There is an element of freedom in every piece that Maggie O’Brien paints. A fluidity that is both delicate and captivating, from land and seascapes that bring the colours and sense of a Cornish dawn to canvas, or moments of tender, quiet piece seen from a vase of flowers in the light of the window. Capturing the essence of each scene, is Maggie’s quest as an artist.
In what can be described as ‘a lost season’ Maggie has been itching to show her new body of work, created earlier this year, at the Summerhouse Gallery, a place where she has exhibited work for the entire of the gallery’s ten-year existence. The exhibition, ‘Morning Has Broken’, offers bright, happy colours that celebrate hope and optimism and ultimately the freedom of Cornwall.
“Landscape and still life are my interpretations of the visual world around me. I make other, more personal works which explore the social, environmental and personal concerns that I have I have about life, these projects often run alongside my more commercial work and opportunities to show it tend to be rare, it’s important to keep making it though.”
Originally, at aged 18, Maggie was keen to go to art school but was encouraged to go to university, with that idea that she could always come back to art again. It would be 14 years, after signing up to a watercolour class, until she would rediscover her passion and drive to paint once more.
“As soon as I got back into art, I couldn’t stop,” Maggie explained, “by this time I had three small children and was also working part-time, then in 1997 I began a one day a week foundation course at Central St Martin’s in London, it was brilliant fun.”
A painting degree swiftly followed at Camberwell and then an MA in Wimbledon, after that, Maggie juggled teaching painting with a job in marketing at the Home Office, “Finally, in 2006, we upped sticks and moved to Cornwall, which enabled me to paint full-time.”
A nationally recognised painter, Maggie and her family settled in St Just. As a newly arrived painter in Cornwall, Maggie was soon overwhelmed by the sheer raw and powerful beauty of West Penwith, “I’d never painted landscape before, so I spent the first months experimenting and pouring over ‘How to’ books. It might sound off, but art school doesn’t teach you have to paint, you just get space, time and critical feedback. All valuable but finding your own vocabulary of pigments and mark making is a question of trial and error. I’m still learning! Style tends to evolve gradually and keeps developing. I change myself, and it would be boring if I didn’t.”
During spring, Maggie finds herself more drawn to still
life, a time to capture the glorious flora and fauna but a lot of her works are
created in her studio and from her imagination, even her still life paintings,
“It’s partly muscle memory, I know the landscape, the garden plants and my favourite objects so well I don’t need to look at them. If I do, I’ll put too much detail in and as the years pass, I am less and less interested in strict representation. I prefer the finish things in one sitting – I work wet in wet and will lose the mood if I have to wait.
“Taking risks keeps it fun and alive and gives the painting life too.”
Inspired by the likes of Joan Eardley, Ivon Hitchens, Patrick Hero and Whistle, plus many more, Maggie finds endless inspiration her the Cornwall landscape. Now living in Boskenna just above St Loy, the stunning cove and wooded valley provides ample opportunity for Maggie to find new visions for her works,
“Most days I walk my dog, Sky, down to the cove – it’s different everyday with spectacular light and changing tides and seasons. In spring the woods are full of wild narcissi followed by bluebells and clouds of cow parsley and campion in May. Where I live feeds my soul, as does the garden.”
Bringing the wilderness of her surroundings to her works requires inventiveness and risk-taking Maggie has honed over her years as a painter, but her dedication to finding and embodying a sense of freedom is also something that she values deeply,
“I want to paint the essence of whatever I’m painting,” she says, “the paintings always reflect my mood and what’s happening in my life – I value atmosphere and emotional communication above all else in my work. Light is probably my main focus – that and weather – I am interested in the elemental, particularly living and working in Cornwall.”
All of Maggie’s new works for Morning Has Broken were completed in February and March, a productive time of the year for many artists preparing for the spring and summer seasons.
“Spring comes so early in Cornwall and it’s a time of hope and optimism,” Maggie says, “this collection has a lot of bright colours. I have a blissful two weeks working on Tresco then returned with a mad urge to paint still life. Covid-19 meant that there hasn’t been much opportunity to show the work – so I’m delighted that the Summerhouse Gallery have put this collection together.”
Bringing life, essence and freedom to still life, ‘Morning Has Broken’ captures a wealth tenderness surrounding this year’s spring, from the ethereal light shining indoors on a baking bowl to an early morning walk on a quiet beach with the dog. Even during a time when our freedom has been so limited, Maggie O’Brien has managed to capture an essence of freedom the simplest and perhaps most beautiful, of life’s pleasures.
You can see more of Maggie O’Brien’s work at The Summer House Gallery both online and in the gallery www.summerhousegallery.co.uk
The Summerhouse Gallery