Esther drawn to the song of the sea

By Maria Pepper

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Esther O'Kelly in her studio and LEFT: The Bridge.
Carne by Esther O'Kelly.

The majesty and mystery of our coastline is a major inspiration for the Rosslare-born, Belfast-based artist Esther O'Kelly who has an exhibition of new work entitled ' Amhrán Na Farraige' (Song of the Sea) opening in the Pigyard Gallery in Selskar, Wexford on June 30.

The guest speaker at the official launch will be fellow artist Bernadette Doolan of the Royal Ulster and Royal Hibernian Academies. The exhibition will run until July 21.

Esther grew up in The Burrow, Rosslare and studied Visual Communications at the National College of Art and Design. After 15 years as a graphic designer, she took a career break to focus on her own creativity.

Her themes are inspired by sealife and a long family tradition of fishermen with each piece evoking a strong coastal connection. She is drawn towards the beauty and natural forms of the coastline and she creates vibrant paintings that seek to capture a memory and evoke a sense of place.

Her work is splashed with bright blues and enhanced by neon highlights which create a delicate balance between figurative and abstract elements. While she often approaches a painting with a scene in mind, she allows her instincts and imagination to take over, producing scenes that are beautiful and spontaneous.

'Through my work I try to create my home as a metaphysical space. I ground myself within this space and subsequently I've come to find home in my work. Painting is a very physical and sensual process for me. I try to keep the painting open to all possibilities, deviations and directions,' she said.'Getting things wrong is often more produc tive than getting things right.'

Esther is taken by the idea that the coastline is shaped by unseen forces of the wind. 'I feel alive and perceptive to the wild elements in ways that awaken senses in me, how it makes the waves and how it brings the language of the sea to life. I hear it in the sand dunes, on the long sandy strands. I hear it whistling around the buoys and rock and making the reeds sing. I'm inspired by the romantic windswept nature of it. I'm inspired by the rich vibrant layers of peeling paint, yellow gorse and pink sea thrift, framed against the movement of the raging sea.'

Esther's style is naive and simple with an approach driven by circumstances rather than any grand artistic plan. Her children were infants when she began painting so her time in the studio was limited and a quick drying medium was an important part of the process. An endearing uncomplicated style developed out of this necessity.

Esther credits her parents with encouraging her artistic career. 'They inspired, nurtured and approved of me doing something that was never going to be easy. They gave me the courage to take risks creatively and pursue something I had a talent for and felt passionate about,' she said.

Her mother Patricia worked most of her life for Kelly's Hotel, Rosslare, where at an early age she encouraged her daughter to walk the hotel corridors and explore its renowned collection of modern and contemporary Art.

Having access to works by David Hockney, Alexander Calder and Andy Warhol on her doorstep was a contributing factor in her career. 'I still go there now to see works by some of my favourite Irish artists such as Tony O'Malley and Diana Copperwhite.'

Esther's work is available from Rosslare Gallery, the Pigyard Gallery, Duke Street Gallery Dublin, Lavelle Gallery Clifden and In Klover Hillsborough.

Wexford People

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