We hurry down Castle Street in warm evening sunshine, but even so we are a few minutes late as we run up the stairs to Hamilton Gallery. I can hear a distant voice speaking, a ripple of laughter, clapping. It’s the opening of Emma Stroude’s latest exhibition, ‘Glow’, and the speeches are just finishing as we edge into the packed room. I know it will be worth waiting until the crowd thins before trying to look at the pictures properly, but a quick glance tells me that they are more Stroude-magic: deep blues, greys and silver; moody light, water, mountains and fleeting glimpses of road – the stark beauty of Sligo caught on canvas by an artist who is already internationally collected. (www.emmastroude.com)
The gallery is full of familiar faces, including Cormac O’Leary who is standing next to me. Pausing to say hello, I remember ‘Of This Place’, a group exhibition of ‘reflections from Yeats Country’ that was held here not long ago. It was also shown at Espacio Prada, Madrid, and included such artists as Nuala Clark, Conor Gallagher, Brian McDonagh and Michael Wann amongst others. But it’s not just painters who have gathered this evening. I spot Bettina Seitz, one of Sligo’s sculptors and ceramicists, whose fabulous exhibition ‘A Trembling Veil’ moved from Sligo to Belgravia in London’s smart West End a few months ago. (www.bettinaseitz.eu)
I am just reflecting on how much talent there is in the county when Clare whispers in my ear: ‘You know there’s a Bill Bryson movie at The Model later on?’ and we stop for a minute to discuss the current programme of events at Sligo’s biggest centre for the arts. The Model. Home of The Niland Collection, it is situated on The Mall and hosts everything from the largest permanent Jack Yeats collection outside Dublin (53 pieces) to Creative Summer Camps for Children, taking in music, contemporary visual culture and a weekly cinema night (showing international and independent movies) along the way, this last in partnership with Sligo Film Club. The Model also boasts a wonderful light-filled atrium and café – a perfect meeting point or place to while away a quiet hour after viewing the art collection. Alongside Jack Yeats are works by his father, the portraitist John Yeats and other contemporary Irish paintings, and in the grounds of the gallery is a new installation: Yeats’ Secret Garden, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’, relocated to Sligo after I designed and built it for Bloom, the national garden show, last year. (www.themodel.ie)
I find myself wondering how the garden is looking after the winter, when I’m distracted by another question. ‘Did you see Kieran Quinn at The Hawkswell last night?’ a friend asks. The answer is sadly not, but it leads to an interesting discussion about the highlights of this season’s offerings at our largest theatre on Temple Street. There are workshops, poetry readings, dance, music and even what promises to be an amusing talk on Ireland’s weather, quite apart from the drama that regularly spices the theatre’s calendar. (www.hawkswell.com) We laugh over the unending wealth of matter for a weather talk, and I ask her what the Blue Raincoats are offering at The Factory. Last year they gave an amazing performance of ‘On Baile’s Strand’ by WB Yeats, both on Coney Island, New York and on Cummeen Strand here in Sligo. This year is bound to hold another terrific programme. (www.blueraincoat.com)
I see Tom O’Rourke and pause to ask what he’s currently showing at his light and airy little gallery at Drumcliffe, just next to Yeats’ grave, Teach Bán (teachban-artgallery.com), and my friend Naomi, hearing Drumcliffe mentioned comes over to say how much she and her husband enjoyed the Vogler Quartet, part of the Sligo International Chamber Music Festival which takes place every May in St Columba’s Church and at The Model – a real highlight of the year. (www.sligochambermusic.ie) I wasn’t able to get to Drumcliffe, but definitely plan to attend both the Jazz and the Baroque Festivals this year. (www.sligojazz.ie and www.sligobaroquefestival.com)
Finally, I get to look at Emma Stroude’s latest paintings. They conjure everything that is Sligo: wild skies, sweeping seascapes, mountains – an elemental immersion, born, Stroude writes, ‘from my fascination with the relationships between light, water and the landscape’. ‘Reminding us,’ Cormac O’Leary says, ‘what it’s like to be alive to that sudden illuminating moment, catching it before the glow fades.’ I note the apposite quote from Patrick Kavanagh that Stroude has used in her brochure: ‘To snatch from time the passionate transitory...’ It exactly captures the essence of the exhibition.
As we are leaving the gallery, someone asks my husband if he’s picked up an entry form for Cairde Visual yet – the Open Submission art exhibition at Sligo Art Gallery that forms part of the Cairde Festival in the summer. (www.sligoarts.ie and www.cairdefestival.com) They ask if they’ll see him at Life Drawing Class at The Model tomorrow, and meanwhile Tessa slips a leaflet into my hand. It’s about a new series of courses running at The Dovecote, which includes ceramics, drawing and painting, and fashion and textile design.
Yet more reminders of how lucky we are here in Sligo – we are surrounded by the Arts.
The Hamilton Gallery hosts new exhibitions regularly. 6pm on the first Thursday of each month marks Opening Night. All are welcome. (www.hamiltongallery.ie)