It was only wonderful to catch up with Niamh of Stang and Spindle who creates many various lovely artworks with numerous mediums. There is something very captivating about her work and style and as it relates to Druidry, both the old and the new paradigms, she really captures an energy that feels true to it’s being. Her work is akin to visually experiencing an imprint pulled through time and a reminder of what used to be or rather even, what still could be. Find her on instagram at @stangandspindle.
What is your background?
I was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and I still live in Dublin now, however as an adult I also lived in the West of Ireland which in my opinion is one of the most spectacular areas of the world in terms of natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Where did your love for art begin?
As a child the drawings in children’s books captivated me as much as the stories, I always found that art brought to me a place that was inaccessible in the mundane world; it opened a door in my imagination. I have always loved creating art or spending time in galleries. Luckily my parents supported my interest by sending me to art classes when I was young, and I was able to study art all the way through secondary school.
What was your first piece of artwork you did when you said to yourself I want to do this as a career?
It wasn’t so much a singular piece but when I was a teenager in an art class the teacher told me that I looked really happy when I was drawing – and I certainly felt it! When I’m drawing I feel like time moves really slowly, it feels incredibly therapeutic in our fast paced world. I have a full time job but I like it this way, it means I can take time out from creating if I feel burned out without worrying about finances, and I’m free to experiment with different styles and techniques.
What do you find is your biggest inspiration for your art?
In general it would be the wider field of Irish myth and legend, history and archaeology. Spending time in nature really recharges my creative batteries. The Irish landscape is so inspiring in it’s ancientness. I love the art that was created by Irish men and women at the turn of the 20th century, particularly those involved in the Theosophical Society in Dublin, like AE and Althea Gyles. I find a huge amount of inspiration from not only their finished pieces but also the ideas, poetry, stories and esoteric practices that inspired them. I also love many mid-century surrealist artists such as Freida Harris and Ithell Colquhoun, even though their styles are very different from my own. Seeing the works of my favourite artists in real life is always very inspiring and encourages me to create more art myself.
What were your favorite stories growing up that shaped your love for Irish mythology?
As a child we had a book that came with a video cassette called ‘Irish Myths and Legends for Children’ that had wonderful animations of all of the popular Irish myths. I think that really shaped me as a child! I remember watching it over and over and falling in love with the symbolism and depth of emotion in the stories. I bought the book again as an adult so that I can revisit it whenever I want to! In addition to that, fantasy art really inspired me growing up. I still love the art of Alan Lee and the Frouds for example, and I sometimes revisit their art books when I need some inspiration for sculpture or puppetry pieces.
Which mythological characters inspire you the most or you find you like drawing the most?
The sídh have always captured my imagination. I love AE’s depictions of them in particular however I find them hard to pin down on paper myself. Instead I focus on natural creatures and objects in my drawing, and classical European fanstasy creatures when I make sculpture or puppets.
How does the living Irish landscape impact your designs?
I believe that I would make different art or make art differently if I wasn’t raised in this landscape. There’s a connectedness to the land that I feel in my veins, and I like to think that some of this pours out onto the page when I draw and paint, in a manner that’s best described in the concept of ‘Awen’. I’m sure that our old Irish bards had a similar term. I am constantly in awe of the depth of the feelings that are invoked in me by spending time in the Irish landscape. I also get a lot of inspiration second-hand from others who have been inspired to create music and art based on the Irish landscape and it’s associations.
What is your favorite ancient Neolithic site(s) and why?
I love Newgrange, I know that’s pretty basic but the front-facing kerbstone with its chevrons and spirals never ceases to amaze me in person! Other than that I enjoy visiting ‘wild’ archaeological sites, the ones that still have beautiful wild nature surrounding them. I love passage tombs in particular. As an archaeologist I understand their construction and context however that hasn’t undone the awe I experience, I still find magic in the air when I visit them when I imagine the gatherings, rituals, stories and cosmologies that would have been enacted on the same spot thousands of years ago.
What personal practices spiritual or otherwise help you stay inspired, relaxed or focused on your craft?
It may sound strange but having a designated space that I can retreat to to draw or paint whenever I feel inspired is essential in keeping me motivated. I have always found that having a permanent space, regardless of the size, creates a liminal pocket that I can choose to enter to create. It’s a place that inspiration is allowed to freely flow regardless of what is happening around me. I fortify this space with music, art, natural objects and incense. I’ve lived in accommodation of varying types and sizes and when I haven’t had the capacity to set aside an area to create art I felt more lost in myself, personally and creatively. Whenever I feel burned out or uninspired I set aside a morning to take myself out for coffee and visit my favourite galleries in Dublin for some inspiration, or I’ll spend a day outside the city in the Wicklow mountains or visiting an archaeological monument so that I can slow down and re-connect with nature and the land.
How can art propel spiritual and personal growth both to create or to look at?
In my opinion some of the best art I have come across touches on the unconscious depths of the mind, the shadow, and our fears. Forcing ourselves to engage with these topics through creativity is an excellent catalyst for personal and spiritual growth.
Creating art can be very cathartic and soothing. Just the wilful act of removing myself from the mundane world into a space where inspiration and emotion can flow feels spiritual. When I’m creating art based on legend and folklore I really feel connected to my culture. Turning elements of stories or legend into images that people can enjoy feels like a ritual act of devotion to the cultural heritage of the country.
If people donated to any charity on your behalf what would you want it to be?
Donating to any charity that improves lives is awesome and important to do if people have the means. I love animal charities in particular. The Donkey Sanctuary is one of my favourites. I’m constantly adopting animals on paper from Irish and British charities just to combat the lack of an outdoor space that I have in the city to re-home the real creatures!
If you had a main goal regarding your art, what would it be?
I’m writing a book on Irish folklore and witchcraft at the moment that I’m also illustrating, so I’m using my art to attempt to bring to life folk objects that photographs don’t exist of. I really like interweaving literature and art in this way and it’s something I hope to do a lot more of.
What do you want your imprint on Irish Celtic art to be?
I really have no lofty ambitions. I very much make art to sooth my own soul and foster my relationship with the spirit of this country. It would be wonderful to be counted among the great Irish artists who have brought Irish lore and legend to life, although I have a lot more learning and work to do before I make it even half way there. If my art can inspire even one person to pick up a book on Irish folklore or myth and legend and begin their own relationship with that material, then I consider my work as having achieved something.