Coming from Co Armagh, visual artist Daniel Coleman readily admits that he knew very little about Aras Eanna, Inis Oirr, or the Aran Islands before he took up a month long residency in partnership with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) this summer.
What a month he has had!
He was invited to take part in the acclaimed ‘Curacha’ exhibition, was present on site for the Áras Éanna Ionad Ealáine 21st birthday celebrations, and still took advantage of the peace and quiet at his studio overlooking Inis Meáin to enjoy a very productive month at the arts centre.
Waking up every morning in such an inspirational place, right next to a studio with breath-taking views on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, has blown Daniel away and prompted him to vow to return to Áras Éanna and Inis Oirr.
Normally based at a studio with Platform Arts in Belfast, he revelled in the freedom of being able to work day and night on his own away from the distractions of the city.
“I didn’t even know there were three separate islands in the Aran Islands before I came over. I thought Aran was just one island off the west coast of Ireland, but I didn’t know about Inis Oirr. The RHA had advertised this partnership between RHA and Aras Eanna. I wanted to come here blind, because it was a lot of what I was searching for,” he says.
Growing up on a farm in rural Co. Armagh has given him an appreciation for quiet, open spaces. What he did not expect was the friendliness of the islanders.
“It’s actually harder to hide somewhere like here. It’s easier to hide in Belfast. You actually get to know people here, which I liked. You are not really on your own. You are more connected. I am not a great talker. I would sit back and observe. People actually talk to each other here, whereas if you are on a train to Belfast everyone has their phones on,” he says of his time on the island.
“I didn’t realise I was going to be living with my work. It was something I welcomed. It was a real luxury for me to be able to work until 2 or 3 in the morning, because I am a bit of a night owl. I think a lot of creative people are. To have a window with such a view of inis Meáin is just incredible. Where I work in Belfast, I don’t actually have a window. It’s the complete opposite.”
He enjoyed the challenge of being invited to take part in the stunning ‘Curacha’ exhibition, along with 20 other artists, to celebrate the 21st birthday of Áras Éanna.
“It’s always good to be challenged. You mightn’t think it at the time, but it was a really interesting challenge. I am a painter. I see myself as a painter. To work on a 3D structure was definitely a challenge for me. I was given just a couple of weeks to get it done!”
Daniel loves to explore the themes of time, space, solitude, and family histories. He felt a real connection with those who had been here before him during his time on Inis Oirr.
“I was told at the very start that I would never really leave. I would always want to come back. Now I can see why,” he says.
“A lot of the stuff that I would be interested in would be from my Irish heritage and those people who walked before me in my own family. Where I am from in Armagh, a lot of the energy and colours would stem from the traditions and from Catholicism. I am interested in the places and the colours I grew up with.
“I am grateful to the RHA for making this residency possible. Being a visual artist, I have sort of scattered myself all around Ireland. I have found myself going between Belfast and Dublin. This month I have found myself being exposed to a place that is very different. I think this part of the country is more real.
“Being in a cold, dark church does ingrain in your mind. Coming here to an island in the summer, surrounded by green and blue, is so different from the usual space I work in up in Belfast. Because I have been working here, I probably have more to see and experience out there. There is still a lot I have to learn about Inis Oirr. I would like to come back to learn more about Inis Oirr.”