be real, imagined, inner or metaphorical. Borderland depicts the hill behind the centre as viewed from the window of the room that he paints in. A white fence on a hill forms a border between what is on either side. Borders aren’t always a divide, they can also be seen as a connection between two worlds and maybe you could say that this painting is also about the future, about connecting with and moving on into another land.’

Eoin painting Border-1

That time really did mark moving into another land in many ways. Having Paul’s response and input changed the dynamic of working in isolation and Eoin started to refer to himself as an ‘artist’ for the first time. Paul invited Eoin to visit KCAT studios in Callan County Kilkenny where he was able to see what working in a dedicated studio space with a group of other artists is like.

In 2018 KARE provided Eoin with his amazing windmill easel enabling him to paint on a much larger scale than before and it was around this time that Eoin began to make work that related more specifically to source material and research.

Further awards from ADI continued the connection with Paul and meeting Sheena Barrett through the ADI/Fire Station Studio Visit programme has helped to open doors. Getting support from Wicklow County Arts Office over the last year and the coincidence of Baltinglass being awarded Creative Places funding has meant that Eoin is now a member of the Baltinglass art group BART, taking his place in the local community as an artist. To be seen as a working artist in his home town means the world to him.

Eoin is ambitious! When he imagines the future for his work he uses the phrase ‘out there’ with elastic intention. Thanks to last year’s Research and Development funding from ADI and a connection forged by Sheena Barrett, Eoin was able to commission Clare Scott to write about his work. This is the closing paragraph of her essay ‘Recognisable Bodies’.

Clare excerpt for insta

As part of the Research and Development project, Eoin worked with videographer Luke Brabazon to produce a video documenting his working methods.

Eoin chose the title “Eyes Out” which is his phrase for looking/seeing with intensity and purpose. Apart from that he didn’t want the video to have much to do with words. During the process of having material made about him and his work, we had to examine the language that Eoin wants to have used to describe him. Language around disability is tricky and there is a sort of shifting sands thing about the rights and wrongs - for instance, I was taught that ‘person with disabilities’ was right because it puts the person first but ‘disabled person’ is politically preferred now as it infers the person is disabled by society.

When asked which he would choose Eoin replied emphatically PERSON. Way to go, Eoin, we can all take a lead from that distillation on the path towards inclusion.

So many great things have happened for Eoin over the last few years but it has to be said the main challenges of time and space haven’t changed much.

Time - despite the extra time afforded by funding it seems like there will never be enough time. In fact, the more that Eoin achieves the more time is sucked up by administration and application processes - a familiar state of affairs for artists trying to balance all that it takes to keep things going.

Space - demands on space in the Lalor Centre change all the time. Eoin has use of a great room at the moment, but understandably, it has to be shared to meet the needs of others and that could even mean moving out as has happened before. The security of a dedicated studio to call his own would make such a difference. Hopefully some day!

Storms nearly over

So a bit about the practice. Eoin has always kept a digital notebook of images and interests. Typically we spend the first part of a working day with a coffee looking at stuff on the computer - following other artists' work, checking opportunities and investigating ideas.

Over the years the connections between the ideas and the work have become stronger and more intentional. Just before lockdown, Eoin had come up with a plan for his first series of paintings based on a single theme - the bright infrared diagrams of the named storms. Covid postponed painting for a while and Eoin and I worked remotely assisted by the staff in his residential home. The thirty-plus drawings from that time embody a strange combination of quiet meditative mindfulness and the tension of constant uncertainty.

It was great to be back together in the studio at last in September 2021. Then, even better, an amazing thing happened when Eoin got a commission out of the blue from the National Library to create an image to be used for their Christmas card. It was such a boost. The recognition of his work at that level reinforced Eoin’s confidence no end and definitely ticked the ‘out there’ box. Drawing on impressions from a visit to the Library, Eoin made two paintings: ‘The Reading Room’ - now hanging in the Library and ‘Sphinx Mosaic’ - selected for Speech Sounds in Visual Carlow last year and for Mermaid’s Twenty One in Bray this summer.

It’s been a very busy couple of years, hard to fit everything in, but the Storm Paintings series is finished now and the final aim of the Research and Development award, of having photographer Louis Haugh document the work, was realised in August.

Storm Eunice

Storm Eunice 2023. Photo credit: Louis Haugh

Eoin has now decided to investigate old maps for his next series of paintings but there’s another area of work developing too. Eoin has been experimenting with using his chair as a mark-making tool for a while now. It started with the discovery of drawing on the floor just by driving over paper at a residency in the Riverbank back in 2015. Then at KCAT in 2018 Paul devised an arm to attach to the chair and made a video of the large-scale floor drawing. Now Eoin is trying out painting with his wheels and hopes to bring this into the public realm by inviting people to bring all kinds of wheels to come join in a collaborative track painting event next year!

TRACKS trial brushes

Nearly time to say goodbye but just one last thing... In response to the question in the blog brief inviting connection and reflection from others - Eoin would like to invite anyone who is interested to come visit him in Baltinglass, to meet and exchange ideas and inspiration, share stories and to keep on widening our network of community and communication into the future.

So please do get in touch by email HERE

You can see more of Eoin’s work HERE and follow him on Instagram HERE

With many thanks to Wicklow County Arts Office for the excellent Artists Connect initiative. 

All the best.

Eoin & Orla

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Artist's Biography

Eoin O’Malley is a Wicklow-based artist who has been developing his practice since 2008 working alongside facilitator Orla Callaghan. Eoin uses his mouth to hold his brushes and paints mainly in acrylic on canvas. He also creates drawings using pencil, brush marker and ink and has experimented with using his wheelchair to create large-scale floor drawings.