An Interview with Artist Gráinne Dowling

Contemporary Irish Writers Series



Gráinne Dowling, an Irish artist whose work is exhibited on the covers of the Contemporary Irish Writers series, shares insight into her artistic process, inspirations, her experience as an evolving artist, as well as a few of her favorite works and the stories behind them.

When asked about inspiration, Ms. Dowling explains that it is more a matter of attention than inspiration. It is about immersing herself in her surroundings, getting lost in a landscape, in life, and then letting it show her something striking, bringing her back to earth and motivating her to create a new work of art.  She recalls a repeated cycle that she experiences:

“I walk frequently in a beautiful parkland at the foot of the Dublin Mountains. There are days, months even, when I am aware that I am not seeing as I pass through and by the trees and water.  I am distracted from life, by life.  Then, I turn or lift my head and am shocked or gripped by something that trips me back into seeing.  And I begin again.”

Once something is called to her “attention,” Ms. Dowling goes out into the landscape, bringing   “everything but the kitchen sink.  Paints, pencils, charcoal copper plates, etching needles…the lot!”  After trying them all she will settle down to one medium.  This process of choosing the right medium generally takes a couple of hours, but could even take a couple of days.  For her creative process, “The medium follows the view.”  More recently, Ms. Dowling has worked in print, creating etchings from drawings or photographs, and even sometimes drawing directly on the plate from life as it “gives an immediacy or life to the line.”

Over the years her attention has shifted in subject matter. Though she is more intent on landscape now, her mother has always occupied her center of interest in addition to the turbulent times of the ‘60s and ‘70s, politically and morally.  As a young artist, Ms. Dowling remembers being “committed and optimistic and directly responsive to all that was presenting itself through the media.”   She recalls specifically “doing a large pen and ink drawing having stood up and left the television coverage of Bloody Sunday and going directly to work in confusion and passion to express the intense emotion I felt.”  For Dowling, it seems that her work “is always in and about Ireland. And yet I find myself wondering what it is.  Birth place? Soil?”  It is “too vast a question” for her to answer explicitly, but Ireland is always there, always a subject for attention in one way or another, which is perhaps what made her artwork an ideal choice for the Contemporary Irish Writers Series.


Artist’s Favorites


Of Ms. Dowling’s collection of works, of few of her favorites include: “The Artist’s Mother” (charcoal), “Wintering With Snow” (Etching), and “Achill Sunset” (watercolor).  For the first, the artist’s mother has always been a lifelong interest, and now that Dowling herself is a mother, and grandmother, she sees herself “in a mirror within which the mystery continues.”  As for the second, the work is inspired by a poem of Dowling’s American friend, Samuel Menashe.  It is short piece on the “glorious mystery of Snow on the Dublin mountains,” the poet remembering when he was engulfed into the Battle of the Bulge during World War II:

The Dead of Winter

In my coat I sit

At the window sill

Wintering with snow

That did not melt

It fell long ago

At night, by stealth

I was where I am

When the snow began

The third work, “Achill Sunset,” was completed by the artist more immediately on a day when “the light was shocking after all that rain and mist for days.” She grabbed her paints and hopped in the car, knowing she had “only about fifteen minutes to get the paint down before everything changed.”  And she managed.  It is moments like these that call to Dowling’s attention and bring her back into seeing, a fleeting moment in nature—“the source and entrance into imaginative memory.”


–Alana Jajko, 2014-15 Cynthia Fell Intern