Throughout her career, Mary Burke from Dublin would have been known as an urban and suburban artist, focusing a lot on buildings and manmade structures.
That is until now.
One of her latest excursions to come to fruition, At Home on the Farm, has taken her away from the concrete jungle to the green fields of Co Limerick.
Interestingly, in a way, this project was born in Tallaght, Dublin.
A few years ago, Mary was commissioned to do artwork based on the homes of residents of local authority houses in Tallaght. She was then brought to do a similar project in Stradbally, Co Laois.
“That was my first slightly rural excursion,” Mary says. “Some of the homes went a little further out of the town. One was on a farm. A number of things happened in those houses, one of which was, I started drawing domestic pets. I hadn’t drawn animals before.”
With the seed sown, Mary became more and more taken with the idea of drawing animals, particularly cows. In preparation for doing this, Mary studied bovine anatomy, so she could get the make-up and proportions of cows correct.
Sometime later, Mary was approached by Una McCarthy of Limerick City Art Gallery (LCAG), to enquire would she be interested in pitching for an exhibition. Mary was delighted, as this fitted in perfectly with her new interest.
“I wanted to do something on farms. Limerick has loads of farms. I’m from Dublin, so Una set about finding farms for me. I was more curious than anything else,” Mary explains.
Reality of farming
Pre-pandemic, in 2019, Mary visited five farms across Limerick on which the drawings for her the exhibition, At Home on the Farm, were based.
The medium Mary works in is primary oil-pastel, which for all intents and purposes, is like a big crayon.
Although art and agriculture may seem worlds apart, Mary feels she could identify with the work of farmers in a way. As for artists, like farmers, hours in doesn’t always equate to financial gain.
Through the exhibition, Mary wanted to portray the reality of day-to-day farming. She wanted to capture this and give an insight, not romanticise it.
An example of this is one of her drawings based on June Danaher’s farm in Shanagolden.
“A truck came to take cattle to the factory. That’s the reality of farming. This is what happens on a working farm.”
Another farm Mary worked on was that of John MacNamara, who alongside his wife Olivia, won Grassland Farmer of the Year in 2018. To Mary this wasn’t just grass, it was food.
Even amongst all the natural elements on the farm, however, Mary found things that mirrored her previous urban work. Having done a lot of drawings incorporating steel, Mary was particularly taken by a milking parlour on the MacNamara’s farm.
“I spent two months on the milking parlour. It was my way of looking at something I hadn’t seen before and learning about it. If you’ve been looking at something for that long it becomes familiar.”
Urban and rural
Mary had visited the farms before the pandemic and had taken pictures on which she based her work, but the country was in lockdown by the time she started her drawings.
Each day during the first lockdown she was able to go to the little studio at the back of her house and work on the exhibition.
Even though for part of the time she spent completing these drawings she was in a 2km limit of her home in Goatstown, Dublin, she was transported back to the farms in Limerick each day.
In doing this exhibition, Marys says she wanted to connect urban and rural. Even though she has lived in a city most of her life, if you go back far enough she has farming roots, most people do.
For Mary, there was a very social element to the project also. It was great to be in a new environment.
“It was fantastic to see how other people are living and working. The farmers, they couldn’t have been more welcoming. They obviously love what they do. I went away from those farms uplifted.” CL
At Home on the Farm has been installed in LCAG and will run until May. Due to restrictions, public viewing is not open at the moment, but a virtual tour can be taken on www.gallery.limerick.ie