John Updike once said that art offers a certain breathing room for the spirit.
Merijean Morrissey looked for her breathing room earlier this year, and she found it in Ireland.
The Visual Arts professor spent six months as the international artist-in-residence for the City of Dublin. For two months, she lived in an apartment and studio at the Red Stables, the original Victorian stables on the old Guinness estate, where she practiced the complex fine art of printmaking.
Morrissey was the international artist-in-residence at Graphic Studio Dublin, the premiere fine art printmaking studio in Europe. While in Europe, she attended the International Printmakers’ Conference in Bristol, UK, where she exhibited with a small group of other artists. She also learned while there that she was a finalist at the 29th Print International in Barcelona, Spain, resulting in her work being shown in Barcelona, the United Kingdom and France.
Morrissey headed to Ireland with a grant from the Brock Humanities Research Institute. The space was inspiring, she said, as was Graphic Studio Dublin. There she had access to a large printmaking studio, a luxury considering much of her printmaking work in Canada is squeezed into the garage and basement of her Niagara-on-the-Lake home. She sold her work in the historic Temple Bar, an area on the bank of the River Liffey with narrow, cobbled streets and a thriving artisan culture. In February, she became the first international artist elected to membership of the Graphic Studio Dublin, which means her work will be shown in some of the studio’s traveling exhibitions. It also earned her an invitation to exhibit in Tokyo and Kyoto next summer.
Morrissey was heartened not only by the atmosphere, but by the importance placed on art in Dublin, where people understand its cultural significance. She was also amazed by the generosity of her fellow artists.
“It was incredible,” said Morrissey, who has been at Brock for 25 years. “I don’t know of anywhere else in the world like that.”
Ireland had a direct influence on the work Morrissey did there. For example, one print features the word “tunc,” the Latin first word from the Book of Matthew in the Book of Kells, a publication circa 800 AD that Morrissey saw at Trinity College while in Ireland. In Morrissey’s piece, the Latin word is layered over its modern translation, “then,” which fits the narrative nature of her work, she said.
“It always tells some kind of story.”
Another centerpiece is “An Seoltoir Eireannach/the Irish Navigator,” a diptych that uses the image of a ship of the Argo Navis constellation “as a symbol of a flight to freedom of sorts,” she said. One ship is leaving while the other is arriving, “suggesting the ongoing, centuries-old need for people to migrate, never really finding port anywhere.”
Morrissey went back to Ireland in the summer to organize her work and prepare for spring 2011, when she’ll return to Dublin. She also has a show at Ireland’s Draicht Arts Centre this month.