Inis Mor, Arainn – Origin Gallery, Dublin

Inis Mor was a place I’d wanted to visit for some time. Quite apart from the stunning natural beauty, I’m fascinated by how people survive in such barren landscapes (‘The Bays’ area of Harris, populated as a result of the Highland clearances in the 1920’s, is such an area).

I knew about the labyrinth of walls that exist, built partly to clear the land of stone and partly to protect the little earth that exists from the ravages of the ferocious North Atlantic weather conditions. What caught my attention as I traveled about the island were the curious water troughs that seemed to be in every other field, each with a surrounding pitched roof type affair to catch rain water. They come about because of an absence of streams for livestock to drink from; these became the subject matter for a series of studies.

When I go somewhere, I want to get fully absorbed in the place and to do so I have to get right down to ground level. Camped in my modest tent on the North coast I could appreciate first hand the changing conditions; the ebb and flow of the tide, how loud it is at high tide, the relative calm when the tide is out. I enjoy the process of getting used to the rhythms of a place, getting closer to my subject.

During my stay I was treated to a gamut of weather conditions, from blistering hot sun to gales, and rain that fell like a waterfall. Luckily I didn’t experience the kind of storms that are responsible for the storm beaches of the lower cliffs along the south coast – not that I would have minded except for the strong possibility of losing my tent. As the prevailing wind changed over the days so did the position of my tent, sometimes I’d have to get up in the middle of the night and move it peg by peg in gale force winds and driving rain, as a ship must steer into the oncoming waves; it must have turned a full 360 degrees over the two weeks. I loved every minute of the experience; such experiences feed into my understanding and feeling for a place and are an integral part of my working practice. 

Painting on the spot in all conditions is also an important part, perhaps the most important part of my practice. It forces me to leave out what isn’t necessary and make statements that are bolder for being less fussy. The marks have an immediacy about them (I love it when I’ve been working outside and I get the work inside and look at it and it’s like taking a lungful of fresh air. A piece of the day is there in the room like a fresh memory). The work done on the spot informs the work that goes on in the studio. 

As far as I’m concerned, everything we see is abstract and I am always developing the abstract qualities in my work. It is my task to remove myself from the process and let the paint do the work (my painting goes well, until I get in the way). I am merely the mediator (in the words of Henri Matisse, ‘I have been no more than a medium, as it were.’).  Paint is the language through which I try to interpret the world as I see and experience it.

Chris Rigby.  Jan 2008