‘The Sea Takes Back Its Own’ An Exhibition of paintings by Esther O’Kelly

My show’s title is based on the Seanfhocal, ‘Faigheann an fharraige a cuid féin’ The phrase is meant as a warning to fishermen in particular, not to be cocky, that they don’t hold sway on the ocean and that the sea will claim or swallow up her share of seagoers, come what may.

The phrase for me has more positive connotations, I grew up by the sea and it has been a constant companion during the Ebb and Flow of my life. The sea can give solace and it can swallow you up like the Seanfhocal warns but this can be in a nurturing way. I use the concept of the sea for shelter, a place to remember and to forget. These are the emotions I try to convey 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. Getting things wrong is often more productive than getting things right. I like working back and forth between organic and architectural elements, colours and textures that become saturated or atmospheric, marks that whisper or shout.

The Irish coastline with its mixture of buildings nestling in dramatic rural settings have a strong presence in my work. In spite of the allusion to harbour and landscape scenes there is a strong abstract element to the work. They may begin as depictions of a place from a memory but during the painting process they take on a life of their own – houses and shapes are painted over but the imprint remains visible, creating an archaeology beneath the painted surface. Colour is an integral element – fine layers of paint are built up and stripped away creating delicate colour passages and textures reminiscent of stone and peeling paint. Each piece follows the raw beauty and lines of the coast, vibrant colours and forms that seek to capture a memory and evoke a sense of place. 

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.

L-R Aileen, Esther, Gordon & Andrew O'Donohoe. Burrow Rosslare. 1983.

L-R Aileen, Esther, Gordon & Andrew O'Donohoe. Burrow Rosslare. 1983.