28 Nov 2021

Inspired by her surroundings

Visual artist Amanda Jane Graham, like many city dwellers, made the move from bustling Dublin to the quiet, rural surrounds.

Visual artist Amanda Jane Graham, like many city dwellers, made the move from bustling Dublin to the quiet, rural surrounds.

It’s a move that many people have made over the years, in search of the peaceful, countryside life, and Amanda is no different in that respect, who relocated to the north Longford village of Ballinalee.

“We have small children and were looking around Westmeath, and ended up in Ballinalee. We just wanted to get out of the city; not that far, but enough,” recalled Amanda. “There’s a lot more space and a lot less pressure, and more time to think.”

She operates out of studio space in Manorhamilton, and when the drive is too much, she works from home in Ballinalee.

Her work is described as both biographical and autobiographical. It revolves around family history, narrative and childhood memories, where the viewer completes the experience. She utilises her memory of past events and combines this with humour, to create quirky and enticing characters and scenes.

“I work with personal narrative, oral histories, collective memories, I use humour a lot. I work with drawing, print-making, sculptural installations – a kind of varied practice. I deal a lot with collective memory where the viewer kind of takes ownership of the work. I hand it over to the viewer, they’re very important to it,” she explained.

By way of illustrating her point, Amanda explained about an installation she had at Ktcontemporary, a pop-up space in a former gym in Donnybrook.

“I did a piece, a giant hand-knitted Aran bobble hat. It was seven foot tall and about eight foot wide, and the title of it is ‘I’ll Never Forget That F**king Hat’. It has enlivened anyone that has encountered it. It was in a gallery in Donnybrook and bus drivers were slowing down, having a look at it in the window,” said Amanda.

“I have a piece on oral history that goes back from my grandmother in Butte, Montana, where she was born and grew up. She was part of the Irish community there; they were Fenians. Her stories and also what my mother told me – she filled in the gaps – from all this I did an exhibition ‘A Tribute To The Irish Community Butte Montana’ in Kilkenny.”

The detailed artwork in those pieces took a seemingly painstaking amount time, but she loves it.

“Each of the Butte Montana works could have 70 prints on each, not including drawings or embroidery. Everything I do has an awful lot of detail in it. It mightn’t look like it – like the hat was a monumental piece of work,” said Amanda. “Every piece would be incredibly detailed, even drawings, and I actually enjoy that.”

At the moment she’s working on an etchings and drawing collage of a smaller versions of the Butte Montana works. She also working on murals for an upcoming show, entitled ‘Back alley, trying to get into my mother’s shoes’, one of which depicts a little girl in a big pair of swing-backs.

“I grew up between Drogheda and Scotland, and when I return to these places I notice that chunks of where I grew up disappearing.

“I feel that playgrounds are very necessary, but they don’t allow for creative play. Because adults politicians are intimidated, back alleys are being destroyed and gotten rid of, but they were private stomping grounds for kids, where imaginations flourished. I think if they were looked after they could be beautiful.”

While the support has been excellent from the local arts office, Amanda would like to see more space available for creative display.

“Fergus (Kennedy, Co Longford Arts Officer) is brilliant. It’s a bit lonesome for a visual artist, I have to admit, but Fergus has been really supportive. It would be lovely to have a bit more of a community going on – there’s a lot of writers (in Longford), but not a lot of visual people.”

Amanda says while there is a gallery space available in Backstage, she feels it’s quite limited for visual artists and would love to see someone take an initiative and open a designated gallery space and possibly a workshop of some kind.

“You see what the sculpture centre has done for Manorhamilton and the north Leitrim area. It does bring very creative minds to an area. It’s a focal point and a reason to come. It would be wonderful to have something like that (in Longford).”

Some of Amanda’s work is on display at an exhibition in the markets area in Smithfield, entitled Dublin Contemptibles Gentrify This.

She has another booked from December to January in Temple Bar Gallery as part of a group showing and another solo show next May in Aras Inis Gluarie in Belmullet.

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