FERMANAGH fine artist Senga Sharkey draws inspiration from many sources, but the landscape of her childhood home in the countryside of Lisnaskea continues to be a strong influence for her work.

Primarily working in acrylic and oil paints, the Fermanagh artist describes herself as an “intuitive painter”, working mainly abstractly or semi-abstractly, painting directly onto the canvas or board without preparatory sketches.

Here she speaks to Jessica Campbell about her artistic background, her most ambitious piece, to date, and what her art means to her.

What is your artistic background?

EVER since I can remember I’ve loved to draw, paint and make things and by the end of primary school, I knew that I wanted to go to art college.

On completion of my degree in Fine Art, I set off for London, where I worked in the community arts sector for a number of years, doing fun things like painting murals.

Eventually, I moved into teaching and did a little drawing and painting when I could find the time.

After moving back to Fermanagh and having my daughter, I saw a job advertised for the local library which I thought would suit my family needs better.

The working mum phase of my life left me less time for my art, but when my daughter started painting in the kitchen for an A-level project, I had the sudden desire to grab some paints and join her!

My daughter is away at Uni now, and as I have also reduced my library work to part-time, I have the luxury of spending hours with my own painting once more.

What inspires your art?

THE landscape of the area outside Lisnaskea where I grew up has had a profound influence on my art over the years.

At times truly bleak, and at others deeply beautiful, the black gashes of turf banks next to hilly fields dotted with heather and whin bushes, the regimented conifers and the wild hedgerows have been imprinted on my mind and recur as themes in my paintings.

I am also inspired by my travels, by music, people, photographs or films/books and current events.

I made several paintings during the lockdown which were directly or indirectly influenced by Covid-19.

I usually work to music, and have often found that whatever I’ve been listening to has made its way into my painting through my gestures and marks or choice of colours.

Who are your artistic influences?

ROISIN O’Farrell, Irish artist and founder of ‘This Painting Life’, gave me the courage to pursue my painting seriously again in my 50s.

There’re also Louise Fletcher and Alice Sheridan, English artists, whose work really inspires me and whose funny and warm podcast, ‘Art Juice’, is a must for artists everywhere.

Nicholas Wilton is an American abstract artist and teacher. I have been following Nick online and taking his courses for about three years now.

He has encouraged me to develop a more ambitious practice, and to begin working on several pieces at a time.

Although the subject matter of our work is different, he directly impacted how I experiment with colour and arrange compositions.

Is there a specific place that you do your work?

I AM currently reorganising the spare room as a studio with plenty of storage and a painting ‘wall’.

As I often work in multiples, I can hang the panels on the painting wall and move from one to the other as needed. I will also be able to make larger paintings on canvas or wood panel.

What has been your most ambitious piece, to date?

MY MOST ambitious work was while doing Nick Wilton’s ‘Creative Visionary Program’ earlier this year.

This was a very intensive three-month painting course which happily coincided with lockdown, and during which I made paintings in series of six to eight at a time.

It was great fun, and I learned a great deal from this online course and have also made a lot of friends with other artists from around the world.

What different artistic mediums do you use and which is your favourite?

I PAINT with acrylic or oil, or sometimes both. Recently, I’ve loved using acrylic along with collage and mixed media such as pastels, Posca [acrylic] painting pens, charcoal and oil sticks.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I AM an intuitive painter, working mainly abstractly or semi-abstractly, painting directly onto the canvas or board without preparatory sketches.

I am drawn to strong colour, line, interesting textures, and both geometric and organic shapes.

I use a range of tools as well as brushes to make marks and textures spontaneously at first, and with more reflection as the piece develops.

I aim to create environments that draw the audience in, demanding engagement.

What are you currently working on?

I AM completing a series of smaller panels in which I am investigating the use of collage in my paintings, and I want to extend the collage around the sides of the panels too, in effect making the work 3D.

Do you exhibit your work anywhere?

YES, I have just submitted pieces for this year’s Fermanagh and Omagh 1Ft Sq exhibition.

I have taken part in this event before, exhibiting in the Hambly & Hambly gallery, and Strule Arts Centre.

I have a piece in the Imagine Together Arts Unlocked exhibition, which has been running online and in the physical Hambly & Hambly gallery since July.

I have also had a joint exhibition in Enniskillen Library.

Any new artistic ventures planned?

I HAVE been mulling over an idea for combining paint and old family photographs.

These semi-abstract collages will explore childhood memories and family heritage and I hope to start them before Christmas.

I am working to create a greater online presence, so am currently designing a website to complement my Instagram page [@senga.art].

Watch out for it in the new year!

What are you up to when you aren’t creating art?

I FEEL lucky to live in a very quiet part of the countryside as I enjoy being outside, sitting in the garden or going for walks.

I love reading and listening to podcasts. My favourite thing, pre-Covid, was to catch up with family or friends over coffee or a meal, and I really look forward to being able to do that again soon.

What does your art mean to you?

EACH work represents and celebrates my love of life. They mean excitement, exploration, frustration, never being bored!

My art gives me a way to share my thoughts and emotions with other people, and hopefully bring them enjoyment.

It gives me a connection to other artists and a foundation for lasting friendships.

My art gives me quality of life.