“The children looked like remnants of themselves. Spectral. Some were naked to the waist. Many of them had sores on their faces. None had shoes. He could see the structures of them through their skin. The bony residue of their lives.” - writer Colum McCann
When I began this series of paintings, they were intended to become vibrant abstracts. The colors were there, the movement, the texture. And then I began to see the faces. A bit haunting, not fully formed but wanting to be seen. Earlier in the week, when visiting the artist Alan Hall, I had the chance to peruse the book The Truth Behind the Irish Famine, by Jerry Mulvilhill, which Alan had on his dining room table. I found the illustrations gritty and disturbing, perfectly suited for the subject and the raw emotion it creates. I think they were lodged in my subconscious when I began painting.
There is evidence of the famine throughout Ireland. It wasn't that long ago, really. The mid 1800's, almost 100 years after America's independence and just a few years before the Emancipation Proclamation. The Irish continue to examine and research and process the famine similar to how the U.S. continues to struggle with the legacy of slavery. Some things cross over generations, and the weight is palpable.
My own mother was of Irish descent, and her father's family fled Ireland on one of the famine ships, Standing here in the land of my maternal ancestry, I can feel the sadness fill up my boots and root me to the ground.