“She’s genuinely passionate about painting,” were the words a colleague of mine used to describe Maria Noonan-McDermott: “Not just her own practice, but the work of other artists very different from herself”. I discovered the truth of this assessment when I visited Maria not long after.
Maria Noonan-McDermott: Story-telling with paintings
The walls of her house were covered with an array of paintings and it was inspiring to listen to her talk about her collection. Each individual work had a personal significance and Maria never stopped to compare it with her own.
When asked if her emphasis on spirituality and beauty could be more widely disseminated in modern art, she responded:
“It takes all kinds of people to make up a world, and it takes an eclectic mix of artists to keep modern art interesting”.
Such an inclusive attitude can be identified throughout Maria’s work. Her paintings seek to capture a “single event” in one person’s history in a way that speaks to the universal experience that can be shared by her viewers. For Maria, painting is a form of story-telling that allows everyone to “become the narrator”.
As a child she was quiet and shy, surrounded by a family of story-tellers.
Intriguing and Enigmatic
She was therefore drawn to painting as a medium of communal narration, one that “doesn’t belong to any one person”.
Yet, her subjects remain intensely personal — allowing the viewer to experience a sense of intimacy with the artist.
At work in her studio — a blue beach-hut like construction modelled on a French watering-can — Maria overflows with the story of each painting. Listening to her describe the figure of her father in the painting: Gentle Papa brings tears to your eyes, and yet Maria candidly admits: “My father looked nothing like that.”
Instead, her father figure embodies generic, paternal qualities — allowing the viewer to reconnect with their own memories and associations, while sharing in those of the artist.
It is for this reason that Maria’s work is so intriguing and enigmatic.
Her figures are usually “devoid of features” — a quality that allows them to become “ingrained in the landscape”. A mixture of the surreal, pastoral and naturalistic, Noonan-McDermott is a truly impressionistic painter. Her figures emerge from the shadows and mingle with reflected colours from the surrounding undergrowth. Their attitudes are caught in a moment of motion and suggest a range of possibilities. Yet, Noonan-McDermott’s eye for colouring is one of exquisite detail: capturing woodland scenes at a particular hour of the day — a period when light transforms form into something that is unstable and flickering.
In Jack B. Yeats Footsteps
Her unique combination of the abstract and concrete is a quality derived from her particularised technique. Noonan-McDermott paints exclusively with a palette knife: a method she was inspired to try when an art student studying Jack B. Yeats. The use of the knife allowed Maria to recreate the impasto effect that she found so inspiring in Yeats’ work.
The impasto technique is a unique way of creating depth and dimension through stressing the painterly method of a work. As such, impasto renders the tactility of a painted object in a way that emphasises its reality as an artist’s impression: thus uniting the artist’s reality with that of the external world. Noonan-McDermott’s work makes use of heavy layers of colouring in order to build up structure through texture. This allows her to embrace an art practice that can be both detailed and abstract.
Her work captures the varied nuances of colour in a pastoral scene, as well as the complexity of surface in an object. However, the fundamental reality of the painting as a series of thickly applied colours gives the impression that it has a second reality as an abstract experiment in colour patterning. In this, she shares Jack B. Yeats’ emphasis on the object as a material reality that emerges from out of the illusion of colour.
Noonan-McDermott’s interest in the nature of painting as linked to both self-expression and the outside world is connected to her highly inclusive philosophy of art. “I like the mystery of revealing a theme where the viewer becomes involved, almost immersed in the scene,” she says of her technique. Indeed, establishing a connection with her audience is of fundamental importance to Maria. While living in Dublin, she was inspired to create a series of paintings depicting the homeless as a way of portraying the disenfranchised. Her website Voicebox Art was created with the intention of providing the disadvantaged with a voice.
Maria also seeks to be inspired by the everyday and the presence of all who surround her: “I love people, I am intrigued and fascinated by them,” she claims, and this is why she paints. Her work strives to achieve “a positive appreciation of everything” and in this she focuses on the ordinary things that we can all relate to. Her family life, the stories of her childhood, the experiences of birth and bereavement are the topics of her work. She is continually drawn back to her formative experiences in a small village in Donegal. It was here, growing up, that she developed a sense of unity with the landscape where the fields were her “playing grounds”. Her father referred to Maria and her siblings as “the alley cats” because they were entirely free in their exploration of the land.
… And Words
Her work strongly resonates with the Irish rural identity where human experience is infused with the spirituality of nature. This is also expressed in her poetry, which often accompanies her work in exhibitions:
I am the wind,
echoing and reverberating,
powerful and strong,
making an impact
for just a brief moment
before retreating again
into the heavenly skies.
From Growing Pains
Maria’s approach to painting is fundamentally organic and spiritual, and in this lies her essential appeal as an artist. Together her paintings express a “biography of her life”: her most personal and profound experiences.
Yet, she is willing to give these experiences to the care of the viewer. In the tradition of the Irish Cailleach Feasa, the storyteller, Maria strives to tell stories that all can connect with and embellish.
She is truly “excited” when her audience relates to her pictures on “a different level from her own” and enjoys the sensation of letting her paintings have a new life outside of the studio. Such integrity of expression comes through in her work, which actively seeks to involve its audience — both in its inclusive subject-matter and its allusive technique.
Her warmth as a person and her genuine appreciation for the work of other artists reflects her desire to use art as a form of communication with others. “We are all connected,” she says “who knows what chance meetings might lead to — you, at this moment, are a case in point”.