The art room in the Mullingar Resource Centre is a hive of activity. It is a Monday afternoon and a group of eleven artists are exploring their individual interests and expressing them by making visual art. John has sketchbooks full of drawing, with colour and subject matter that is getting more sophisticated by the week. His sketchbooks travel everywhere with him in one of those ‘bags for life’. Niall likes to work on a large scale. He paints with acrylic onto old linen sheets. His images are bold and confident and he is currently working on a series on articulated trucks. When Niall is happy with his work, he stands to attention like a soldier and salutes it. Jackie is bursting with colour. The interred (interior??) world that she expresses is a pure extension of herself—vibrant, colourful and full of life. Anne works in a gentle way, she draws in a deliberate fashion paying careful attention to what she is doing. Her work is a strong element of pattern to it and she ‘stays’ with her work until it is perfectly completed. All the while, the room is full of banter, and a fair amount of laughter. On an odd occasion there might be a snipe when someone is in bad form, but not today.
Eugene, who likes to work quietly, has began to incorporate his own unique style of writing into his artistically strong and colourful artwork. John Mc is an explorer; he tries out different media and is continually working on the projects that he sets himself- He asserts his independence by buying his own materials and equipment which he maintains to a standard that ensures he will have them for a long time.
Adrian is building the Twin Towers from bottle tops. Thomas is flicking through magazines, putting another fashion collage together. The atmosphere is very relaxed. We are a little cold in this room but everyone is content. It is a joy to be at the coalface of the creative spark—to hear an idea, to see something created where nothing was there before. The artists in the Mullingar Resource Centre are unapologetic about their work. These artists either consciously or sub-consciously understand the essence of art and creativity in the purest sense. Unhindered by the factors that inhibit most adults from engaging in the visual arts, these artists effortlessly produce work that is simply an extension of their own lives and experiences. In the Mullingar Resource Centre you will rarely here an artist say ‘I can’t draw a straight line.’ Or ‘I’m no good at art.’ It is refreshing that many of the artists have managed to avoid picking up these kind of ‘learned’ phrases that imply a negative attitude to drawing and painting. The artists here are more inclined to say ‘What do you think of that? I did it—isn’t it good!’
In the wonderful publication Visible Visions, produced by Kilkenny Collective for Artistic Talent (KCAT), Patrick Lyndon quotes the artist Josef Benys:
We must enter the public dimension, we must come out in the open and face everyone showing what we have done, fully conscious of the problem of freedom.
With this in mind, a 43-strong group of artists from the Mullingar Resource Centre held an exhibition of their visual arts work at the Mullingar Arts Centre from 22 November–3 December 2004. The exhibition was called ‘Art of life’ and it was officially launched by artists from the KCAT Arts and Study Centre and by Gerry Raleigh of the Midland Health Board. Seizing the opportunity to link with other groups and artists in the Midland region, the Mullingar Resource Centre organised a series of events to coincide with the exhibition. A trip to the Irish Museum of Modern Art was organised for 50 people from Mullingar Resource Centre, St Peters in Castlepollard and St Mary’s, Delvin. There was an intercultural workshop and also a fabric workshop, where the Mullingar Resource Centre were joined by their colleagues from NTDI in Longford. The KCAT artists returned and treated the Mullingar group to a visual presentation of their skills, talents and approaches to the arts. It was a wonderful insight to see how artists can be supported to make a career in the arts. There was much to learn and much to aspire to.
Overall, the Art of Life was a successful event—putting the artwork on the walls of a public venue in the heart of the town, networking with other artists and groups from the Midlands, visiting a national museum learning new skills and making new friends. The challenge for the future is to keep the vision alive, to share our skills and to learn from others, to promote the arts as a valid form of work and to continue in an environment that is supportive and a good place to be.