Sinead McKillican is a recent graduate from the Limerick School of Art and Design; she was a year below me in the painting department. I remember our regular conversations, which seemed to always get quite deep on the topic of spiritualism, Jung, and personal growth. Her studio space in college was always unique, fitted with these curious wall-mounted objects, which were not quite paintings, and not quite sculptures. Her relief works were always handcrafted and balanced in an odd way. I was awestruck by the attention to detail and craftsmanship which was needed to create such intricate pieces. Last week, I spoke to Sinead about her artwork, where she told me about her outlook on life and her passion for art.
Was a career as an artist something you have always wanted to do?
It is funny, actually, because I fell into the whole art thing by accident. I was initially working as an architectural technician. Then around 2009, I set up on own business – I was doing fire safety, reports, all that type of thing. But I found I was working in isolation. So, then I decided to do an art course at the Limerick College of Further Education. I really wanted to learn how to make my work less precise and more fluid.
I wouldn’t call your work fluid; it is very accurate with almost perfect geometric forms. I find it really interesting how they are halfway between sculpture and painting. Could you tell me a bit about these pieces?
My work doesn’t have a subject matter. For me, it is about putting up a piece of work that entices the viewer to stop and linger for a bit. I don’t mind whether or not they like it, that’s fine. I just want them to have their own inner conversation, like ‘how did they bend that?’ or, ‘oh, I could see through there.’ I want them to come away with curiosity and asking, ‘what’s that all about?’ So, I suppose the pieces become curiosities; they are contemplative. They allow the viewer to not have much on their mind; they can look without being overwhelmed.
You repeat the circle quite a lot in your work, is there a reason for this?
I was questioned about this at one stage. I remember I was asked by my dad why I liked using them. And he said, ‘that’s funny, I love them too,’ and then he told me a story that happened over twenty years ago, when my now deceased mother asked, ‘John, how much do you love me?’ He then took her hand and drew an imprint of a circle in her palm. Apparently, my mother exclaimed and responded, ‘but that’s tiny!’ But my father looked up and said, ‘you couldn’t ask for more than that, it’s infinity, and beyond, there’s no beginning, and there’s no end. This is forever.’ That story gave me an overwhelming feeling of joy because it didn’t matter what size the circle was; it always represents wholeness and unity.
That is a really beautiful story Sinead. Do you have a personal philosophy? I feel as though your comment there shows your kind character.
I have never really thought about it, but now that you ask me, I suppose acceptance – accept the thing you have and the things you cannot change.
Does your work say aim to say anything?
All I want from my work is for it to evoke optimism and hope. That is the simplest way, I feel like the unity in the image creates calmness and peace.
From my research in analytical psychology, it is implied that geometric compositions express the stabilisation and consolidation of the personality. I find it interesting how you talk about your time in college. Do you feel like you have grown a lot while practicing art?
Yes, I have definitely come to accept who I am and to create art that is honest for me. I felt like a fraud for most of my time in college; I wanted my work to be more fluid and relaxed. But I eventually realised that we’re all different – some of us are just more straight, and some are more fluid. And that is just what makes the world go around.
Who are your favourite artists, and is there anyone influencing the work you create today?
I like Hilma af Klint, Carmen Herrera, and maybe Bridget Riley. But, I was odd at college because I didn’t want to look at artists. I didn’t want my work to be a stamp on them – I was very determined that my work would be my own. Now, I do have to say that there was one artist that really stood out because it gave me the freedom and liberation to create abstract works. I never understood abstract art until I visited a retrospective exhibition at IMMA (the Irish Museum of Modern Art). It was a retrospective of Patrick Scott’s life works. He also came from an architectural background, and I was drawn to the simplicity of the shapes in his paintings. I know now that when something looks so simple, it takes an awful lot of work
Okay, before you go would you tell me a bit about the technical process of creating a piece of artwork and what type of materials you use?
The work looks quite simple, but it is labour intensive. There is a lot of sanding, sealing, priming, varnishing, and arranging masking tape. It all takes so much time. And that’s what I like – they look like they are distilled down to something that happened very quickly!
I actually discovered a new material in my final year of college that I have been working with since, it is called ‘Flexi Plywood’. I was initially buying all sorts of different timber, which was very difficult to bend. So, this Flexi-ply was perfect. When I bought it first, I brought it to the college, and they cut it up for me. And then once I had the sections, it was like a rollercoaster; I can’t explain it. It was amazing. I just started putting things together with no plan or preparation. It was very liberating.
Sinead’s work has been exhibited at the Limerick Craft Hub, The Hunt Museum (Limerick), The Limerick City Gallery, and The Courthouse Gallery (Clare). She has won various awards and has a blossoming career as an Irish artist. To find out more about this artist visit: https://sineadmckillican.ie/
(Images are used with permission from the artist)