MEMBERS OF A NEW PAINTING COLLECTIVE SHARE THEIR MOTIVATIONS AND SPACES OF ENGAGEMENT.
HERmetics in the Studio is a group of four painters: Sinéad Aldridge, Patricia Doherty, Mary Theresa Keown, and Louise Wallace. They each trained in Ireland, where they now live and work, with the exception of Aldridge, who currently resides in Berlin. The group came together online in 2022, embarking on a series of monthly Zoom meetings. Their objective was to share the highs and lows of studio practice, to move through works-in-progress, and to try and find resolution.
This monthly appointment to ‘show and tell’ resulted in an ongoing dialogue that dissects the travails of a painter’s ordinarily quite solitary life in the studio. It is a conversation without a full stop. The four artists found comradeship and support in sharing their experiences both inside and outside the studio. In this way, the HERmetics group models the historical imperative for women artists to seek each other out and work supportively. Such collaborative projects have broad art historical precedence, as well as specific examples in Irish art history.
The exhibition ‘[In]Visible: Irish Women Artists from the Archives’ at the National Gallery of Ireland (19 July 2018 – 3 March 2019) focused on peer support as a mode of female artistic production. One of the curators, Emma O’Toole, highlighted the importance of forming “networks of influence… (sharing) artistic ideas and practices.”1 Networks produce stability, community and opportunity where otherwise there may be instability, isolation and stasis. As Rebecca Fortnum notes: “For women, often isolated, the desire to forge a relationship with other women is crucial in giving them ‘permission’ to practise.”2
From 5 to 26 October 2023, the HERmetics group staged their first exhibition in Queen Street Studios in Belfast. Titled ‘messy business’, the exhibition focused on the physical, sustained exploration of paint as a medium. Painting is indeed a messy business. The paint is slippery and hard to control. It gets on everything – clothes, skin, hair. In the studio it can be hard to find a path through the chaos. In many ways, the group’s online monthly meetings act as a way to make sense of the chaos. In their separate studios, the artists engage in a precarious balancing act. Ideas and colour are stacked in each composition. Paint gets moved around, imagery appears and disappears, shapes collapse and are rebuilt through a series of improvised moves. The aim is to leave the final composition open somehow, while holding onto possibility in the artwork.
Aldridge, Doherty, Keown and Wallace are concerned with space and an embodied relationship with it. Space, in this instance, may be topographical and there are references to a particularly Irish landscape across the work of all four artists. They each acknowledge the importance of place within their practice and share an understanding of history in Northern Ireland and its impact upon the land.
The group is also concerned with the space of painting itself: the tactile terrain of moving colours in the surrender to the medium. In this space of abstraction, there may be references to music, poetry, mythology, art history, or cartoonery. The ebb and flow between sense and non-sense (the conscious and the unconscious) keeps the surface alive and sticky.
There is a third space at stake for these painters: the space that painting occupies within art history. Their works operate as interpellations within a long and complicated history as they problematise assumptions surrounding the body of the painter. The feminist art historian Griselda Pollock summarises the problem as follows: “[Women] want to paint, a desire which is as much about wanting the right to enjoy being the body of the painter in the studio – the creative self in the private domain – as it is about wanting to express individualistically the nonetheless collective experiences of women.”3
Across these complicated discourses, the HERmetics artists are committed to engaging with the various challenges. Aldrige, Doherty, Keown and Wallace share in the desire that “living profoundly as a woman in the profession of painting… (can) lead to a shift in the critical value systems of the discipline.”4
HERmetics in the Studio is a group of four painters: Sinéad Aldridge, Patricia Doherty, Mary Theresa Keown, and Louise Wallace.
1 Susanna Avery-Quash, ‘[In] Visible: Irish Women Artists from the Archives: An Interview with Emma O’Toole’, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, Issue 28, 2019.
2 Rebecca Fortnum, ‘Baggage Reclaim: Some Thoughts on Feminism and Painting’, Journal of Contemporary Painting, Volume 3, Issue 1-2, April 2017, p 216.
3 Griselda Pollock, ‘Painting, Feminism, History’, Looking Back to the Future: Essays on Art, Life and Death (London: Routledge, 2001) p 140.
4 Op. cit. p 232.