ARTIST Célia Richard is originally from the Champagne region of north-east France, and has been living in Shercock, Co. Cavan, for the past 22 years.

Célia is currently showing her work as part of Solas Art Gallery's exhibition, 'Palimpsest', marking the first physical exhibition to be hosted at the Ballinamore gallery this year.

Here she speaks to The Impartial Reporter about her artistic background, what inspires her work and what art means to her.

What is your artistic background? Are you self-taught or did you go to art school/do courses?

ALTHOUGH I didn’t go to art college, I attended many courses, summer schools – art therapy – and workshops over the past 30 years, the last of which was a postgraduate diploma in Arts in Healthcare Settings with Maynooth University.

As a result I may be more self-directed than self-taught. I started still-life and figure drawing in secondary school, did a lot of botanical drawing in science college, then taught myself oil painting with books.

After coming to Ireland with my then two-year-old son, I started teaching informally about 18 years ago, and then landed a position with the Education and Training Board facilitating art classes in the community.

What inspires your art?

INSPIRATION comes mostly through a journalling practice and a passion for found things and fragments, be it a misheard expression, a rusty washer found on the pavement, a bleached bone found while beachcombing, or a holy statue from a flea market.

Who/what are your biggest influences?

WHEN I was struggling with a bad bout of anxiety and depression, I found that I could no longer paint, and so I turned to found objects as a more direct way to convey emotion; my first piece centred around an eggshell clamped in a vice.

I was involved with the Camera Obscura international art initiative held in Cavan at the time, in 2010, and, prompted by Sylvia Grace Borda – the Canadian lecturer at the helm of the two-year project – I started looking into the works of Surrealist sculptors, Joseph Cornell, Marcel Duchamp, Beuys and Rauschenberg.

Pinterest [the media sharing and sourcing site] helped me to find artists such as Kass Copeland, Hannelore Baron, Greg Hanson and so many others.

In parallel, I discovered the introspective practice of art journalling with France Papillon, who guided my every page.

She provided unwavering support, artistic strength and experience, especially through the long lockdown.

Is there a specific place that you do your work? Do you have a studio?

I AM very fortunate to have built a big studio in the garden, where my evolving practice has accumulated layers of treasures.

There you can find cheek to jowl with antique trinkets and a couple of taxidermised birds, tons of materials for all types of painting, sculpture, calligraphy, bookbinding, furniture painting, faux finishes, textile art, yoga equipment and children’s projects, to name but a few.

What has been your most ambitious piece, to date?

IN HIS book about art therapy called ‘trust the process’, Sean McNiff mentions that a measure of success is just to be able to keep creating.

In a way, making it through the winter of 2020-2021 was the toughest, loneliest challenge in recent memory.

Guided art journalling through Zoom online meeting helped immensely when nothing else was forthcoming.

Shortly after a life-threatening illness and surgery, I produced a very raw and tortured combined-materials piece born of deep anguish.

‘Hold me no more (a victory over abuse)’ is probably my darkest and most unashamed piece so far.

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

I LOVE the experimental and unlimited nature of mixed-media, collage and assemblage.

I love tinkering with weird and wonderful trinkets, junk and other discarded treasure.

I love challenging the standards of worth, love suggesting meaning and the passage of time through the concatenation of relics, rescued imagery and forgotten toys.

What are you currently working on?

I AM putting together an assemblage and painting studio in the family place in Champagne where I stay during the summer.

At this point, it means mostly overwhelming my mum and aunt’s place with an alarming quantity of flea market finds and attic clearance treasure!

Do you exhibit your work anywhere?

SOLAS gallery in Leitrim is the most active and artist-friendly venue for exhibiting I have ever known, followed by the Ballyjamesduff museum, Iontas Centre in Castleblayney, the Craíc Theatre in Coalisland, and then Monaghan Market House.

After this show, I hope to take this body of work to other venues anywhere around all 32 counties and beyond.

Any new artistic ventures planned for 2021?

ONCE travelling is safe again, I am looking forward to an informal residency on a beautiful island near the equator where I am considering running plein-air painting and yoga retreats. Watch this space!

What has been your favourite project, to date?

TO DATE, I have had a wonderful experience at Carrickmacross Arts Festival, giving a proper talk and demonstration of my collage and assemblage practice in 2018.

I very much look forward to sharing this process with others in the future.

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

WHEN I’m not teaching, art journalling or preparing a show, you can find me practicing yoga – I give beginners's classes and attend Hatha and Ashtanga courses – or trying to lose Covid weight by running on the amazing athletic track in Shercock.

I also learn to sing with a fantastic voice coach who helps me belt out Jazz tunes and not scare off an audience.

How would you describe your artistic style?

SOME key words related to my work could be: eclectic, unconscious, memory, ancestry, discarded, meaning, introspection, weathered, fragile, bookish, playful, experimental, sacred, legacy, therapy, childhood, shamanism, domesticity, and resilience.

What does your art mean to you?

TO ME, art is how you celebrate, embellish and expand what is precious to you.

Whether you’re polishing an altar or folding paper cranes, meditating in an empty room or collecting vintage dress patterns, you can attain this flow state where you are poised right at the centre of your being.