The time has come to welcome my very first guest, as promised, to Writing Home.
I’ve been looking forward to this! It is a true joy for me to introduce you to my good friend, Northern Irish artist Pauline Gribben. Pauline and I are neighbours living ‘just down the road’ from each other, as we say in Northern Ireland. The meeting of our paths 7 years ago has enriched my life with friendship, encouragement, and creative inspiration. I’m so grateful for this. We can’t sit at the kitchen table and chat over a cup of tea or coffee right now, as we are in lockdown, but I’m delighted that Pauline has joined me in this first in a series of Creative Conversations. It’s great that she has given me the opportunity to share some of her paintings and photographs here too! I hope you will enjoy spending some time in our company. You can see more of Pauline’s beautiful work on her Instagram at pollygribbencreates
Pauline, you are an architect by profession. Tell us about your journey into such a creative field.
By age 13 I had decided I wanted to become an architect – I think from an early sense of my desire to create ‘home’ and place. I loved seeing quaint cottages set in the Irish landscape as well as fabulous estate homes like Florence Court and Mount Stewart. I hadn’t much experience of the city since during the troubled 80’s we tended to avoid Belfast city centre. I studied in Glasgow at the School of Art which was a wonderful hub of creatives and designers, and a world away from rural Ballymena! I was exposed to city life and a wealth of knowledge of what good design entailed. I loved it and thrived!
You also paint and work with clay. Is there a particular creative medium that you prefer?
Since having a family I have stepped back from architecture and have found many ways to maintain a creative life. I’ve dabbled in many mediums from photography to pottery to painting and drawing. I love learning new skills! I’m not sure I could say which medium I prefer as there always ends up being cross-pollination of inspiration. I began pottery just over 3 years ago and I just love the real hands-on aspect of it – I’m a member of Songbird Ceramics studio and love the buzz of being part of a collective of creatives there.
Do you have any particular sources of inspiration in terms of people in your life or in history, books you have read, or artists you admire?
My husband and children are daily a source of inspiration to me and I am truly thankful for their love and patience! I have favourite architects and artists throughout history that I return to time and time again – they include Sverre Fehn, Scarpo, Vermeer, Cezanne, and John Sargent, to name but a few. I love many of Edith Schaeffer’s books. Modern art and the death of a culture by Hans Rookmakker was an interesting read as I tried to engage with modern art and architecture back in the early 2000s. I was recently gifted a wonderful book, The Explorers’ Sketchbook, which is an amazing collection of images and drawings from great explorers throughout the years. Journal entries and drawings were never so important as they presented their findings to ‘those back home’. Although they themselves sometimes did not survive the journey home, paper and ink often did, and preserved the artist’s feelings and imagination. It’s been an inspiring read! I have a host of inspirational friends who I so value and who have been so important for encouraging me. These range across a breadth of ages and nationalities, which only enhances the unique perspectives they give me.
Is Northern Ireland a good place to live for an artist?
We moved back to Northern Ireland about 8 years ago and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the quality of art, music, architecture and design that have evolved during our absence. In terms of architecture, I think buildings like the MAC (Municipal Arts Centre) in Belfast, designed by Hackett Hall McKnight, opened in 2012, raised the profile of Northern Irish architects and design in general. There is more of a demand for good design, and an increased interest in home improvements has a knock-on effect in the art world too. This past year of lockdown has seen so many developing new talents and small businesses taking off online. I’m not a huge fan of social media in general but I have to admit that Instagram has been a real source of inspiration to me, and a great venue for entrepreneurial small businesses. It’s been a new challenge for art galleries to display work online, though it’s not been so easy for the performance arts. I hope the increased interest in the arts will continue beyond the pandemic.
The sea features in your painting, recently especially. Can you explain why you are so drawn to the coast?
As an architect you could say that I was involved in designing ‘containers for space’, but the sea and sky are completely uncontained and without form! I find it a wonderful challenge to try to capture such an enigma on canvas. I think our north coast is particularly beautiful and unspoiled and provides a limitless supply of inspiration for me. I love the colour palate of blues, greens and greys too!
Do you find art helpful or therapeutic in any way? Has it been particularly helpful during the pandemic?
I’m quoting the Guardian when I say that this period of lockdown ‘could turn out to be our greatest period of creativity in the whole history of mankind.’ Boredom can be a powerful creative force and I think we’ve seen it in action this year. We’ve all been given this precious gift of time and the creative arts have been particularly helpful to get many of us through the difficult days. I found the discipline of painting every day really kickstarted my passion to paint and it has become one of my favourite times of the day. With four children being home-schooled right now, life is busy, but I try to carve out at least half an hour every day around the kitchen table with my paints… I’ve even found a few little people joining me for that time of creativity.
You are a Christian. How does your art relate to your faith?
Art is something which has been given for us to enjoy by our creative God. In our commercial world art has been given a price tag and treated like a production line of goods. Art is more than that – our human world is the richer for songs and poems and paintings. Creativity has the potential to really enrich our lives and our environments in meaningful ways. I would say that as with all things I do, I try to do it to the glory of God.
What are your thoughts about developing talent in other people?
We are all creatives and sometimes I think we have only to inspire each other to bring that to light! It’s not all about ‘great art’, and I like to consider the possibilities of ‘living’ artistically. After all, every time we choose a piece of furniture or paint colour for our wall, we are making an artistic decision. God has given us the capacity to appreciate the beauty of his creation, and sometimes it involves us educating and encouraging others to respond to it. Art satisfies and fulfils in the person creating, but also in those responding to what is created. I’ve been involved in developing creative talents in children and my own children for the past 15 years through home-school co-ops. Part of that education has definitely been introducing them to great pieces of art, whether at art galleries or in books, and getting them to respond. I’m delighted that several of my earliest ‘students’ have now completed art degrees.
During the pandemic we are all spending more time in our homes. How important do you think the home is in the development of a creative life?
Charlotte Mason was a Victorian Educationalist who had a lot of great things to say about education, but which I find helpful in terms of creativity in the home. She advocated that ‘atmosphere’ in the home was hugely influential in the educational development of a child. I think we can look at this perspective when we think of creativity in the home too. Edith Schaeffer said that our home was an expression of us, but also advocated that each of us as human beings are ‘an environment’ affecting the people we live and work with. What a challenge to think about the kind of ‘environment’ we are to live with! I love these verses in Proverbs 24 where it says, “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” Why not fill your rooms with those precious and pleasant riches?
In a previous post I mentioned the instruction given to the exiles in Jeremiah 29 v 5 to build houses and plant gardens. What relevance does this have today in your view?
I love this verse and they were told to do that even though their exile was only going to last 70 years – they were not ‘building for the future’ or for homes that would last. In 1Thess 4 it says, ‘make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.’ There is a real attraction and purpose in creating beauty in our everyday lives however that manifests itself. I’m looking forward to spring already and all the promise and hope that season brings – especially in the garden I planted back in Sept. The bulbs are promising a wonderful display of colour. God has made us each with a glorious purpose and He offers us life abundant!
'For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things’ Psalm 107:7