We recently went to see Helen Merrigan Colfer’s solo exhibition at the Alley Gallery, Strabane. She is a sculptor & painter. She lives & works on the tip of the Hook Head Peninsula, County Wexford, Ireland. She works with resin & steel. Her work is quite incredible and very engaging.
This exhibtion included paintings, many resin sculptures and parts of her lockdown diaries that started as a series of notes she wrote for her mother-in-law Noreen, who was living “with” (but cocooned) Helen and her husband during lockdown.
Portrait of Noreen – Helen Merrigan Colfer
The scultpures were all about the same size, I didn’t measure them but I would say they were about 2 foot high. There was work there from 2016 and more recently. The earlier work was highly coloured but darker and heavier. This is not surprising as these pieces in Tribes and Tribulations was made while she was recovering from childhood trauma. Her counsellor encouraged her to return to her art after emotional difficulties meant she had given up.
It is evident that she is working through disturbing emotions. The eyes of all the figures of the scultpures were either hidden behind a mask/bag or closed. Shoes are a theme too – I was drawn to the large red boots and shoes that many of the the figure wore. The arms of the figures were either missing or constrained by corset/straight-jacketed affairs. There are some free arms, but those are the later works that seem lighter, paler and more at peace. The smaller the shoes the lighter the emotions.
I don’t think you needed to know the details of her dyfunctional childhood to realise that there was a lot of frustration, anger and grief in these work. They contrast quite starkly with the out-pouring of love for her mother-in-law, Noreen, in the lockdown letters. We all remember lockdown as a frustrating and frightening time when many emotions were heightened. Noreen was clearly cocooned in love, even if it was from a distance. I liked the mixture of letters, sculptures, video and paintings. I found it an invigorating mix.
This is a touring exhibition but I don’t know where it will be headed to next but its well worth seeing.
Helen Merrigan Colfer
Video link to the exhibition here