With her first exhibition in Donegal Sheila McCarron has revealed herself as the latest addition to the Donegal’s artistic talent.
Originally from Co. Monaghan she moved to Donegal last year and her exhibition in An Grianán Theatre has been the first chance for Donegal people to see her work.
The exhibition reveals a diverse artist with work ranging from illustrative figures to landscapes and abstract pieces.
As she says herself, looking at the work it could have been produced by three or four different artists.
As well as exhibiting in An Grianán Theatre she is also holding workshops for children later this month.
The move to Letterkenny was brought about by her husband’s work but in her short time here she has seen the appeal of the county that has drawn so many artists and creative people before her. “We have moved here in August and we have tried to see as much as we can and the scenery - you can’t but help be inspired and influenced by it and people have come here for years for that.”
Sheila says she always knew she was going to be an artist, nothing else appeared as an option. “I think I always knew - my earliest memories of drawing is from three, four and five. My father is very creative, good with his hands and my sister is artistic as well although she did not pursue it. But in my head I always felt I was going to do something with art.”
She studied at the University of Ulster at York Street in Belfast, starting with a foundation course and then completing a degree in visual communications.
After finishing university she initially thought she wanted to be a graphic designer, but work experience in a graphic design office put her off that idea.
She won a commission for the Belfast Festival at Queens that involved an illustration in a graphic design piece. That gave her a taste of working on her own as an artist. “I enjoyed doing that but I enjoyed the illustration part of it more, so I knew then I was going to be happier making my own images rather than having to make images for someone.”
She decided to give working as an artist “a shot”. “I decided I want to create my images, thinking about what I want to get out on canvas and show people rather than being handed a brief and working on that.”
The next stage was “just doodling” in sketch books and putting ideas down while she worked a day job in a building society. The following decade has seen her exhibit and take part in shows all over Ireland and in Berlin.
Selling her first work from her first exhibition in Belfast was an important step. “People will either like it or they won’t like it and if they like it, they will want it. That gave me the confidence to say: ‘Right , I have something here’ and that helped me to go on to try for other exhibitions.”
One of the highlights has been taking an exhibition to Berlin after receiving funding from Culture Ireland.
“It is about developing a network of contacts which is what the funding is supposed to do - help raise your profile. It was a great experience and you are getting to meet other artists from all over the world.”
One of the most interesting things she has done was spend a two-week residency in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Monaghan in 2008. “It was just two weeks of waking, living, breathing art. There are other people there and you can be as sociable as you want. It’s about having that large space to experiment in and you are meeting other writers, poets, musicians and other artists - people with a similar focus. By the time I finished the residency I realised the importance of doing one - it gave me time to experiment and formulate ideas.”
The body of work Sheila produced in the two weeks demonstrated a change in direction and she believes maybe she is trying to find “her voice”.
The graphic element which saw her drawn to graphic design is still very visible in her work with her illustrative pieces making up a large part of the exhibition in An Grianán. “I like to draw and that definitely comes out in the paintings. The style is done in a very graphic, stylised way and that maybe confused myself and tutors in college because I did draw in that way that and they thought graphic design was my area. But I think it was just the way I liked to present work.”
The diversity of her work goes against what many galleries are looking for, she says. “A gallery likes to see an artist coming in through the door who has a specific style so that people can buy into them and it is quiet safe. I completely understand that - they are trying to sell you and sell your work and it has to be identifiable to the public. My work has different elements to it - some paintings have people in them, some paintings don’t and they are done in a different style. I suppose I am just trying to find my voice.”
Sheila McCarron’s exhibition is running at An Grianán Theatre, Letterkenny until February 4th. She will be holding art and illustration workshops for children aged between 8 and 12-years-old on January 29th. For more information go to www.angrianan.com