Conversation Exhibition, 2015


I am a regular exhibitor at Blue ginger, usually showing my stained glass work. I trained as a painter originally, worked as a community photographer, then trained as a herbalist and still teach herbalism while spending most of my time making stained glass to commission and for exhibition. I am delighted to be invited to take part in ‘Conversation’.

Implicit in the concept of conversing is the exchange of ideas and the transformation of the self as a result of the interaction.

It has been a welcome opportunity to take a fresh look at my work, and has resulted in some verre églomisé or gold engraving – where gold and silver leaf is applied to the reverse of the glass, worked on with points and brushes, and then painted. Unlike stained glass, where the light is transmitted through the glass, here light is reflected. I enjoy playing with light and image actually and metaphorically eg. the fragmentation, partial reflections, missing bits, glimpses at low light, reflecting differently depending on where you position it and yourself.

My interpretation of ‘Conversation’ has emerged as opening up to the possibilities of conversing with ancestors and archetypes, with our former selves, and communing with nature. We cannot converse with the past or our former selves but we can honour and value them. From this soup of ideas, recurrent themes that have surfaced during this exploration into a new way of working include :

Awareness of the painting materials I use, some of which are familiar to the herbalist, and the concept of ‘communing with the elements’ ( in practice from ancient Egyptian times til late C16th); the state of mind I am in when I work - immersion, a meditation, a reverie, an altered state, maybe a communing with nature; reflection on ones own past and history - ancestral roots, historical representations of ‘the feminine’ and of women, often portrayed as goddesses; the reflection of the self in another, and transformation of the self by another.

I find this touches on my work /identity as a herbalist and my cultural /ancestral heritage as a wise woman or witch – it speaks to me of spells (knowledge passed orally, recipes for remedies), incantations (as declaration of intent) invocations, imaginings, meditations, ancestral voices, and intuition. Also of women in history – lost fragments, hidden histories, things pieced together, lost languages.

I hope that this has led to work that is an embodiment rather than an illustration.

The photographs are of places of significance to me. An abandoned convent in Dingle, the Famine road and a wayside shrine beneath a tree in Co Clare. One million people died in Eire during the Great Famine 1845 – 51, and hundreds of thousands more left in order to survive, establishing a culture of emigration which halved the population in 60 years . I am descended from this diaspora. For me, these places evoke the melancholy of abandonment and somehow manage to speak…

Steele & Stovell