Lanesboro artist, Emily Brennan Picture: Josh Mullholland
Longford artist Emily Brennan has been announced as one of the 31 recipients of the inaugural PLATFORM 31 bursary, the national development scheme for artists to develop their practice and test new ideas of collaboration, research, audience development, place based arts and sharing their work.
Emily grew up on a dairy and beef farm just outside Lanesboro and was a pupil of Fermoyle National School before going to Mean Scoil Mhuire in Longford town.
“I’m not really sure how I got into it (art). I was just always drawing in my free time. I loved doing art as a subject for Junior Cert and then dropped it for the Leaving thinking that I was going into something biology based,” Emily told the Longford Leader.
“When I did the Leaving I got a place in dairy business UCD and veterinary nursing, Dundalk but I decided to defer them and do a one year PLC in art to see if I liked it.
“After completing that year, I was offered a place on the fine art course in DIT and decided to go with that instead. Then when I completed my Bachelors in DIT I decided I want to start my own business. Myself and two others opened BKB Visual Arts Studio in Glasnevin in 2019, which is an interdisciplinary studio space for artists to make and display their work.”
Emily mainly works through the medium of video and makes short films, but she often paints or draws during the research process.
“Most of my work in previous years has focused on nature and the environment as a subject and I think this stems from my farming background,” said Emily.
“If I wasn't working as an artist, I would definitely be doing something involving animals and agriculture. The subject of environmentalism is huge and I like to tackle it in small sections, like our family farm or our relationship with the boglands. The way we deal with the climate crisis affects the lives of my family very directly.”
One of Emily’s larger bodies of work is a ten minute film called Gaia, which focuses on the example of one particular building in Clondra and its lasting legacy on the landscape.
“The huge Atlantic Mills factory which produced denim and was sited for leaking chemical dyes and waste directly into the river Shannon,” she revealed.
“I like to use small scale stories like these to highlight a bigger picture.”
The PLATFORM31 Bursary will allow Emily to refocus on her art practice, which she says has been neglected for the last two years.
Developed by the Association of Local Authority Arts Officers (ALAAO), in collaboration with the Arts Council, PLATFORM31 offers financial and developmental support for the 31 mid-career artists awarded.
Participating artists will receive an €8,000 bursary to invest in themselves and their practice, combined with participation in an advisory and developmental framework and a peer network.
The pilot scheme is envisioned as a platform for the participants to value their time, to showcase their work and their collaborations, sharing their learnings locally and nationally as a legacy of the project.
“My attention has been on running the studio and I hadn’t taken much time to produce anything new for a while now. The bursary allows me that time but has also put me in touch with so many other artists across the country who are working in similar areas,” she said.
“We have only met a couple of times so far but the conversations have been extremely stimulating and inspiring. Working as a visual artist can sometimes be a very individual endeavour but I find that I work best with others around me, motivating me.
“I feel very lucky to be a recipient of the award. I am sure they received a huge amount of quality applications, judging the calibre of my peers who were also successful,” she added.
“I am very honoured as well to be the representative for my home county. I have lived in Dublin for a few years now but I don't think I'll ever really be a city person. I love coming home when I can, which hasn’t been much in the past year.”
The Arts industry is one that has been very badly affected by the pandemic, with artists all over the country and internationally struggling to make ends meet without the annual events that have kept them going.
“Covid has affected my studio business in that we have had to close three different times now,” said Emily.
“We are just preparing now to reopen since closing in early January. We are lucky to be able to reopen at all and have such great studio members keeping the place going. We were also fortunate to receive support from the Arts Council late last year and that has been a huge help.”
But it hasn’t all been doom and gloom for Emily over the past 14 months. In fact, Covid has had its own role to play in Emily’s art career.
“In terms of my own artistic practice, Covid has probably been beneficial for it overall. I have had a lot of free time to think about what I want to do in the future and what type of work I want to make,” she said.
“Without that I probably wouldn't have gone for the PLATFORM 31 bursary.”
That future she’s had more time to consider will see Emily return to college in September.
“I have been offered a place on a Masters course in UCD, which I plan to attend this September. It is a Masters in Cultural Policy and Arts Management and as we exit lockdown, I am really hoping that the majority of it will be in person classes,” she explained.
“This degree will heavily focus on the business side of the arts industry and this should give me much better ability to run a successful studio and gallery which is what I hope to do long term alongside my artistic practice.”
Emily’s advice to young artists hoping to pursue a career with their passion is to “go for it”, but only if you are very self-motivated.
“An artistic career is completely self-driven and there won't be anyone telling you what you need to do and when,” she said.
“It’s one of the harder areas to succeed in because it is solely based on you and your abilities. If you think you would love to become an artist but want a little more direction, I would recommend going into something like graphic design or even animation. There are loads of artistic careers but being an artist who can live off just making their art is very rare.”
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