“People would ask me all the time if my parents wanted me to go into nursing or be a teacher, do law or medicine. Never. My parents have always supported me in what I wanted to do my entire life.”
— Sheenagh Geoghegan, Visual Artist
Saturday, September 28th
Sheenagh Geoghegan was the first person I met on the Land Art Road Trip. We sat quietly beside each other in the shuttle from the Salt Lake City Airport towards our hotel. Her eyes were tired with a sense of relief, which, I found out later, was the result of a series of flight delays forcing her to travel for 24 hours. Despite that, she was incredibly kind and continued to remain that way despite many personal difficulties she faced on this trip. Before making it out here, I had assumed I would have the most trouble adapting to sleeping outdoors, but surprisingly I wasn’t. Up until this point, Sheenagh had developed severe insomnia and could not find peace within herself to fall asleep at night, no matter if we were sleeping in a tent or a motel room. I wasn’t sure how she was making it through, but I became proud of her never giving up despite the pain her body was giving her.Taking longer to adapt, she tried her absolute best to seek comfort in this ever changing environment. Although she greatly appreciated the beauty we were exposed to, I don’t think that did her any good at night. Instead, she found her happiness in the people she had the opportunity to meet, not only in the group, but at many of the places we visited.
Claiming to be shy, no one in the group would ever describe Sheenagh with that adjective. She is a great listener, an open talker, a highly educated artist with a large heart and an immense capacity for love and adoration. She cares for everyone in the group and is able to communicate with all of us in an honest and understanding way. As our journey continues, she has started to feel like an older sister to me. We have quickly formed a very close and trusting relationship, which we both find incredibly interesting with our age difference. Sheenagh is ten years older than me and in a completely different stage of her life. She has already done multiple international residencies in Italy, Ireland and Canada. She has participated in many shows and has just recently received a master’s degree at the Slade School of Art in London. Sheenagh is also one of the few on this trip who has not worked with or even heard of Gerson Zevi before being offered a spot on this amazing trip. She was scouted by curator, Alma Zevi at her final show at the Slade School of Art. Her work is what got her here and her work is what she never ceases to do no matter the situation. Even in unfavorable environments, Sheenagh has been painting, sketching, writing or taking photographs. She has often taken found pieces from the places we have visited and used them to create a collage, anything from a wrapper to a scrap of paper. She never stops creating and has even opted to pass up certain sights to take the time to do her art work. That is dedication.
Sitting on the floor surrounded by the many works she has already created halfway through the trip, she presents each of her pieces, which were done with a variety of tools: water colors, fountain pens, and scraps collected on our travels. I was in shock of how much she has done. It seems that out of everyone, Sheenagh has been affected by the Land Art Road Trip the most.
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Q + A W/SHEENAGH GEOGHEGAN
VISUAL ARTIST - TIPPERARY, IRELAND
SM: Have you just been responding to everything that we’ve seen on this trip through your art work?
SG: Yeah, it’s been really important for me. Before I got here, and for a very long time now, I’ve always been very interested in the idea of one thing countering another. Not necessarily in a balanced way, but I love opposition. I love the idea of opacity beside translucency, geometry beside organic lines. It’s not like they’re having a fight or anything, but sometimes one wins over the other. There still has to be that dialogue, though, because I think so many of us- we’re one, but there are so many conflicting elements to us. Sometimes there’s one thing you like, but then there’s another that completely opposes that. So, my work is very much like us. I hope that they’re dynamic and I hope that they encompass all of the paradoxes that we all have. What I always love are layers and the idea that we’re all kind of like an archive of experiences. Each minute, each hour, we’re somehow gaining more. I like to think about the residual, the things that we absorb that we’re not even aware of on a conscious level.
“What I always love are layers and the idea that we’re all kind of like an archive of experiences. Each minute, each hour, we’re somehow gaining more.”
SM: You’ve also been writing a lot of songs while you’ve been here. Are those related to the paintings and collages you’ve been doing, or are they separate entities?
SG: I feel like for people in general, everything they do informs everything else they do. I think it would be naive for me to say that they’re separate. So many of my art works are rhythmic to me; I think that music and painting, and I’m sure music and all forms of art, are really similar. Particularly with music, you have harmonies, which you can have with color and rhythm, which equate to pattern. So both my songs and paintings have something that could be seen as pattern. The songs that I’ve written here weren’t done on purpose, like they weren’t a conscious thing. I wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to write songs here!” It’s just when Adam [Brochstein] bought a guitar while we were in Nevada that I felt that I’d really love to play. Part of me wishes that I was braver about it and I was good about performing, but unlike the paintings, that’s something that you can do in private. You can hang paintings or chose not to hang them; either way, you can step away from them. With music, I find it so hard performing because it’s you and you can’t step away from it. So, it makes me really nervous. I always feel like I’m such a better singer when I’m on my own.
SM: Yeah, I remember when you were singing in the Sun Tunnels. Were you aware that everyone was listening to you?
SG: I totally was aware that Chris [Willcox] was. While we were at the Sun Tunnels I knew that it was something I had to do because the acoustics there were so heavenly, literally just amazing. The circles in them, not only were they invigilating a million views of the landscape and the stars, but also being inside the tunnel, it was a musical instrument. The artist behind the work, Nancy Holt, is a musician herself, and I just knew that she would have wanted someone sing in them or enjoy them. Each of them sounded different. I was really nervous, but at the same time I was kind of like, fuck it. I’m just going to do it and get the hell over myself.
“While we were at the Sun Tunnels I knew that it was something I had to do because the acoustics there were so heavenly, literally just amazing. The circles in them, not only were they invigilating a million views of the landscape and the stars, but also being inside the tunnel, it was a musical instrument.”
SM: I’ve noticed that you’ve overcome a lot of your fears on this trip. In the beginning, you seemed very uncomfortable with sleeping outdoors and now you’re more calm about it.
SG: That’s actually been amazing because I really do have a completely irrational fear of snakes. It’s completely irrational and I know that. It’s just something I’ve had a fear of since I was a very young child; maybe it was Indiana Jones or something. What really bothers me is that I really love animals and I like being around them. I particularly think that snakes are really beautiful and incredible in the way they move, but they have just always freaked the hell out of me. To be honest, I’ve been okay. Matteo [Zevi] has been the best because when I was really gripped by fear our first night at the Spiral Jetty, everyone else was just sweet and really kind, understanding and supportive. Matteo just gave me a really strong look and said, “There is nothing to be afraid of. They are more afraid of you.” Somehow it really shook me. I don’t know if it’s because he said it with such conviction or just the pure fact that he’s 23. He’s 10 years younger than me and he’s like my dad! How pathetic am I!?
SM: That helped you though?
SG: Yeah, it totally helped me. It helped me because I realized how silly it was. The real things, the things in life that we should be terrified about are our worst nightmares. Things like losing a parent, a brother, a sister, a boyfriend, a girlfriend- that is the worst. Everything else is silly and pointless to let it take such hold. On our first night when I went to go sleep in the van, I just felt so low about myself and how I was allowing this completely irrational thing to completely govern my state of mind. I think this whole experience has been so enriching because it’s really made me think that life is for living. Sure, we’re all afraid of things, but we shouldn’t allow them to stop us from enjoying life and pursuing the things we’d like to do.
SM: What else have you taken from this experience? You’ve done a lot of artwork on this trip, probably more than most. I feel like you’ve made it a priority.
SG: It was freezing the night we went out to the Lightning Field. The next morning I got up and I was just like, “I just have to work. I have to work.” I found a piece of paper, I couldn’t believe it and was overjoyed. I could not wait to work. I have just finished my MA in London and I’ve kind of been to-ing and fro-ing a lot all summer. I just haven’t had the opportunity to work, and when I work everything else goes away. It’s such a cliche, not necessarily in that it’s cathartic in an obvious way, it’s like a tic. It’s like a compulsion. I love playing around with shapes and colors, drawing; I love all of the materials. Simple stuff like what that blue can do with that red, how this red can make this look even pinker. I’ve always been like that. One of my earliest memories is holding my brother, Shane. He is one of my favorite people in the world. Mom and Dad bought us to Dublin and we were doing a day of shopping. First, they brought us to this shop and bought me this Crayola set, which was in a suitcase. I just sat in the car. The whole day, I didn’t want to leave the car. They were like, “No, we’re going to see Dublin,” and I was like, “No, no, no, I’m not.” I wanted to stay and draw. The joy from the potential of materials like paper, crayons, paint, you can just take it anywhere. You know that from writing. Words can take you anywhere.
SM: How old were you then?
SG: Maybe three or four? No, I couldn’t have been. They wouldn’t have left me in the car. I can’t even remember what happened. I think the deal was they were like, “Okay, well, we can’t leave you in the car, so we’ll just bring the box around with us all day.” I was also quite OCD, like not wanting to open them either. I was like, “Can I just look at them?”
SM: That’s really funny. So you’ve always been artistic then? From when you were a young kid?
SG: Yes. My father’s a carpenter, my mother’s a nurse. So they’re both really creative. They’re both really good with their hands, but they’ve never had the opportunities that I had to even do art in school, nevermind-- study it at university. When I told my parents I was applying to art college, they just looked at me and said, “What else would you do?” It was never a question. I get it a lot at home because I’m a country girl. People would ask me all the time if my parents wanted me to go into nursing or be a teacher, do law or medicine. Never. My parents have always supported me in what I wanted to do my entire life. As a child I had really bad eyesight, so I had an operation on my eyes. I wore a patch and I’ve worn glasses since I was four, which I still should wear all the time. People are quite baffled by an artist who doesn’t wear her glasses, but I always feel that I see enough. I mean, I wear them reading so I don’t get a headache. I wear them sometimes for drawing, if I can find them. If I can see where they are! I was a really awkward kid and there was never a time where I didn’t love coloring. It was always my number one favorite thing to do.
SM: So trips like this where you get to just focus on art. I mean this is different because we’re constantly moving and camping, is probably really special for you.
SG: I think if I lived a hundred years I could never really find the words to say how much I loved this trip, how much I owe Matteo and Alex. All artists are quite shy, not shy, but reticent. We need down time. We need to be alone to do what we do. There’s been such a respect for that. Also, there are such fascinating people here. People who are just easy company. I’m quite insecure and I feel like a lot of the time I have quite a heavy, hard internal monologue that’s quite mean. I’ve been just so happy here and we’ve seen such incredible things. Nothing prepared me for what we’ve seen. It’s the people, though. Not only the people in this amazing group, but like people we’ve met at the pubs here. People who we’ve just randomly met who have just really touched me. Some of my favorite parts were driving through some of the most beautiful landscapes that I’ve ever seen, but also I love the dichotomy of leaving them and then driving through these areas where there are these shacks.
SM: I’ve noticed that. You always photograph the really lame, barren neighborhoods that we happen to pass through.
SG: They are my favorite things to photograph because there you see the things that I love: geometric shapes set against the sky and how the colors look there. I keep saying it, but I feel like so many things I’ve seen in those towns remind me of album covers. So, just taking them as ideas for color combinations but also because I love the opposition. The natural with the unnatural, the rigid beside the messy. I always love that. I love conflict and opposition. We’re all both Yin and Yang.
SM: Has there been a specific piece that we’ve seen on this trip that you really loved or that has affected you more than the other ones?
SG: To be honest, Double Negative was my favorite for a while. I thought it was really profound that we made such an amazing journey to see something that had been taken away. Then the Lightning Field, when the sun went down that night and it sparkled for a split second. I looked over at one of the poles and it caught that sparkle. The Lightning Field, that whole experience, it’s a really incredible piece. So many of the pieces we see, everytime you go back you see something different. They perpetuate, which is such a beautiful thing and so strong.
SM: What do you plan to do when you leave this trip?
SG: I’m going back home to Ireland. I would love to show these pieces in London or New York. Just a small pop-up show would be nice.
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Originally published on Promote & Preserve.