Reconstructing Memory – Irish Independent

What Lies Beneath

For Sligo-based artist Clea van der Grijn, there were “too many lost years trying to be something I was not. I was a rather hedonistic creature and hedonism did not serve me well”.

But the found years have delivered an extraordinary, impressively varied body of work, including painted fabric, a locust sculpture, film, a gold death mask, a box of taxidermied frogs and this recent work, Marigold Field IV.

Clea van der Grijn, “full of Dutch blood”, has been places. “Travel has been the essence of my everything: my solitude, my saviour.”

Reconstructing memory
Marigold Fields, Oil on linen 152 x 152 cm

This large painting is one of seven vibrant works inspired by a residency in Mexico. “I was in Sayulita, a small sleepy village in the jungle.”

Her children went to the local primary school and van der Grijn and her family spent four months travelling around Mexican graveyards.

On Cemetery Sunday in Ireland a community remembers its dead with an outdoor Mass. In Ukraine, on the first Sunday after Easter, a shot of vodka is poured on graves to quench the dead; and in Mexico, on Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, November 2, people picnic in cemeteries and bring marigolds believing that “their bright colours and aroma lure the spirits of the dead souls to visit their families for a day”.

Back in Sligo, Clea “spent three years growing acres of marigolds – the whole community helped – planting seeds, growing, heading, drying”, and she remembered how, in Sayulita, orange blossoms lined the trails from home to gravestones.

In Mexico she witnessed “an incredible sense of community and family who, without exception, hang out at the graves every year to celebrate their dead loved ones”.

For van der Grijn “death and life walk hand in hand” and she believes that “death is something not dark”. When her brother died she honoured him through a residency in the North West Hospice.

Though its subject matter is death, Marigold Field IV is ablaze with beauty. Painting is “visceral and deeply calming” and she says that “there is nothing figurative or representational” about the Marigold series. “Abstract. Certainly abstract, yet they still have an ethos of both transience and journey.” That longest journey. Life’s journey.