On Top Of The World
Feature in The Irish Times Magazine By Catherine Foley
Saturday November 5, 2005
The Clancy sisters were encouraged to be artistic by their parents - Tom Clancy, the singer, and Joan, a gallery curator - but their true inspiration is Waterford's dramatic Ring peninsula. Catherine Foley reports
The sea is all around, washing against the cliffs and coves of the Ring peninsula. Across the bay, the Comeragh Mountains form a fitting backdrop under a sky that stretches over the silvery water. This part of Co Waterford is where the three Clancy women are based and where they continue to make their mark in the art world.
Their small gallery, which opened five years ago, is up a spiral staircase on a corner of their home. It sits a little way back from the cliff top, looking out over all this sea and sky. "We are both very influenced by our environment," says Rayleen Clancy. "Living here, we are just open to the landscape all the time. It's in front of you, and you have an emotional response to it."
Last month, Rayleen and her elder sister, Blawnin, used the gallery -- which is named after their mother, Joan -- for a joint exhibition of their work. It's in Ring, according to Blawnin, where there's "that feel of wide open spaces…All those paintings upstairs are based on places around here." When she returns home, "and you come back over the hill, and you look at the vista, you go: ‘Gosh, we're very lucky to be living here'".
Blawnin says that Faill an Staicín, a secluded beach on the Atlantic side of the peninsula, is her favourite part of Ring. "It's one of those special places that has no public access. It's very difficult to get to and to get home from. You have to be in tune with the tides to get there, and to stay there, or you'll be pressed up against the cliff. It's very clean and unspoilt. It's exposed to the ocean and not the bay, so there's plenty of wildlife, too.
"I've been painting water and the sea as a subject for the last couple of years," she says. "It's hypnotic…Looking at the water and the rocks, for me, it's to do with how one element is always in motion and the other is fairly still."
Her paintings have titles such as Reflected Pier, Sea Foam, High Water Line and Counter Currents.
Rayleen's work is more concerned with hedgerows and crossroads. "I like the structures in the landscape, whether it's a line of spruce trees cutting across the skyline or the great hogweeds that are in this exhibition. I love that dramatic light and dark contrast."
All last summer she rode on horseback along narrow "old-fashioned" country roads, "with the grass growing up through the middle", off the N25 in west Co Waterford. "As you are riding along, you are seeing the changes. It's the slowness of going on the horse, when you have the time to amble along, that allows you to notice things that are happening."
Her work also features close-up studies of wild flowers and insects. Appropriately, the sisters have called their joint show, which is about to move to Waterford, Natural History - Áilleacht Chroí, evoking scientists who have put natural phenomena under a microscope.
They say Gai Morrissey their art teacher at Coláiste Múire, the Mercy Convent Secondary School in Dungarvan, was inspirational; they have also kept drawings by their late father, Tom Clancy, the Los Angeles-based actor and founding member of The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem - masters of ballads and folk songs who created a worldwide interest in traditional Irish music from the 1960s onwards.
A love of art "just runs in the family", says Rayleen. "Our father would have encouraged us. We were definitely encouraged to pursue art. The family background is performing or artistic."
"I met Tom in 1967 in Mooney's" says Joan, referring to an old sweet shop in Ring. They married in 1968. "Tom was from Carrick-on-Suir, and I was from Dungarvan." Although they lived for many years in the US, each year they came "back to our roots" in Co Waterford.
Since the gallery opened, Joan has run about five shows there each year, exhibiting a wide range of artists, from Michael Mulcahy to Janet Pierce. She has found that "people are looking for something…" - she pauses, looking for the right word -"unique".