In July & August 2013, two of Máire’s pieces were included in the Python Arts Festival exhibition at The Python Gallery. Her work is also hung on the walls of cafés including Relish Café on Redcar High Street. The exhibition ‘Colours of Teesside’ at the Heritage Gallery, Cargo Fleet in January of this year attracted nearly 100 people to the Preview evening, one of the largest gatherings at the gallery.
Her Current exhibition ‘Ahead – Art in Digital Media’ was previewed at The Python Gallery on 29th August 2014. A perfect setting to look at the impressionistic and occasionally abstract images of Middlesbrough.
Outside the light was fading and the vivid blue of the transporter bridge was a familiar and comforting sight. Reflected in the window of the Python Gallery, framed like one of the art works I was about to preview.
The transporter bridge, a desolate beauty in a once vibrant and industrial landscape.
When viewing Máire’s work I felt the vibrancy and energy of a Middlesbrough built on iron and steel. Her art work is confident and celebrates the beauty of our remaining industrial landscape through her use of colour and light.
Máire’s current exhibition ‘Ahead – Art in Digital Media’, is at at the Python Gallery and the exhibition runs until 17th October. Don’t miss it.
Where you were born?
I was born in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, Ireland, emigrating to North Ormesby in the late 1950s as a child.
Where you studied?
I was at Teesside University in the late seventies studying Public Administration & Business Studies. My daughter Siobhán was a baby at the time and one of the first children in the newly opened University crèche (which we had a sit-in to establish!) Studying Public Administration gave me a great understanding of how government works at local & national level and how it could be used to improve people’s lives. I also qualified as a Political Agent & Election Organiser in the late seventies. In the eighties whilst my day job was organiser at Middlesbrough Law Centre, I did a post-graduate Management qualification, also at Teesside University.
What made you want to become a councillor?
I would like to see a just & fair society where those who are vulnerable because of age, ill health or difference are supported and enabled by those who are more fortunate. I think the state at local & national level has an important role to play in this and so for me, becoming politically active in Middlesbrough as well as Regionally was a positive way to work towards that. My involvement in politics was a way of life from the age of 13 or 14 when I began to help my father in local residents association campaigns in Thorntree. I joined the Labour Party Young Socialists as soon as I was eligible – at age 16 or 17 and spent much of my spare time organising & campaigning. I was helping run local & general election campaigns at the age of 19.
Standing for election as a Councillor was a natural progression for me in working to achieve a better way of life for people in Middlesbrough. I worked probably 60 or 70 hours a week as a Councillor & a Political Agent from the age of 20 for about eight years. Both jobs were unpaid apart from a £14 a day maximum if one of my daily tasks was a council meeting. I was the second youngest Councillor ever elected in Middlesbrough on May 3rd 1979 when I was 22. (The youngest was my colleague Steve Gibson who was elected at the same time at the age of 21).
As an extension of my political beliefs I then helped set-up the town’s Law Centre providing free legal advice for those who couldn’t afford to pay solicitors. I was employed in organisational, developmental & management roles in Law Centres or Citizens Advice Bureaux in Middlesbrough & Oxford for the next 30 years.
Tell me a bit about what you miss about living in Middlesbrough?
I miss spending time with members of my family & friends who still live in Middlesbrough. I miss being able to jump in my car and be at the coast or on the moors in half an hour. Oxford is right in the centre of the country so a day trip to the coast isn’t really possible. And of course I miss the heart-warming familiarity of the area’s iconic views and structures.
What inspired you to become an artist?
I have made images & visual art regularly throughout my life – from the age of about 10, using a variety of media including pen & ink, watercolour & acrylic paint, charcoal & chalk and photography. I find the process of making art to be inspirational in itself as well as a meditation & often a refuge or therapy. I have a passion for strong & vibrant colour and aim to show hidden beauty in unexpected places. Many of the pieces I exhibited in my Colours of Teesside exhibition at the beginning of 2014 at The Heritage Gallery, Cargo Fleet reflect this. My recent abstract work currently on show at The Python is much more abstract & emotionally expressive and thus more personal. I find two things about my art fulfilling, the process of making it and communicating it successfully with the viewer. Studying other artists has also been inspirational and a significant influence on my work and on how my style has developed. The French Impressionists and Post Impressionists particularly Cezanne, Van Gogh & The Fauves; street photographers Robert Doisneau & Vivian Maier and Abstract artists Mondrian, Klee, Matisse amongst others.
Can you tell me how you use Digital Media to create your artwork?
Artists have been experimenting since the 1970’s with how computers could help create and present their work, and digital technologies are accepted as the new medium. My work sits within one branch of the New Media art movement. For the past 15 years or so I have incorporated digital tools; a camera, scanner & basic paint programmes into my art toolbox to create a traditional form of art – mounted and framed, and hanging on a wall. Having painted and been a very keen photographer throughout my life I now put the two together. When I use digital tools, I paint with pixels of colour instead of paint, use a mouse instead of a brush, a screen instead of a canvas and I use photographs as a resource rather like a sketchbook.
Do you think your work as a councillor has influenced the work you do as an artist?
I think my work as a councillor like my work in the legal advice sector both reflect what I want to achieve with my life – to improve quality of life for others through communicating and understanding others’ experiences. Art for me is a primary form for communicating emotion and experience.
Do you have a particular heritage site or space in Middlesbrough that has special significance to you?
Many, yes. All of which most Middlesbrough ex-pats would share! But I would single out the Dorman Long Tower, which is part of the Coke Ovens at Grangetown. My father, mother & myself were economic migrants from Ireland in the late fifties and my Dad’s job was building the Coke Ovens and then working there. My husband Robin and most male members of my family were/are steelworkers and my great great grandmother who also emigrated from Ireland around 1880 was one of the first residents of Grangetown.
I also love Albert Park – particularly the Linthorpe Road gate end, having visited every week as a child and lived close by in Clairville in 1970s & 80s. It is there (near Brian Clough’s statue) that we sited my father’s memorial bench in 2011. Dad was the first Irish Mayor of Middlesbrough in 1986/7. I also like Exchange Place. A tragedy the old Exchange building and so much of that lovely old Victorian part of town was demolished for the A66 all those years ago.
Having lived in a two-up two-down Middlesbrough street house for 8 years on my arrival in England and another 8 years immediately after my marriage, I be-moan the loss of so much of the old housing around Gresham.
Do you think it is important to protect our heritage and if so, how do you think we could do this?
Oh definitely, by raising awareness of what might be our heritage and thus enabling people to connect with their antecedents lives through writing, telling stories, making pictures & videos. All of these things also preserve our heritage. In this way there is more of a chance of people developing a sense of ownership of their own past, learning from it and valuing it. I’m a history addict and a few years ago was commissioned to write a book (with a local BBC journalist) about Irish people in Oxford over the past 50 years. The feedback was all about how people were reminded of their heritage and how the good stuff might be re-created or learned from. I’m currently 40,000 words into another book that links my own antecedents to events and places in Irish history and to events and places on Teesside since the turn of the last century. I am certainly strongly driven to connect with and celebrate symbols from our past.