‘So what’s a feminist, and an erstwhile hellraiser like you doing collecting Virgin Mary’s?’ the curator of the art gallery/arts centre wanted to know.
I tried to explain.
Shane MacGowan, on going hell raiser, gave me a present of drawing he’d done on a floor tile – The Madonna and the Archangel.
Wow, I thought, hurrying home package under oxter, Shane Mac Gowan is drawing the Virgin Mary – how interesting.
Next I began collecting.
20 months later, a sensationally successful exhibition in the Ranelagh Arts Centre (400 people, with the opening conducted in true grit style by Shane himself and Victoria Mary Clarke), a growing (900 plus) collection on-line, an IMMA special edition print of Shane’s original drawing, and a trip to Electric Picnic looming, nobody could be more surprised than me.
Luckily, from the get go, the tone has been set by Shane and his Mary; far from the demure, mute, pastel, asexual religious Mary’s of our shared Irish Catholic past, his Mary is vibrant in bright greens and blues, her right hand upheld (‘she’s talking to her people’), and her archangel, crouched in the corner, is carrying a Kalashnikov.
Yes sirree, Mary is taking back her power – and Something About Mary is ever so happy to help. Actually everyone has been ever so happy to help.
I started the collection for fun, but also for serious. Myself and my two children are fighting a huge law suit and the Mary show is the third art show/auction I’ve put on to raise money for our case.
The artists, writers, photographers, framers, printers, arts administrators have been wow amazing giving us paintings, prints, photographs, premises, and help.
We had our first auction thanks to the legendary owner of Grogan’s, Tommy Smyth, with David Norris as major domo. It was chaotic, brilliant, memorable. The next was more genteel, a Sunday afternoon in the beautiful upstairs rooms of Noelle Campbell Sharpe’s Origin Gallery on Harcourt Street, and opened with a stunning speech by poet Anthony Cronin.
Strangely, it was the day after the Origin Gallery auction that I went to Shane and Victoria’s house with a photo I had meant (and failed) to get them to sign for the show. I stayed and chatted, Shane gave me his Madonna, and the collection, the IMMA print, the exhibition in Ranelagh and now, next weekend, our slot under a beautiful little hawthorn tree at the gorgeous Body and Soul area at the Electric Picnic grew from that exchange. Yikes.
Electric Picnic Mary (currently the favourite) came about thanks to the visual genius of Sean Hillen who’s created collaged art works of Mary in Temple Bar, Mary in Newry, Mary in Newgrange, and now, coolest of all, Mary at the Picnic, or to give her her full, super dignified title, ‘The Queen of Heaven appears at Electric Picnic’.
The young people – Chi (my daughter), Brian (her enamorate), Luke (my son), Esme, (his enamorata), Joe, Luke’s friend, Bob, Luke’s friend and co-graduate from IADT, Sophie and George Longwill (artist and designer) and Jean Doyle and Sarah Bracken, artists from the Ranelagh Arts Centre - have come up with a sensational 6 foot transparency, around which they’re building a grotto and a Wishing Tree.
Revellers can take time out to taste a little silence, enjoy translucent Mary, swing in Chupi’s swinging seat and write down their innermost desires, and tie them to the wishing tree.
If somebody had said to me in my raging twenties that I was going to end up collecting Virgin Mary’s I would have told them they were mad. But actually it’s been a blast. Every Mary is different. Every Mary comes via a different route – friends, auction houses, flea markets, charity shops. We’ve got Mary’s from China, Peru, Mexico, Inishboffin, Poland, Loop Head, Cabra, Mojacar, Terenure. We’ve got vintage Mary’s, modern Mary’s scraperboard Mary’s, stitched Mary’s, plaster Mary’s, First Aid box Mary’s. The ubiquity of her image is astounding.
Come and visit us in the Body and Soul area at the Electric Picnic next weekend, and enjoy the collection on line.
by Rosita Sweetman