Emma O'Rourke: Painting Memories in Light and Shade (and Knicker Pink)

July 27, 2023 00:56:36
Emma O'Rourke: Painting Memories in Light and Shade (and Knicker Pink)
The Plastic Podcasts
Emma O'Rourke: Painting Memories in Light and Shade (and Knicker Pink)

Jul 27 2023 | 00:56:36

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Show Notes

London-born artist Emma O’Rourke uses her own personal archive – and those of other people and institutions – to negotiate that most Irish of concerns: memory and remembrance. Whether sourcing family photos, the recollections of strangers or museum artefacts, her abstractions are both warm and bold. We talk about the effects of interpreting memory along with family, class, holidays and the “best colour”. Plus Declan McSweeney raises James “Big Jim” Larkin onto The Plastic Pedestal.
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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:22 How are you doing? I'm Doug Devaney, and you are listening to the Plastic Podcasts Tales of the Irish F Diaspora. And this month marks our third anniversary, three years old. Just imagine your favorite diaspora discussion Platform is nearly old enough for nursery in our time. We've outlasted Covid, three prime ministers and 45 interviewees, and now we're onto number 46. No time for birthday cakes or anniversary ess for us. Oh no. Which is a pity because Emma O'Rourke is a specialist in memory and translating it into art, a fine artist combining drawing and painting. Emma uses archive material, both personal and public to create fresh new abstracts, both reflecting past reminiscences and provoking future imaginings. Her most recent show vessels took place at Wilston Gallery and was inspired in part by the Brent Museum Archive of Irish migration to London. But let's move to matters of memory later. Instead, let's begin, as ever with the present by asking Emma O'Rourke. How you doing? Speaker 2 00:01:26 I'm doing good. I'm good. I, I was thinking actually, I needed to start with, um, I needed a kind of anecdote or like a interesting story to tell you, but there's not much, apart from I've done the school run this morning. Um, there's not much else <laugh> to give you really. I've, um, I'm writing a newsletter if that's of interest. Speaker 1 00:01:49 For whom, Speaker 2 00:01:50 For me, well, for my mailing list. When Speaker 1 00:01:53 You're actually reviewing what you've done or where you've been and so forth, is it kind of, this feels really weird because I know what I've done, or you are looking at yourself and your work, not through your own perspective. Speaker 2 00:02:06 Yeah, it's, it is weird. I think that in general now about, um, I think that's the, uh, the being in the arts industry and the way you almost have to, you have your work and then you are essentially marketing it in a certain way on social media because you have to put it out there and then come to put together a newsletter you're talking about. So it's hard to separate sometimes, but what you should talk about and what you shouldn't talk about and what what's of interest, especially with, especially as well, because you've got different audiences and people might follow you or be interested in your work for different reasons. So it's like how much you give away about what you're doing, how much people are gonna be interested in, say the research side, are people gonna be more into to come to a show you've got going on? Speaker 2 00:02:56 But it is weird. You have, you, um, look at it from a, yeah, from an outside perspective to sort of see, to see as well what you have done. The other thing is, I don't think when you're doing things, I don't think you always necessarily see them as things that you're doing, if that makes sense. So you're kind of, you're almost doing the things and you just, they're, they're so obvious to you that you're doing them. You have to kind of, for me personally, I just do everything through, um, photos on my phone. So I just go through, go through things per month and say, that's what I did. I just photograph everything because I, otherwise, I just can't remember because probably more my memory than anything else. But, um, but yeah. So yeah, it is strange, I think. Speaker 1 00:03:44 But speaking of memory, of course, memory was very much, uh, central to the project that you've done recently in Brent. Speaker 2 00:03:49 It was, memory was a big part of the project. Um, yeah, I think my, I think in general with the work I'm making now, I'm more interested in memory as a feeling as opposed to the exact memory. Um, and I think that about, uh, work that I showed at the, um, at Vessels last year. So the show came about from, um, I moved into a studio at Second Floor Studios and Arts in Weby Park in September 21. Um, and it was around, it was a few months later that I started researching at the, um, Brent Museum and Archives in Wilston Green Library. And I was researching the history of Irish migration to London from about roughly the 1940s onwards in like particular that area of London, so northwest London. Um, and that's where my family migrated to. Um, so it started, yeah, so I, I started kind of the research and then I was going through my own family archive of photographs. Speaker 2 00:04:52 And then alongside of that I was making lots of like drawings day to day. And the show really the show was last November opened, um, at Wilson Gallery, which the archive was upstairs, and the show really was all of that put together. So it was, it was it, although it felt like the kind of, it was all the research and the work I've made alongside and, um, images and, um, documents and stuff from the archive, it very much felt like for me, the start of the project was like the start of putting out there, seeing what the reception would be, and then using that to think about how I would take the work forward. But I feel like be, the work is very much based around stories and people's experiences. Um, so it really needed that it needed to be put out there, I think, to be able to, for me to like fully be able to see it myself as well. Um, yeah, Speaker 1 00:05:48 Family was huge in the pieces that you displayed. Speaker 2 00:05:51 Yeah, family was a big, um, a big theme. And so I can, yeah, so my mum grew up in, um, mainly in Wilsdon. They moved around a little bit. So she was in Wilsdon and they're in Halston when I was born. But both her parents moved to London from Mayo. They got married in Wilsdon in 53 I think it was. Um, and then my mom and her three brothers, yeah, they grew up in London, so they had a very traditional London Irish upbringing of going home to Ireland for the summer. Um, but living in ar living in London, sorry. Um, and it was very much like, I think it's just particularly that area of London at the time it was, you know, most people around them had Irish parents and it was a very like, big Irish community. Um, and a lot of them, my now sisters were here as well. Speaker 2 00:06:43 So yeah, they had like a big community around them. Um, and then my dad, my dad was born in Port Leash and he moved over to London in 85. Um, yeah. And then, then he met my mom and obviously he stayed, but um, but yeah, so I think, so their experiences, um, was probably where the interest in researching, um, Irish migration to London came from really. I think, I guess it's always been about, you know, trying to like find your identity amongst that. And it's a, I've, I've kind of grown up with, I've had a very traditional, um, Irish like Catholic working class upbringing, but, and I was born in Brent, so I was born in Central Middlesex in 87 and we were in the area till I was about four, which moved a bit further out. Um, but yes, it's, it's been sort of, it's only when you get older, I think. Speaker 2 00:07:42 And it's mainly since I had my son that I realized I had more of an Irish upbringing than I was aware of. I think especially when you go to all Catholic school, all your friends have also got Irish parents or Irish family, so it just feels like that's everyone. And then obviously you get older and you experience like more of the world and you realize not everyone is Catholic. Um, which I really didn't, I really, that was actually quite a big shock for me. 'cause I really thought everyone was Catholic for a very long time. <laugh>, which is, um, which is crazy. Um, I still, I, I do remember actually, I remember, um, meeting someone at uni who was Christian and I was, I was really confused by the difference. It just never really occurred to me. But yeah, so, so every, so anyways, everyone was very similar. Speaker 2 00:08:27 So it's only, it, it took kind of that as well. I think it took me, um, leaving home, moving away and then kind of coming back to the area to make me see it differently really. Um, and be interested in that and be interested in this idea of what it means to be not British, not Irish, just kind of, yeah. Somewhere in between. And that, that really is where the exhibition came from. Um, it's the idea of being displaced, but more as a, how I worded it in the press release, physiological state, I think it was. So you are, you can't, you're not either or, and you are, you're somewhere in between. But you've got, you've got the experiences of where you grew up. Um, then you've got a lot of what you, especially from a younger, in your younger years, you're very much a product of what you are told by your family. And that's where your belief systems will come from. So yeah, that's really, that's really where the interest came from. I think Speaker 1 00:09:27 I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that diaspora is a separate identity in and of itself. Speaker 2 00:09:33 Interesting. That's really interesting. It's definitely the more, um, the more work I've done on it and the more stories I've heard people do, like you said there, there definitely is a sense of, um, people, do people really connect with other people that have experienced it? Um, and like you're saying, that in itself feels like re regardless of what your background is or where your parents are from, it feels like there's a similar, a similar sense throughout, I think with people that have that feeling of your, the idea that you're kind of searching for, searching to find yourself within that, if that makes sense. Speaker 1 00:10:16 Yeah. Um, going across your parents actually, because their story is slightly atypical in as much as, um, your mom is second generation. Yeah. Um, and your dad is first generation having come across and so forth. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and most of the Irish family stories that you hear mom and dad meet having come across around about the same sort of time or that they are Yeah. Second generation together or this sort of thing. And so your mom has this very typical, you know, it's like London Irish upbringing of the, the family holidays across to see the folks back in Ireland and so forth. And your dad is the folks back in Ireland. Speaker 2 00:10:53 <laugh>. Speaker 1 00:10:55 I mean, it's impossible to really say I'm sure because your life is your life and you don't know any different, but it's like a, yeah. Was there a sense that there was a kinda like a slight imbalance there or difference there when it comes to sight sense of Irishness? Speaker 2 00:11:08 Yeah, I think, I think there definitely was. I think, um, one of my main memories, um, of both my parents in the, with the English Irish thing was my mom's would always be, um, just the, the example that I give that they used to say was, um, my mom would always say the weather was so much worse in Ireland. Um, and that was like a big, that was a kind of a big sort of theme that I, I just remember conversations about that, like, um, and it would really annoy my dad. Um, so I think my mom had a much more of a leaning towards, um, where she'd grown up essentially, like in London. Um, but then she would be very, she would be very quick to say that if there was something, um, if there was sort of a, a difference or something or a family did something that we, um, didn't place like particular importance on, or at least they did seem a slightly different way. Speaker 2 00:12:08 My mom would say, um, it was English, so she couldn't, we just couldn't like, relate to it or it's just a different, it's like, that's how, it's a different way of doing things, that we don't do it like that. So she sort of, so I don't think, in a way she doesn't realize how Irish she is. She still doesn't actually, because I've had this conversation with her, um, obviously had a lot of conversations with her about it in general since, um, I started doing the research. And it was then when I said, I said to her, like, she, obviously, she's, she's all Irish. Both her parents are both Irish. Um, but she never really, yeah, she's definitely, um, she's definitely very connected to London, I think, where she grew up. Um, but yeah, there was, there was, so there was definitely a, a split there with their two different experiences. Speaker 2 00:12:50 Um, and I think, um, but I think I, I think my dad had that separately with the sense of he had the idea of, you know, the kind of those that stayed, those that left and know a lot of his family stayed. Um, and, and obviously a lot did leave as well. So my dad was from a, a really large family. There's 13 of them. So there was, yeah, a good portion of them obviously stayed and then a lot of them left. But he's, he probably still has that now. It's that feeling that you are, um, when you go back, you're not, you left, didn't you? So it's, but when you're here, you, you're always, it's not your home and you, it would be home. Um, whereas, whereas, um, my mom is, this is home for her, Speaker 1 00:13:41 You are listening to the plastic podcasts. We all come from somewhere else. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Threads. Born in Brent in 1987, Emma O'Rourke's parents got together during that time in the late 20th century when Shane McGowan and his band dominated the musical landscape of London Irishness pitting Hope Against Hope. I wonder if her mum and dad might have got together at a Pogues gig. Speaker 2 00:14:07 <laugh>, that would be great. No, they met in a, um, they met in a Irish bar in Wilston opposite the station. It's now Sainsbury's, and it was called Nellie's, and I did find it as Uni archive. I found a tiny little, um, flyer from Nelly's. 'cause not many people have heard of it. The, the really famous one was the GTI Moore, which I'm sure you've heard of that everyone used to go to the GTI Moore, um, which they also did. Um, but yeah, they met in Nelly's. But my, when my dad first moved over, he lived in, um, I think he was in Stratham for a while. He moved over with his brother. Um, and then eventually, yeah, he ended up in Wilston while they met. But, um, but it wa it, I think my mom did go to a lot of Irish bars and pubs and, and things. Speaker 1 00:14:55 So they, they met at Nelly's? Yeah. Was their eyes across a bar? Did they know friends Speaker 2 00:15:02 <laugh>? Um, I dunno actually. Um, my mom, my mom's never drank. My mom's like, um, completely tea total. My dad was probably very drunk. And I remember the, the only thing he told me about the night they met was they went around the corner and my mom had a, I think it was a Red Fiat car. They showed a car, and I think my dad's media thought was, oh my God, like she's, she's got loads of money, <laugh>, but of course didn't car <laugh>. She's got a car. Um, but, um, but yes, it's just because she, my mom was always a driver because she didn't drink. But, um, but yeah, I don't, um, I don't have much from, I I know they had, I know I was, yeah, I was born relatively quickly afterwards. Um, but I don't have much the, the, the only I've got, I've heard a bit about when my dad came over. I think it was around the time of, um, Bruce Springsteen as well and that kind of era. And, um, yeah, my dad's always been a, a Springsteen fan, just very, very eighties, which, um, I, I do, I do enjoy eight eighties and eighties music, and yeah, sort of has memories of like my auntie and uncle's weddings and like the V h Ss and songs they play, Speaker 1 00:16:17 Such as, Speaker 2 00:16:19 I'm not gonna be able to remember the song. It was a certain song from, um, my auntie and uncle, and I was a bride mode. Um, I'm not, I I'm not gonna remember who it is, but whenever I hear it, it's like right back, not so much Back to the wedding. I can't remember the wedding. Um, it was the v h s tour, and I remember sitting in my nan's living room and watching it. Um, which again does relate back to the interesting thing, my memory, where my memory of it is the construction of it. And the way I even remember the slides from the, from the, um, video, they, like you never see that done. Now, wedding videos, it was like their wedding. And then they had, like, they would, they zoomed in the two slides of them as children, and then they kind of had the montage of like, photos when they were going out and stuff. Speaker 2 00:17:01 It was, um, it was a really great wedding video <laugh>. Um, and I remember the music from the background of it, but yeah, but the actual wedding, I don't, um, I don't have any memory of, I think I would've been maybe three. So yeah, it was more the memory of watching it, but I can't remember the song. I'm sorry. One of my, um, one thing I really wanna do in the next couple of years is do a proper, a proper trip over to Ireland and hire a car and go all round kil air, because I think, I think my dad, they lived in, his dad was from a thigh, um, and they lived in, they lived in Kil Air for a bit, and then he was born in Port Leash. Um, but I only found out fairly recently that my nan, who I thought was also from Kilda, she was actually from Cork. Speaker 2 00:17:45 She's from Liz, Carol and Cork. Um, and then, I can't remember why she was in Kil Air, but my granddad was a, I'm trying to think of the right term. I think it's a Smithy she used to make, she's mm-hmm. <affirmative> in Kil Air. But yeah, I, I'd really, I'd like to go back there and find, um, I thought that actually a lot when I was listening to the Mick or podcast. Um, and he talked really greatly about how someone, he went over there and he was staying in the hotel and they drove him down. Um, they drove him to find, it was like a family relative, and like someone, and the, the people in the shop that were talking about the relative knew they had never actually met them, but they knew them. Yeah. Do you remember that? But yeah, and I, I thought that was really interesting actually. And there definitely is Speaker 1 00:18:28 Michael Tuy. Speaker 2 00:18:29 Yeah, it's, and there's, I I definitely think that's quite an Irish thing of, um, there's a real sort of, you, if you've got that Irish connection, which I, I really felt as you can do in the exhibition, especially with, um, the little bits I did, um, the little bits of press and stuff I got from it was I found that the Irish press were really supportive. And I thought that there's, there's a nice sense of, um, even though, you know, I, I've been born in England, there were having that kind of, having that connection. They, they really, you, you just feel very welcome and you, you feel like there's a genuine interest, I think in, in your family and where you're from. And like, there's an importance in that. I think that's what you can't, you can't get from, I, I'll never get from living here because I, I don't feel, I don't have that connection to it. It's just that there isn't, that there isn't any sort of roots for me to, to look up or, or feel the connection to. And I think that's, that's the draw really now is I as an, as an adult, I say that as probably more as in a different stage of my life after, um, having a kid. And I feel much more like I want to go back and see it in a different light, not just in a, like, where can we go out kind of thing. <laugh>. Speaker 1 00:19:48 So, uh, yeah, your, your mom, your mom, uh, meets your dad. And, um, she has a Fiat and <laugh>. Speaker 2 00:19:56 Um, I hope I've got the right car now, <laugh> and, Speaker 1 00:19:59 And, and a year that other, otherwise we're gonna be bombarded with all kinds of stuff like it, you know, so it's Speaker 2 00:20:04 Gonna be outrage out <laugh>. Yeah, Speaker 1 00:20:06 I'm, I'm, I'm home for, I'm, I'm home for a sponsorship deal. Let's get it right. Um, <laugh> and, uh, a year later you are born. Uh, are you the eldest of a number? Are you the only, only child? No, it's Speaker 2 00:20:17 Just me. It's just me. Speaker 1 00:20:18 And so as you're growing up and obviously you're side developing the memories, as you say, psycho, you know, looking at your, your, your, your, your folks' wedding over at your, your, your grandma's place at the age of three, and that creates psych memories and so forth. I mean, do you remember when you first decided I want to be an artist? Speaker 2 00:20:33 I was always, I was, I was, I was quite, uh, quite childhood, you know. Um, I was always drawing and I liked, I liked stories and I, I think that's, um, I have a lot of memories of my dad telling me stories, um, when I was younger, and especially once about, I think Bill and Ben used to feature quite a lot, and he does that now actually with, um, my son. He's really just great at telling stories and he can just tell a story really easily. Um, so I think stories, what were definitely a big part and I think be, I think also as a child as well, you're probably drawn to things that you are, you are, that are well received. So, so at school and things, if you are, you know, you draw a lot and, you know, pe people like your drawings and you're gonna be, you know, told they're good and that's gonna make you like, wanna do it more. Speaker 2 00:21:20 I sense, I guess. Um, but my degree was actually in theater design and that was kind of the coming together of the two. So it was like, 'cause I was, I was also really like reading, so it was like, um, the stories and then with the drawing. Um, but yeah, that was, I think, so I think stories have been the biggest, the biggest theme. And then I guess art was just an obvious choice, really, to go alongside it. I think I remember writing in year six when we did, we did some extra religious lessons. I dunno what they were, we were preparing for something, I t what it was. And I remember writing that. I wanted to be, I think at that time, I think I said I wanted to be an interior designer, which, um, is kind of crazy now. But then that was like year six <laugh>. Speaker 2 00:22:07 Um, but I, I always wanted, I always liked art. I like music as well. But yeah, it was, I definitely was interested in like, creative subjects and, um, inner world, I think, which is still a big theme of the work I do. Um, and how you can have like quite a rich inner a world, um, regardless of where you are. But, um, but I did, I didn't grow up in a arty household at all. Um, parents had, yeah, they, they weren't in any way. I wouldn't have gone to galleries or anything growing up. There would've been no sort of exposure or anything like that to it. I remember I had a little red table. Um, I'm used to my paintings up on the wall, so I can sort of, and I remember really liking, I remember getting a pack of Corona pencils for Christmas from Santa, and that being like a, that's like a big memory. I just say I really like treasured things that I don't anything to do with like drawing or Yeah, all my, like those, those kind of things. Speaker 1 00:23:00 So what did you do as a child and as a family? Speaker 2 00:23:03 As in like, days out and things? Yeah. Oh, that's a good question. I'd never asked me that before. Um, we used to, I remember we used to go on holiday. If we went in the holiday, we used to go to Devon a lot. Um, and we'd, we'd, we'd go to kind of, we wouldn't, we wouldn't go to like a, I don't really go to a gallery. We might go to a museum of sort of like the local area or something, or like kind of souvenir sort of shops and like little kind of like little villages I guess, and stuff like that. Um, but I can't, yeah, that's such a, that's a good question. I definitely don't have, which I thought a lot about as you were the theme of memory. I don't have, I have more, I have feelings around, feelings around periods of time. Speaker 2 00:23:56 Um, but I don't have strong kind of, this happened then sort of memory, if that makes sense. Um, but yeah, but I, I remember we had a, I remember, yeah, we would do, I guess we would, yeah, we would do like days out and things, or we would go to, um, and we're going out on my bike and we did kind of outdoorsy stuff, I guess. Um, but yeah, I don't, I can't really, that's a good question. I can't think of like, particular faces that we went or, yeah, I just, I just know that we didn't, we didn't go to galleries or anything like that. Speaker 1 00:24:36 Was it coastal towns you'd go to? Speaker 2 00:24:40 Yeah, sometimes. Yeah, we would go to coastal towns. I remember everywhere I went in the holiday, my dad always went to move to <laugh>, where, wherever it was <laugh>, which I kind of understand now. I think I've, I've got in touch with that. Um, although holidays, so holidays are obviously different when you have a kid. So, um, but I was always, yeah, I would've been, um, we, we, we, I had a few memories going the theater actually. And on holiday I remember I went to see the B F G, which I really enjoyed. Um, but yeah, I would've been quite a, I'm trying to think how I would describe myself as a child. I would've been, I would've, there would've been a lot of books and I would've had, I definitely went through phrases of being like really into certain things. Um, flower babies was a big thing at one point. I dunno, there was like a book on them. Do you know about flower babies? Speaker 1 00:25:32 I don't, Speaker 2 00:25:34 Don't, it was just, um, I think we, I think it might been in year six and we all made them, um, yeah, it was just flower essentially. I think they're in tights and it was your baby and you put, had like a little face in it. And I remember we used to all used to keep them under our desk. Um, they were a big thing for a while, but I think that was just like the time of like, growing up in the nineties, there was certain fads and then there was a point where everyone had, um, a tamagotchi that was a really big thing. <laugh>. And then, um, a yo-yo, there was yo-yos at one point. Um, but yeah, and I, I have memories as well of going to like family gatherings and things like that. Um, my mom's got three brothers here and they've all got two children. So I've got, uh, quite a lot of cousins here. And there was always like christenings or communions. So there's quite a lot of like, family events that we went to as well. Speaker 1 00:26:30 We'll be back with Emma O'Rourke in a moment, but first it's time for the Plastic Pedestal, that part of the podcast where I ask one of my interviewees to pay tribute to a member of the diaspora of personal, cultural, or political significance to them today, local journalist and writer, Deklan McSweeney talks about Liverpool born Irish Republican socialist and trade union leader James Big Jim Larkin. Speaker 3 00:26:55 Jim Larkin, I suppose, is a figure who unites Britain, Ireland, and to some extent the United States in the sense that he was born and bred in Liverpool, spoke with a Liverpool accent, but he was probably the dominant figure in many ways in the evolution of the Irish Trade Union movement. Uh, and he also then of course, spent time in the United States, was involved in the, in the unions there. So he's, um, he is a figure that continues to inspire, uh, both the Irish trade Union movement. And he's also, I know he's also very much, uh, known in Liverpool and very much remembered by many people there. Um, you know, he, he's, um, a lot of, he, he, he was someone who taught, sought at the time of the divisions, really over the, the Dublin lockout. He, he was conscious that that was taking place against the backdrop of SEC divisions. Speaker 3 00:28:03 And he sought to rise above that, you know, to bring people together, whether they were Catholic, protestant, whatever. Um, you know, I mean, one of the, he spoke about, for example, he went against the grain in some ways, in the sense he, he ran a Temperance Crusade and, you know, he realized a lot of guys were wasting their money on drink. So he tried to do that, and he, he was on record saying he got a lot of support from the Methodist and Presbyterian churches there at the time. And, uh, you know, I think that's one of the things that we remembered his legacy of sort of bringing people together. Speaker 1 00:28:46 Declan McSweeney there. And if you want to hear more of what Declan has to say, why not listen to his full interview? Just go to the [email protected]. Click on Declan's name and photo, then let the full MCs Sweeney wash over you, like a warming river of truth. And while you're there, why not bathe in our other veritable network of interviews all three years worth, also available on Spotify, apple Podcasts and Audible. But while you're still [email protected], why not subscribe? Just go to our homepage, scroll down to the bottom, click on the link, and one confirmatory email later you can surf the diaspora tsunami, like a champion, dude. Now back to Emma O'Rourke and having talked of both memories and of childhood, I wonder whether becoming a parent has altered her as an artist. Speaker 2 00:29:43 Yes, definitely. Yeah, a hundred percent. I, um, I've always done like creative stuff. I did a lot of like, different projects really in my twenties and a lot of different, I did a lot of different jobs, um, as most people do. And then I went self-employed, which is the only thing I've stuck out actually. Um, and yeah, I was, I was involved in various, like, projects and I did theater stuff and, um, festivals and I used to do a lot of drawing. My, my work was quite different though. I used to, I used to do very sort of, um, it was like pencil drawings and they would be very accurate, like trying to sort of, uh, what's the word? Like a, a realist, realist kind of, um, interpretation of like a photograph or a person or they're very sort of yet neat pencil drawings. Um, and then it completely, I'd say it completely changed with completely really from having, um, having my son. Speaker 2 00:30:41 And there were also, COVID was a big part of that as well. Um, and I think we were forced to, up until he was about 18 months, I used to take him to, um, we just used to go to exhibitions, really, in London. And yeah, I was out and about a lot with him. And then Covid hit, and we were obviously all in, um, for a long time. And I, that was when I enrolled, enrolled that year at the Essential School of Painting in Wood Green. And I started doing Cris with them. And that was all done online. And that really changed, um, that really changed my work. And I think I just became, became a lot more expressive and a lot more, um, a lot more sort of, I, I just became a lot more interested with expressionism and the idea of things as feelings and sort of just, um, as opposed to trying to recreate something, just making the work as you feel it. Speaker 2 00:31:33 And I think that also comes from having a child in that time to work. There's very rarely that you'll get, um, like a day to do something. And, uh, my son only started school in September, so, um, I've really worked in sort of like blocks of time and I think I work now quite quickly. And I think with that, especially with drawing, I find it a lot more interesting and a lot more expressive to, especially if you're drawing someone to do that quite quickly and to get a sense of them. Um, and I think that's come from just logistics really of time and, um, situation like where you might be if you are drawing or making something. Um, and I feel a lot more satisfied with, uh, looking at the work I've made since then. Um, and I feel like it has just a lot more, um, a lot more feeling in it, I guess, because I'm not, you're almost, there's no time for something to be, um, overthought overworked because you're just, you're making it in response and it just, it feels a lot more, um, honest, I think would be a good word. Speaker 1 00:32:42 So would you say you become much more instinctive as a result of that? Speaker 2 00:32:45 Yeah, instinctive. That's a good, yeah, that's a good word. Um, yeah, instinctive and not as, I think that in general actually about having a child in general, I think I became a lot less self-conscious about putting work out there. Um, so I guess it's definitely given me confidence that I wouldn't have had so much in my twenties. It would've been a lot more kind of, is this the right thing or should I do this or, and I think it just, it feels a lot more natural now to make things and put them out there. Um, and then also feel that, yeah, you then obviously you start to build that connections with other people and people that have like similar experiences or, um, might also have children and you, you connect on that level. But yeah, it just, it, it doesn't feel as, um, it feels a lot, I it's, it is ironic 'cause I think once you have a kid, you obviously have a lot less time and you wonder what you did with all the time, um, before you had a kid. But actually, um, I feel like it's become a lot, it's become a lot more easier for me to make work. Um, and I feel like I use the time I have better as a result of it because I, it's a lot more structured in the way, in the only way it can be. Speaker 1 00:34:01 When we were talking a little earlier, you talked about, um, and you referred to, uh, interview with Mick or, and how uh, when he went across to Knock, uh, he was taken down to a local shop and uh, uh, uh, a woman there, the shopkeeper's daughter kind of had a recollection of, um, somebody that she'd never met, and this is that mm-hmm. <affirmative> kind of oral history aspect of, um, uh, of, of the, the, the is very much part and parcel of, uh, of, of, of, of Irish culture. Much more so I, I, I think than, than of English culture or a British culture, or at least it seems to be, it seems to be more prevalent. Let's, let's put it that way. Uh, I'm getting round to a point here. Don't worry. I'm just going, I'm just going round and round here. Speaker 2 00:34:42 I'm interested what you're gonna say. Speaker 1 00:34:44 So, so am I. Trust me. We'll both be surprised, Speaker 2 00:34:47 <laugh>. Speaker 1 00:34:48 Um, but, um, I was talking with a friend recently and he was saying how, um, uh, mitts and legends, and particularly when they're oral mitts and legends can change from town to town, from place to place and so forth. And you and you, yeah. And he's talking about Greek oral legends and Roman oral legends and mitts and so forth, but there's a permanence when you put something down on a piece of paper Speaker 2 00:35:08 Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Speaker 1 00:35:09 Um, but more importantly is the fact that Sica oral histories tend to to change and so forth with the time. Uh, and I'm wondering whether or not once you start to psych have this instinctive reaction to your own memories and an awful lot of your work does work itself arounds, um, your own personal archive or, or photos or, or memories and so forth. Does your own reaction to those memories change once you've actually put it down on paper? Speaker 2 00:35:39 Yeah, I think it does. Yeah, I think it does completely. I think, um, especially it's been interesting. So, so the show, the la the show I did at Wilson opened in November. And, um, it was, it was great to put it together and it was really great to see all, um, and have, have that as a sort of, I, I think just even being able to see all your work in one place together. But I felt very much, I found it quite hard to talk about it as you at the time because I felt like I couldn't see it. And I think that in general about things I make, I think I need, I still think I'm, I still think I'm processing it now. It's been, um, well, it hasn't, it hasn't really been that long, really has it, it's not been that many. Um, it's March now, so, um, but I feel like I'm getting there and I think I'm especially just even like reflecting and I'm also putting together, which is part of the newsletter I'm fucking, um, I'm putting together a blog of like the experience of making the show and kind of how, how it was then and how I'm experiencing it now. Speaker 2 00:36:43 Um, but it's very hard to see the work, I think when you're making it. Um, and a lot of, because you're generally working with, you're either work, so I'm either working with sketches, I'm doing day to day sketches, I'm making, um, from archive material, might be photographs or I might sketch something from like a museum. Um, and then you're putting all those bits together and in your mind you're making something that is all those bits coming together in one, in one image. And then actually when I reflect back on it, say I might look at something again in a year, all I can see in that image is the period of time I made it. And it feels very much like it represents, it doesn't represent the memories. I think it did, it represents exactly that, that moment basically, or when I made it. Um, so I definitely think the things I'm putting into things in there, and I guess that's what make wait that makes work contemporary, is you are only ever making something really, which is the present. Speaker 2 00:37:46 So it's never gonna be an exact copy of the memory you think it is, um, or what you think is going into it. And then the, the other side to it as well is I found, I made a piece, um, I made one piece for the show actually. It's a paint called devotion that I've posted recently on, uh, my Instagram and I've reworked it since then. Um, and put more, I made more sketches from, so generally if I work from a photograph, I'll make sketches of the photograph and then, um, I'll work from the sketches. So I made more sketches and I sort of thought more about, I thought a lot more about, um, the environment the figures were in. It's of two figures. And the first time I made it, there were, they were just, they'd sort of appeared, um, which I've been thinking about a lot recently because I, I often make images of like one figure, and it's almost like a vision that they just, they're often you, you're not really sure where they are. Speaker 2 00:38:41 This was two figures. So I was thinking, again, do we need some, some sort of environment for 'em to be in so we can understand them together? So I put more into it and you can kind of see they're in like a dating sort of pub scene ish. Um, and then you can kind of see from their body language that they're together, but they're not, they're not really together, they're not facing each other, um, which is central to the theme of this idea of two people being together. Um, and what, you know, think of marriage, what, like devotion is when you choose to be with one person, and then how relationships change over time and that, you know, you, you people might be together and sticking by each other is an achievement in itself, but it doesn't necessarily mean they're together in a traditional sense, that they're not, um, the relationship. Speaker 2 00:39:28 There's something there that is not sort of, yeah, you can see from their body language if something's missing. Um, but the colors in the painting are very warm and there's a lot of oranges and red tones, and so it feels quite warm and optimistic and yeah, I've, I've since put out there and, um, one of, um, yeah, one of my friends commented on it and she, she, she, she made that observation of the warmth and the optimism there, and it was so interesting to see because she got bang on what it was. And I found, even me, myself, it was hard for me to see that. So it's like when you put work out there, sometimes somebody else will see it from their own perspective and they might see something that you put into it that you weren't even aware of. Um, so I, I find that really, and that's why it's, it's really nice to show work and to get other people's opinions on it. But, um, I definitely found from doing the show that I really valued all those conversations I have with everyone that saw the work and everything that they brought to it. And that really, again, that becomes, it breeds another dimension, another memory to the work. 'cause you're, you're adding on all the different layers, but it's very rarely the memory started with Speaker 1 00:40:41 That's what I was gonna say. Memory's kind of malleable on that front, isn't it? Yeah, Speaker 2 00:40:45 Yeah, definitely. Speaker 1 00:40:46 Um, that you talked earlier about, it wasn't that you remembered specifically things so much as a sense of the thing that you remember. Speaker 2 00:40:54 Yeah. Yeah. I think, no, go on. No, Speaker 1 00:40:58 Karen. Speaker 2 00:40:59 No, I was, I was gonna say that is a lot about, especially with childhood, when your memory is, um, are more hazy and a lot of memories I have of sort of, there's a warmth there of feeling like safe something, but I, I can't tell you why that was. Um, or just there's a sense, just a sense of things. And then obviously all the different things that happened to you throughout your life, you, you very much have, you're left with a, a feeling of how you felt during that time. And that can obviously change as well as you, you might get more information about something that happened, but it's, yeah, it's all, all the different, as you're saying, all the different bits add on and they can change the memory. Speaker 1 00:41:45 I'm gonna jump on a word that you said there, which was safe mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Uh, and that sense that there was a period in your time when you felt the safest mm-hmm. <affirmative> or that you look back on it with a sense of safety. Speaker 2 00:41:58 Yeah. Speaker 1 00:41:59 What kind of period would you say that was? Speaker 2 00:42:02 When I say safe, I see it as I remember all, I remember feeling that there was always a warmth, there was always food, and there was always, so, like, I, I did, I moved around, uh, quite a bit with my mom and dad when I was born. We lived in various flats and we lived with my nan and granddad for a bit as well, but I don't remember that because I was too young. But I remember I always felt safe in the invite in the sense of like, there was always like the very basic things, like I've said, like, um, warmth and food. I always remember that. And I think, um, I think that in a way has come from, not a memory, but a, a, a story or a memory I have of my dad, and he'll still talk about now is when he was growing up, they didn't have that. Speaker 2 00:42:56 He very much grew up, they grew up in poverty and um, you know, they didn't, they didn't have food. He would remember being like starving hungry, and they weren't warm. They used to put all their coats on top of the bed to try and stay warm. And, um, he talks about one big house he grew up, he grew up in at one point, and they were, you know, freezing cold. And, um, yeah, he, he very much had, so I think that would've been important for him to have, for me not to have experienced that, um, that feeling of not having or, yeah. So I, so I guess when I think of it, I think of, I think of feeling warm. And I think that's a memory, as I said from my own childhood, but it's also added on the story of my dad's upbringing. There's like two, two memories were together, but, um, I can't remember a particular age, I dunno, I guess that young, say like four or five, Speaker 1 00:44:02 You are listening to the Plastic Podcasts, tales of the Irish Diaspora. Email us at the plastic [email protected]. Memory, as has been noted by others far smarter than yours, truly is an inexact historian. It is deceptive and easily deceived, convincing yet malleable. In this last part of our interview, I begin by wondering whether working with her memories and those of others has changed Emma's relationship with the act of remembrance. Speaker 2 00:44:31 Remembrance. Yeah, I think, I think it can go two ways when you are working, working with an archive, actually, I think as it, whether it's a archive, like a physical archive you go to or your own personal archive, I think it can either, it can either be rose tinted and you can take out the good bit, or it can become, you're only interested in the darker side of it. And I think, and I think that has played a big part in working with memory. Um, and if you look at it from an Irish perspective, it's very much, um, I had a lot of conversations with this with my, um, friend Etna, um, who I can give a shout out to on the podcast, <laugh>. Um, she who's a psychologist, and we talked a lot around, um, with, generally with Irish stories, you get the light in the shade and that it, it's all, it's, it's always, it is always both. Speaker 2 00:45:31 There's always, um, and you can look at it like in comedy and, um, especially yeah, from Irish like comedians and things, you've, you've always got that within, like generally in Irish families, you've got stories which, well, there's a lot of sadness, there's a lot of sadness there. Um, and then there'll be the other side of it. There'll be the flip side of it where you might make a joke of it, or there'll be kind of a, there'll be a good thing, there'll be a good, what's the word? Um, where something, something comes good in the end sort of thing. So you're sort of, that might have happened, but then that was how we saw it, and then that was what happened. Um, and I think that, yeah, so from working from, from memories and from objects or photos that have those memories sometimes on, it depends really on the day which bit you might take from it and what like lens you might have on it and what you might see in it. Speaker 2 00:46:27 And then you'll take that bit and you'll make something from it, and then that will change it again based around how you were feeling at the time. Um, and I think a lot of the, a lot of the stuff, stuff and work, I guess that themes that I put into things made in recent years, they will have, and I'll probably be able to see that more in later years. But they will, a lot of them do have themes around, um, women and, um, being a mother very, very much, like, very much where I am now, I guess, without me really realizing it. Um, and I think a lot of those, especially looking at themes from the Wilson show, a lot of the, a lot of the paintings were named after women. Um, and I have thought a lot about Irish women and you know, the kind of, the lack of opportunities that there were, and also how my, my memory of women growing up and going to a Catholic school was very much like, there was either, there was only really two women. Speaker 2 00:47:29 It was the Virgin Mary, it was Eve. So you were either the Virgin Mary who was, you know, sort of this perfect white. I remember having, I remember having a dream about Mary when I was really young and like a white tunnel with her. And she was very, I have, she was kind of, you know, what you, what we were told to believe was, you know, the best thing essentially. And then you've got Eve who was at the other end of it, this tempts and, um, everything you kind of, that was, you know, sinful. There wasn't very much in between. And you know, it's, people don't really fall into this good or bad category. Everyone has, everyone has crossovers of each within them. It doesn't make them, it doesn't make them bad or, or good. It's just, you know, we, we are as we are, I think, I think we've, everyone has, has made up a lots of different parts. Speaker 2 00:48:22 Um, and that, I think the memories of that and the memories from school in particular, um, and the teachings of, you know, from the Bible and esp yeah. Stories of women within the Bible and how they were portrayed, um, very much, you know, painted my picture of what women were. And then the bits I'm putting in now is more my, my lived experience of how it is. So I think, I think I've gone a tangent from your original question, but um, in general, I think that fits together with the idea of how the memories change and how you, and how something you put into something will then become a new memory. Speaker 1 00:49:09 When we were discussing, um, this conversation in our previous things, you talked about this sense this or this working class sense that people like me don't do this sort of thing. Speaker 2 00:49:19 Yeah, I talk about that a lot. Yeah. Um, yeah, I, I still think about, I still think about class a lot. I still talk about class a lot. I talk about a bit on, uh, social media and I came from a very traditional working class background. My dad's carpenter, my mom was a child, mine deaf, most of, um, most of my childhood, from what I remember and people, people, there was no option to be an artist. I still, still think it's a, it's a struggle. I still think to do something like this, especially, which I know we spoke about, it's not necessarily about the lack of all, all the, all the obvious things exist. So, you know, you obviously don't have, you don't have a family connection doing anything. So you don't have the, you know, you don't have the money in, in a way another person would to be able to work for free or do whatever you need to get to a certain position. Speaker 2 00:50:15 You don't have, um, there's not as many opportunities and, and especially now, I know there's a lot, there's a lot more opportunities now and there's a lot more paid internships and there's a, a bit done, not loads, but there's a bit done to try and help people from different backgrounds get into the arts. And the arts is still like massively middle class. Most people came from, you know, most people I speak to didn't grow up in working class families. That's just a given. And, but the biggest thing for me is your internal dialogue and the way you talk to yourself. And I still, now it's, I, I definitely have more confidence in myself. I think I said since I became a mom, whatever reason that is. But I still think, you know, this wasn't, this isn't for I, this isn't for me. All of those things still exist. Speaker 2 00:51:12 And the problem with the arts is it's obviously notoriously not well paid. It's not secure. There isn't a straightforward career path. It doesn't work. If you work really hard at something, it doesn't mean there'll be any financial gain from it. It, it is never it. And you also might get to a point where you receive recognition for something, but it doesn't mean you feel it yourself. 'cause whatever reason you own, you've already got your own sort of how you view yourself. So it doesn't mean you're gonna take that on board and feel anything from it. Um, which I've definitely found it's hard for, for me to do something and feel people might say, oh, did you feel proud of that or something. I think I, I, I dunno, I, I don't really, I'm not really like that. I don't know. It doesn't really come. So I think all of those things still exist in your mind, and I think that very much is a class thing. Speaker 2 00:52:07 And I think I've seen that in how you view yourself or doubt or even how you're able to, from a quite a young age. I think I was really aware of that. I, it's like selling yourself and I've always, I found that, I found that quite uncomfortable is something you have to sort of, I think push through, but it definitely doesn't come naturally to me to put myself out there in a lot of ways. And I still, there's still always that thing in the back of your mind that says, you know, this isn't a proper job, <laugh>. It's, it doesn't go away. It doesn't, um, yeah. And I, I, I do think it's largely, largely based on class. Speaker 1 00:52:51 Last couple of questions. This is just like a, don't, don't, don't consider, this'll be put down as, as as your personal biography or on record forever, but it's just instinctive answers. Okay. Yeah. So what's the best color? Speaker 2 00:53:06 Nicker Pink. Speaker 1 00:53:09 It's what? Speaker 2 00:53:10 <laugh> Uh, so when I was at uni, did you Speaker 1 00:53:15 Just say Nicker Pink? Speaker 2 00:53:16 Yeah. When I was at, when I was at uni, I did, I used to do a wash over everything I did and my tutor said it was Nicker pink and it was a kind of a pale nicker pink, essentially. So that's kind, that stayed with me and I still, I still use it quite a lot actually. So yeah, Nicker Pink is, that's my Did you go, Speaker 1 00:53:34 Did you go into a shop with often Nicker, pink Speaker 2 00:53:37 <laugh>? No. <laugh>, you definitely can't. I actually think the colors I use now, probably slightly more vibrant, but I still like that kind of washy pink and I like orange as well. But anyway, let's go Nicker pink, Speaker 1 00:53:50 Right? You are, uh, first song you ever heard that you liked on the radio? Oh, Speaker 2 00:53:59 Oh God. First song I heard on the radio that I liked. The first, one of my first memories of music was my, our CD player. I had to question them what it was called because they're just not used now. Like, I know one has like a CD player and my mum used to play Beautiful South. There's a song where it's like, she's a perfect term, but she wears a 12. Save a little two for me. What song is that? Perfect. Speaker 1 00:54:31 Perfect. 10. It's called, Speaker 2 00:54:32 It's called Perfect 10, isn't it? That was one of the first songs I, I remember my mom used to write down the lyrics, I dunno why in like a notebook. Um, and I remember how I remember the little bit at the beginning of it. I remember liking that song. I, I dunno if that's my first memory, but we'll just go with that <laugh> Speaker 1 00:54:46 Friend of Mine's in the video. Speaker 2 00:54:48 Really? Speaker 1 00:54:49 Yeah. Fellow called Steve Ey No longer with us now, sadly. Um, and last question, um, which is the question I ask all of my interviewees, which is, what does being a member of the R f D as aspirin mean for you? Speaker 2 00:55:02 It means having a place and having a sense of identity and community and other people that get it. I think, and I felt more connected to my Irish heritage since the more, the more research I've done and the more work I've done and the more I've owned the identity, I think I've felt more, more connected. But also there's been a more of an understanding of myself and my family and why things are the way they are, why things are said, why people act a certain way. Everything just makes a bit more sense, I think, and it makes me feel like something, I'm part of something bigger, which is really important. Speaker 1 00:56:00 You've been listening to the Plastic Podcasts with me, Doug Devaney, and my guest, Emma Oar. The Plastic Pedestal was provided by Declan McSweeney and Music by Jack Dani. Find [email protected]. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or threads, or email us at the plastic [email protected]. The podcasts are a proud member of Irish in Britain.

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