In this weeks Meet the Maker we catch up with Cherry Dowling who tells us all about her work and what inspires her.
I’m Cherry but I sign my work Silín which is the Irish language version of my name. Mamó Fadó is my company making cards and art prints and the name means “grandma, long ago” in Irish. I love Irish but I’m shy speaking it. I grew up in Carrick on Shannon but made Sligo my home after getting my fine art degree at IT Sligo. I make art inspired by family photos, especially the photos my grandad took of my grandma. My grandparents were amateur photographers and I see my work as a family tradition and collaboration with my ancestors. My inspiration for colours comes from our amazing Irish skies and the unique light in the west coast, old chipped paint and vintage wallpaper.
I have a two-person show, “Resonance”, opening Tuesday 22nd May in The Hyde Bridge Gallery. I’m jittery but I love the new direction and focus I’ve found throughout the process of making the show. I’ve branched into digital art and I feel it’s adding something good to my work.
I was making from the moment I got motor skills. It took me a few false starts at adulting before I admitted I had to give something as unsteady as art fair go. After sad art lessons reproducing renaissance art or drawing my shoe in secondary school, and a challenging college experience due to undiagnosed health issues, I arrived out the other side in 2013 unsure how to make my skills practical. I dabbled with curating, styling, photography and open submissions. Then I got a chance to do street art in my local town. Turns out I needed to learn how to self edit and doing this kind of art made me have to simplify. I began to speak my own language visually. Then my little gran got ill. Before she died I made a drawing of her and my grandad, young and laughing on a stony English beach, a reminder of a happier time in the new style I was trying. Her reaction showed me other people could understand what I was saying better now. She died two weeks later and ever since I have been developing my tiny company Mamó Fadó named for my two grannies, to try and keep developing my skill.
I live with mild dyspraxia and fibromyalgia which requires large amounts of adapting, improvising and re-calibrating for me. I tend to have a concrete list of ideas and jobs and then play it by ear as to how I achieve these one day at a time. Then as I get through the list it gets reshuffled into “priority”, “optional” and “forget-it”. I’m new to the awareness of my condition so perhaps as I go forwards I’ll get better at factoring it in. In my experience shortcuts can generate new ideas and methods as long as you stay focused on skill and don’t get sloppy.
All of my pieces begin with a photo. The easiest to work with are old black and white or sepia photos because the studios at that time were masters of good lighting, but even amateur shots needed great light to record an image. Whereas now we can record pretty terrible light quality and still get a likeness. The next step is pushing up the contrast and brightness until I have a high contrast black and white image. Then I run the image through various photo editors and apps to get effects and distortions. Once I have that I may decide to hand draw the digital drawing, simplifying it to its basic elements. I might decide to collage, transfer print, cut a stencil or layer a few experiments to create a digital drawing. The magic for me is in constant reproduction of an image until I understand it’s workings inside out. I like to code images as well, so for example, to make lines stand for black, and dots for grey. I want to strip an image back to its lowest resolution to see how far I can go before the “code” becomes unreadable and the image is corrupted. I’m developing my own shorthand for tone and playing with how little information can convey not just a face, but a character or feeling to my audience.
I’m inspired by old peeling paints for the way the tones weather together even when the tints are opposing colours. Colours for me relate to very specific emotional points of reference. The act of painting, whether digitally or physically, becomes a means of discovering my feelings, which are only clear to me after the work is finished. And I’m a bit of a freak for old wallpapers, because pattern makes me happy, and because I can imagine what those walls have seen with each new layer. I like to take all these ingredients and find a contemporary expression for traditional imagery. A blank sheet of paper is my worst nightmare but give me a dusty biscuit tin full of keepsakes and I’ll be a happy woman and a busy artist!
Being a maker means having the satisfaction of putting good things out into the world. I know that nothing I make will solve the big problems of life but on a grey day my colours or the expression on a face I drew might mean something to someone, spark a memory, or expand a wish. Something of the joy I have in making might survive the creative process and come out the other side strong enough to make you smile and take it home. I’m fortunate to make what I really love. Making your art your business is tough. You meet criticism, people who don’t want to pay and sometimes intellectual snobbery. My answer to these situations is make work you can stand behind and don’t feel afraid to fight for.Being a maker is conscious sharing, and it feels good to share the best of my own experience and family with other people. Not everyone gets to express that impulse! I’m so glad that I do.
Thank you so much to Cherry for such a fantastic insight into her work. Resonance is on at the Hyde Bridge Gallery in the Yeats Memorial Building until June