Winterage is a gorgeous word. A solid but fairy-tale word that is warm and cold at the same time. Of all Irish animal husbandry traditions, there’s none more magical or relevant than winterage. Practised by Burren farmers for thousands of years, it’s the seasonal movement of livestock to the Burren uplands in late October, left to graze over rocky pastures for the winter months. Counterintuitively, despite the tough climate and no shelter, the limestone winter pastures retain heat, removing the need to bring cattle indoors. Winterage is an ancient farming practice and annual celebration being celebrated again in this show.
The Burren, the most earthbound western tip of our island has been Diane Magee’s north star for 30 years. A graduate in sculpture from Limerick School of Art & Design, Diane moved into painting abstract watercolours from remembered visits to the wild landscape and light of West Clare, culminating in her first solo exhibition in 2004.
Her subject matter became more representational and moved to oils. Inspired by a friend, the late Walter Verling, Diane started plein air painting in the Burren in 2016, grief and escape being the fuel for those initial trips. Quickly though, the Burren became less a destination and more a mindset. Painting plein air in a part of the island and time of year where the elements are often less than welcoming, that also meant occasionally painting in her Fiat 500 with rain pelting down on the roof. She has been returning on a regular basis ever since, with month-long residencies in the Burren College of Art.
During her initial residency, having a front-row seat to the drama of winterage, Diane introduced the first cow into her work. Later, she started working on a much larger scale but those canvasses wouldn’t fit into the car, meaning a welcome return to drawing from her imagination and memory, all checked against hundreds of references accumulated over the years.
Throughout this series the cow stays in the picture. This Winterage isn’t reality but the artist’s own multiverse, darker than her previous work, at times trippy and more of a dreamscape – like residual images we sometimes carry into real life in the spilt second of waking. In Hiemal the animal might be vibrating through from another world. The sepia action shot of Apricity could be an early moving picture with the feel of a Lascaux cave painting. In Mizzle both farmers and boulders are similar shapes, all made from the same stuff. Throughout the work you might wonder, are these the colours and shapes that the cattle see? Some of the cast of cattle and characters make the final cut, others are worked back in the paint, with a few stubborn ghosts that won’t leave, like the phantasm of one farmer watching another pass him by in Herdsman.
Winterage is an obsession with the Burren that has come full circle – a circle first painted in watercolours with collage, then oils and acrylics, but ultimately bringing Diane back to the landscapes where she started.
See DIANE MAGEE WEBSITE to find out more