Aisling Drennan found a new audience for, and engagement with, her work online after the pandemic struck
THIS time last year Clare artist Aisling Drennan was facing into an uncertain future with all of her scheduled exhibitions were cancelled due to Covid-19.
However, the Lisdoonvarna born, London-based abstract painter has managed to turn this setback into an opportunity and is now showcasing her works all over the world and expanding into new markets.
Recalling when her shows were cancelled last year she says, “I just felt that everything had fallen apart and I didn’t know how to pick the pieces up and mend them back together.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that – a pure sense of loss of control. Of course, countless people also felt the same in the face of uncertainty.”
However, it wasn’t long before she decided to take positive action.
“There are times when you have to stand back from a situation and assess what you can do.
“I’m a big believer in being proactive. I recognised I had tools at hand through my online presence but I’d never made them ‘work’ for me. I had a website but I had never done much with it plus a small social media following and wanted to use these as a starting point to reach out to people.
“Initially, I didn’t feel very confident about putting myself ‘out there’ into the mass space that the internet takes up in our lives now.
“I felt vulnerable and awkward but then I realised I am a pinprick in the ocean that is online presence and online presence is what I needed to keep my work moving during Covid, so I just thought ‘what’s the worst that can happen’.”
A year later and she has connected with art collectors from around the world, has expanded her studio space to make more work and she now sells the majority of her paintings and prints through her website.
“Covid has literally opened up a new market for me as so many people are working from home looking to fill their walls with points of interest, escapism and to meet the Covid Zoom call trend of having something of interest in the backdrop of their calls.
“I think this all ties together with how people want to represent themselves, how they want to be seen.
“It’s comparable to how you would select clothing; ‘does this suit me, does this painting say it’s my taste, do the walls of my home represent me’?
“Traditionally artwork would have predominantly been bought through galleries but the online market for art is reshaping how people view and purchase work.
Art, the artist and how art is made is extremely accessible now. I’m very active on Instagram and do live studio updates every Wednesday at 6pm to chat about what’s been happening in my studio and show my current work.
“Collectors hear and see the story and process behind each painting learning the ins and outs of what I do, they almost become part of the making of the work.
“I get a lot of DMs after I chat about my paintings from customers curious to know more- opening up my studio to the online world has helped me build relationships with people.
“A recent collector asked to know more about how I made the painting and I was able to tag her in each reel/ IGTV/ post where I was working on her painting.
“I think this is great because I’m finding more and more that people want to understand how the work was made, the story behind it so they can share that on their Zoom call or dinner party, when allowed again, rather than just buying the painting without meeting the artist or understanding how the painting was made and its ethos.
“Also if someone contacts me about a painting they’ve seen on my website, we can set up a Zoom call from my studio and virtually view the painting before purchase. I’m very open, honest and authentic about what I do and I think people appreciate that.”
The award-winning artist has a full-time studio in London, where she lives with her husband Simon and their dog Nina Simone.
When she is in Lisdoonvarna she is lucky to be able to share a studio pace with her mother, acclaimed artist Doreen Drennan.
“London is great, but I feel like I need a break from it every couple of months as it’s so fast paced; having a quieter space to work at home is a real comfort,” she says.
Unfortunately, with Covid-19 Aisling hasn’t been able to visit home for some time. She tells us that London’s lock-down was “very surreal”.
“I walked through Regent’s Street during the second lockdown and only met one other person, no tourists, the London Eye stopped turning and I could hear the birds in the morning as there was no traffic.
“We haven’t been home since Christmas 2019 which has been really hard. I am so homesick for a walk on Fanore beach or a drink in McDermott’s in Doolin.”
Her artwork may be taking the world by storm, but it was as a dancer with Riverdance that a young Aisling first found international acclaim.
She started touring with the show at 16 and stayed on tour for almost ten years, describing it as an “unforgettable experience”.
She performed in more than 400 cities covering 43 countries and over five continents. All the time she had her sketchbook in her suitcase, and made sure to check out the many museums and galleries in every city she performed in.
It was during a residency in Boston in 2007 she began to feel it was the “beginning of the end” of full time touring with Riverdance.
“It was a Saturday morning and I stopped to pick up the Boston Globe to flick through their culture section while doing my hair and makeup before the show.
“There was an article about a ballerina who was about to retire with a caption reading ‘Leave the stage before the stage leaves you’.”
That resonated with her in a number of ways as she had begun to miss home.
“I also felt an itch to start studying as I wanted to put everything I had seen into practice. I spent four years completing my Bachelors in Fine Art at Centre for Creative Arts & Media, GMIT before moving onto my Masters fine art at Central Saint Martins.
“I realised when I began attending art history and critical thinking lectures I had seen most of the major art collections internationally through my dancing career which was a bit bizarre.
“I had built a good relationship with Riverdance and they invited me back on tour every summer and Christmas break which was a great soft landing to starting my new career. I didn’t really move from dance to art, it was more of an enjoyable overlap.”
Remembering her time with the show she says, “I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of finishing the show to a standing ovation from thousands of people, it’s electric.
“It was also a bit surreal at times, like when leaving the stadium people were gathering at the stage door for your autograph, I used to think, really, you want my autograph?”
She made deep-rooted friendships along the way and still stays in touch, even dancing Riverdance with her fellow dancers at her wedding in Doolin in 2019.
She believes that her artistic career has been made possible by the lessons she learned with the dance group and the support of her family.
“None of this would have been possible without Riverdance, and Riverdance would not have been possible for me without my parents.
“I fully appreciate the time and effort they put into bringing my sisters and I to Irish dance classes and putting up with me detesting having to put my rollers in my hair for feises!
“For me, Riverdance wasn’t just a career, it was an education and the basis that my art practice would build on. For these reasons, and many more, I know I’ll cherish my time with Riverdance for the rest of my life.”
She continues, “The values I learned as a dancer have definitely fed into my work as an artist. I’ve reflected a lot on the importance of self-discipline and recognise I would not have had the career I did as a dancer without it and certainly, it’s pushed me in my work as an artist.
“No-one is going to tell you to get to your studio and paint in the same way no one told me to practice my steps when I was younger. You have to want to do these things and that requires a lot of self-application.”
Her current painting practice is concerned with stone wall formations, telling us she is “drawn to their heaviness of form yet lightness of appearance”.
“Of course in County Clare we have the Burren and its limestone which has been a great source of influence, but I like to experiment with various stone formations.”
The majority of her buyers are from Ireland, followed by those from the UK, US and she recently sent work to Australia for the first time.
“As an Irish artist, I’m particularly appreciative of the amount of support I’ve had from home. Ireland has a massively rich cultural history and I think Irish people are proud of this.”
Interested in Aisling’s work? Check Instagram @aisling_drennan_art or her website www.AislingDrennan.com