Marine debris: concern and inspiration

Winds of Progress - Paul McKenna, Acrylic on canvas, 70x80cm.
Winds of Progress – Paul McKenna 2015, Acrylic on canvas, 70x80cm.

Having lived abroad for many years and worked primarily on urban landscapes, this project allowed me to bring my painting practice into a rural Irish setting. I have been a fan of Paul Henry’s work since I first saw his paintings in school. I love his use of colour, which is very much influenced by post impressionist painting, and the romantic view of Irish life that is synonymous with his work. Our initial visit to Achill was a broad survey of the island with some targeted efforts to find and photograph some of the exact scenes he painted. My particular focus was on modern life on the Island and how it sits along side the remaining relics of Paul Henry’s time. After reading Paul Henry’s Biography I was intrigued by how he felt he had to capture a time in Ireland that was fast disappearing. This is one reason why his artistic legacy is so important.

So what does remain the same? Well, the natural landscape for one although there are some introduced plant species such as mombrisha and fuchsia. There are some remnants of traditional practices such as turf cutting and fishing but overall there has been a move towards modern living as would be expected. Over time the inhabitants of Achill became increasingly dependent on off-island resources and this continues to be the case today. There are a dwindling number of old stone houses although there are others that survive as sheds adjacent to more contemporary buildings. The island still retains its charm due to its scenery and the ever-shifting light.

The results of my first couple of visits were mostly paintings in which I began to capture the contemporary landscape but then an unlikely new subject matter presented itself last June whilst walking on the beach in Dookinella. The winter storms in 2014 had caused great destruction to the coast, eroding the beaches and washing up huge amounts of marine debris onto our shores, a reminder ­­from nature of the human impact on the environment. And so my new work for our exhibition in July is based on weathered and worn plastic objects that I collected from the beach. The aesthetic of the objects is far removed from nature yet reformed by it. The plastic, sometimes in colour shades reminiscent of a Paul Henry painting, seems to have a beauty all of its own. I believe a landscape painter is challenged by nature in many different ways, a constantly changing atmosphere being the most illusive element for the artist to capture. My work focuses on a by-product of that ‘change’. I am not finished with the landscape itself by any means but for this exhibition I want to focus on this particular subject.

Paul, April 2015

Preparatory drawing for acrylic work on canvas. Paul McKenna 2015.
Preparatory drawing for acrylic work on canvas. Paul McKenna 2015.

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