What would I paint?

What would I paint?

By Meghan Evans

Last week, Paul D’Ambrosio guest lectured on the works of Ralph Fasanella and Malcah Zeldis. The works presented and the issues they represent struck me. They painted about their lives as children of immigrants. They painted scenes of the working class.

With all of these scenes representing cultural identity I couldn’t help but wonder, what would I paint? To answer this question, I had to think about which part of my cultural identity was the most prominent (for all of our sakes). The basic breakdown of my cultural identity is Irish, English, Scottish, and German (shhh – my grandmother told me not to talk about that bit). Of all of these, I most identify with my Irish heritage.

What symbols represent the Irish people? Well, most people think of leprechauns, pots o’ gold, rainbows, shamrocks, 4-leaf clovers, celtic knots, crosses, harps, potatoes, and whiskey when identifying symbols of the Irish. It paints a pretty picture of green fertile land full of bounty and happiness. Unfortunately that is far from the truth. In fact, many of the interpretations and stereotypes associated with the Irish are far from reality.

Attempting to summarize the history and stereotypes of the Irish people is too large a task for the purpose of my question. Let us just say that Ireland was a wealthy nation a long time ago,  before the Vikings, English, French, Spanish…and so many more invaded and occupied Ireland. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the Republic of Ireland was created. [1]

Knowing this, what would I paint? The ideal landscape full of hope? Or the harsh reality? Though, to reference my previous post on WPA art, who wants to look at art depicting the impoverished and suffering people?

Grace O'Malley's Castle by Thomas Sheridan, 2007
Grace O’Malley’s Castle by Thomas Sheridan, 2007

In 2007, I purchased a painting online from Irish artist, Thomas Sheridan. In selecting it, I looked for subject matter, personal connections, and interpretations. This painting, entitled Grace O’Malley’s Castle depicts a castle surrounded by the sea. The castle itself lies in ruins and in the wake of a dark storm cloud protruding from the right.

The landscape is not green and the sky is partially blue, but the darkness of the storm is foreboding. The waves begin to churn in anticipation of the harsh winds, rain, and lightning. For me, this image reminds me that while the storm is impending, some things endure. I enjoy the depiction of a castle in ruins about to weather further storms.

Grace O’Malley is a particular heroine of mine. She is known as Ireland’s famous female pirate from the 14th century. Many a myth and legend depict her defying the standards of the time: leading men into battle, giving the English the run-around, impressing and insulting Queen Elizabeth I, and taking charge of her destiny despite her gender.

In many ways she is like the castle depicted in the painting: strong, stubborn, and defiant. That’s how I like to think of the Irish. We are a hearty bunch who adapt with time and circumstance. We weather storms. That’s what I would paint. How about you?


[1] T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, The Course of Irish History (Cork, Ireland: Published in association with Radio Telefis Eireann by Roberts Rinhart Publishers, 2001).

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