Fiona Robinson 2010

Betty Gannon

I came across an exhibition of Betty Gannon's drawings  by chance in Westport during my Fellowship at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Co. Mayo.  I was struck by the power and complexity of these large works and arranged to go and visit her in her studio. 

Ballinglen Arts Foundation Fellowship Blog

Fiona Robinson


Betty Gannon’s large powerful Structure drawings dominate any space in which they

are hung. Graphite powder, sticks, pencils, even blocks of this shiny carbon mineral

are manipulated on square or generous rectangles of hot press paper. The work is

process based, rubbed, scratched, manipulated. Powerful physical marks made using

the whole strength of her arm are contained within a series of grids, which gives an

element of control. She works very quickly and the energy that this speed generates

suggests the interior energy contained within the buildings she draws. Her working

method is rhythmic and repetitive, the size of the work necessitating long periods

inside a meditative space in which, she says, she gets lost and which she finds is “a

nice place to be”.

 She is interested in architecture and urban spaces often homing in on derelict and

abandoned buildings as well as the many construction and demolition sites that still

litter the Irish countryside following the collapse of the boom years of the Celtic

Tiger. “In the last four or five years, everyday there has been a new house on the

landscape. There are half-built housing estates on the edges of towns. They call these

ghost towns.” In 2008 she had an opportunity to work with two other artists inside

Bellacorick peat-fired power station in north Mayo before it was decommissioned. In

March 2010 together with photographer Michael Gannon and Ian Wieczorek her large

drawings were part of an exhibition, 'Bellacorick-impressions of a place', at the North

Mayo Arts Centre, Aras Inis Gluaire.

 Gannon has a huge vocabulary of marks and tones at her disposal from the darkest,

so deep there is a waxiness to the texture, to the palest of gently rubbed graphite. A

chaos controlled by the order of geometry; softness versus hard and deep unrelieved

black opposed to ever lightening tones of grey. She is interested in change and returns

again and again to the same place, recording the changes photographically. This

element of repletion occurs in the physical making of the work too! Although it

is essentially all about mark-making and a sense of enclosure. House shapes with

energetic marks inside them, not desperate to get out, I don’t think, but certainly not

going over the edges of the shape, reveal an element of autobiography in the sense

that they are directly sourced from her surroundings and her situation. Choosing to

work at home in order to be there for her family as her children grow, her work has

often centred on the location of her daily life. In her house drawings, the structure

of the external shape contains and supports the skeleton of the drawing. Circling

lines weave and curve around the rectangles hinting at other interpretations: pipes

and wires carrying water and electricity within the fabric of a building; lifeblood

moving around the body in veins and arteries; family life flowing through the spaces

of a home. Far from restricting her as an artist, her daily routine has provided rich

sources of inspiration as she looks outwards through doors and windows, the gaps in

walls. She constantly gathers references, which will feed into a new set of drawings,

as diverse as: the footsteps of children running between her garden studio and her

kitchen; the worn sections of the yellow lines on a road; to a discarded red ribbon

in a Renaissance painting of St George and the Dragon. Her perennial concern is to

explore change, to let things move and develop, to retain the sense that everything is

always in a state of flux. However she says, “It is important to contain an element of

control, otherwise it would be chaos”.

 On occasions the drawings metamorphose into structures themselves as she bends

and shapes the paper into cylinders, rectangles and boxes with lids. “After I have the

drawings done I need to put them into 3D. They seem to want to come off the page.”

An interesting development arising from this necessity to create a three dimensional

form is that the form itself takes over the structural element of the drawing, leaving

her free to draw in a looser more organic way. This softer approach is evident in

her new series of drawings inspired by broken surfaces. In the ‘Breaking Down’,

drawings, the enclosing rigidity of strong verticals and horizontals has been replaced

by circles and curves; dividing and multiplying like cells; spreading out from the

centre of the paper like a stain. Ink becoming a species of decay where the bruise

moves from the initial source of impact to contaminate the surface of the pristine

page. However, the circles spreading outwards in these recent organic drawings

have unbroken lines. In a volte-face it could be the white of the paper, which is

encroaching on the inked marks so these curving lines still function as a boundary,

protecting the disintegrating miasma within them.


© Fiona Robinson 2010

© Betty Gannon