You’ve Been Framed – Artist Kathy Tiernan’s Story
Kathy Tiernan is a founding member and co-ordinator of ArtLimerick – a group of artists who have the desire and passion to build a community around Limerick Art and aim to promote emerging and established local artists and to showcase their work. There is such a wonderful spectrum of talent here in Limerick (music, literature, visual arts) and it makes me immensely proud of this city and county.
Kathy also has a picture-framing business which she runs from her studio/workshop in Grange, Kilmallock and this is the bread and butter aspect of her livelihood. Kathy says, “I often get funny looks when I tell people I’m an artist. Everything from that nod of the head to the raised eyebrow and always the question ‘but what’s your real job’? So much so, that I tell people I’m a picture framer. Nobody queries that job.” She has been in business as Fairlyart since 2017 (https://www.fairlyart.com/). She has had a diverse background in terms of work experience but in the last three years she has been making her living from art and picture framing. As the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland points out, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” It seems that Kathy always knew where she was going, it just took a little longer to get there.
Yellow Cow – acrylic on canvas
Tiernan is also part of ‘By Design’ – a group of fifteen local artists, designers and makers from the Limerick area. Formed in 2017 they moved into their new shop in Castletroy in August 2020, which was closed during level 5 COVID restrictions. It is a large shop with the luxury of a spacious gallery area upstairs, giving them the ability to create a venue for exhibitions and classes.
Critique – not criticism
I saw Tiernan exhibit with other artists in The Milk Market and at the Couch House in the back yard of The People’s Museum and I was impressed with her work. Subsequently she illustrated my collection of poems, Soul Songs (Revival Press, 2020) with her drawings and it was a pleasure to be involved in that collaborative project with her.
There is a line between art and craft but that boundary is not always clear – there are overlaps and intersections. I would not describe Tiernan’s work as avant-garde but she is not hyper-sensitive about that and makes no pretentious claims. This is a critique, not a criticism. Kathy says, “I have no formal education in art, although I’ve painted all my life.”
I would describe her style as naïve. This is not in any way disparaging or dismissive of her art. Naïve art may be understood as visual art that is created by a person who lacks the formal education and training that a ‘professional’ artist undergoes – in anatomy, art history, technique, perspective etc. I asked Kathy about her qualifications in art, if she had a degree in fine art and her response shows a thoughtful maturity:-
“I’m often asked the question about qualifications and whether the lack of a degree impacts my business or not. There are some who would say that I’m not entitled to call myself an artist without a degree, however, I would argue that many successful business owners don’t hold a degree in business, or a degree in accountancy, but they have the attributes needed to run a company. So here I am, with a business, calling myself an artist (and a picture framer). I think a formal education in art would certainly open doors that are quite firmly shut, but the days of auction houses and galleries having an exclusive say in the market have disappeared into the ether of the internet.”
Her work is high quality original artwork in oil, watercolour and acrylic and it is selling to designers, collectors and lovers of original art. The ‘Shop Local’ campaign inspired by the pandemic has been beneficial for Tiernan. People buy her work for many reasons – a unique wedding gift, a wow factor in a new room design and so on. There is something special about buying directly from the artist.
A native of Kildare, Tiernan (b.1966) has lived near Lough Gur in Limerick for almost three decades. She has also lived in Canada, Belgium, Israel and the UK. She comes from a family of nine children which partly explains why she, “Took the long road to art as a career.” Kathy elaborates, “It wasn’t an option when I left school.” She is an optimistic and resilient person. When I asked her if she had encountered obstacles in her journey she said, “I would define ‘obstacles’ as challenges and look for ways around them.”
Business and pleasure
Tiernan has business savvy and a clear idea of what she wants to do. Her work is not unlike that of Annabel Langrish, the Kenmare based artist, who also has a commercial head on her shoulders! Kathy says, “When I started my business, I took a course in Galway to learn framing and a business course with Ballyhoura Development, along with other media courses run by Limerick Enterprise Office. Anything I didn’t know, I learned. I always knew how to paint.” Outside of art, she has four teenage children and a garden to keep her busy!
Sunflowers – acrylic on canvas
Tiernan made art her full-time career in 2017 and gained confidence when displaying work with the ArtLimerick group. Although she admits to being “a solitary person” she is delighted to have met so many fine artists from all walks of life in this group which grew from five artists to almost one-hundred in just four years.
Together they have exhibited work throughout Limerick, both indoors and outdoors and have benefited from huge support from the Limerick Milk Market, where forty artists can display thousands of paintings under one roof on a Sunday afternoon a few times a year. ArtLimerick is also supported by several local businesses who give them wall space to display their original artwork.
The pandemic has meant many changes in the last year. For Kathy it has been a bag of mixed blessings. She had to rethink her business. She was due to join a co-op (By Design) in Adare last April, but lack of tourists meant that the shop relocated to Castletroy Shopping Centre. This group has been together since 2017, many of the members are also partnered with the Made in Limerick group in Henry Street.
Kathy says that the pandemic restrictions, “Has made people are more inclined to buy from local artists, everybody is renovating or redecorating their homes because they’ve to stay there all the time. Money normally spent on holidays is now going into the sitting room or the hall and thankfully a splash of colour on the wall is the new holiday.” In many ways Lockdown has made people focus on what’s really important.
It seems that people are looking for quality artwork, something unique and personal. Tiernan’s art is bright and colourful and reflects something of her personality. Kathy says, “I think my artwork cheers people up a bit. We see masks and listen to the horror stories every day so I definitely escape into my own happy place when I’m painting.”
She is thankful to be able to work from home during this crisis. She has four teenage children and confesses that she often make jokes about feeding them! “But really that’s all I’ve to do, stock the fridge and head for the door of the shed to paint or frame.” Apparently they have all become competent cooks as well as expert Zoomers!
“Plans for this year are fluid” says Kathy but she is adding stock to her online shop each week. She had planned a solo exhibition in Friars’ Gate Theatre in Kilmallock for April, 2021 but that has been deferred. She is facing changes and challenges with characteristic and infectious positivity.
Asked if she had any advice for people considering art as a career she says, “I would encourage you to fill the canvas. No matter how good you are at your craft, there’s always something new to learn. Fill the page!” As a writer I concur with this sound advice.
Kieran Beville is a former teacher of English and History. He was also a tutor in the Irish History Department of UCC in the 1980s and lecturer in Masterclasses (M.Div. & M.Th.) at the Intercultural Studies Department of Tyndale Theological seminary, Amsterdam, where he taught Hermeneutics and Postmodernism, 2011-2016. In addition he has lectured on leadership training programmes in Eastern Europe (Serbia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Macedonia), Jordan and India. He has been a conference speaker on Postmodernism in Ireland, the UK and India. Beville is author of Write Now – A Practical Guide to Becoming a Writer (Limerick Writers’ Centre, 2019) and the novel, Bohemian Fire (pen-name Austen K. Blake, Bohemian Books, 2017). He has published sixteen non-fiction books. Furthermore, he has had a substantial number of articles published in various newspapers, journals and magazines as well as poetry in Cyphers, Crossways, A New Ulster, Ogham Stone, The Stony Thursday Book, The Sunday Tribune, The Galway Review, Live Encounters, Pandemic and The Phare Anthology, 2021. Beville used to write a weekly features column, ‘Spotlight’, in the Limerick Leader newspaper, focusing on local arts and entertainment. His collection of poetry, Fool’s Gold, was published by Revival Press (2019), with an introduction by poet John Liddy, cover design by artist John Shinnors and illustrations by artist Kate Hennessy. His book, Pulling Back the Clouds is a short biography of Mike Kelly, collector of the die-cast model aircraft display at Shannon Airport (LWC, 2020). His second volume of poetry, Soul Songs, was published by Revival Press (2020) with cover design by Syra Larkin and illustrations by Kathy Tiernan. Voices from the Void is Kieran’s third collection of poetry with cover by John Shinnors. Beville mentors aspiring poets, has taught creative writing classes for adults, judged creative writing competitions and conducted editorial services for a publishing house.
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