The Monthly speak to CAP’s Tracey McVerry about her history and her latest work

Could you let the readers know a little bit about your artistic background?

I graduated in 1998 from Art College in Belfast with a degree in Fine Art Sculpture. I worked in a studio for a few years and then I went back to the University of Ulster to do a Masters in Fine Art. I felt I left university without having developed a lot of physical skills. I had plenty of theoretical skills, conceptual skills, but I really wanted to develop my physical, manual skills.

Do you do anything to address that situation?

I was working with New Belfast Community Arts Initiative in Belfast as Mural Festival Coordinator and I was also working with Arts Care as Artist in Residence for the Southern Trust. That was quite intense in terms of co-ordinating, developing and facilitating projects.

At that point I wasn’t developing any of my own work. That left me quite frustrated and I found an opportunity to do a residency in Italy. That was partly funded by the Arts Council, it was to last for two months at a stained glass studio in Sienna called Vietrate Artistic Toscane. I hadn’t worked with stained glass previously and this was a real opportunity that I jumped at.

What happens at the residency?

It was a real eye opener, to say the least. The entire process was very different from the way I had been used to working in Ireland. The pace of working, the artistic pace, physical pace, the pace of learning, was dramatically different from what we were used to at home. Everything was much slower, more measured, you learned the techniques, the processes, in a much more contemplative way.

I was working on a large stained glass installation for a church in Pennsylvania which the studio had been commissioned to create. I was used to working at a frenetic pace. We would get our work done very quickly, boom, boom, boom, get in to the community, work out what you would be doing, get people involved and get the project finished. That is not how things were done in Italy. To develop the stained glass tracing, they used a manual grid system to create the layout of the design. They took their time in the creation of a piece of stained glass, and they worked in a way that really appreciated the craft of stained glass.

There were processes that the artists in the studio were using which I hadn’t seen before and I was able to practice those techniques. It was very tough mentally, or at least I found it tough, both because it was very different, and also because they valued the craft so highly that we had to work at their pace and we needed to learn their approach as well. >During this time I learned about a technique called Fused Glass which I had never heard about. It blew my mind and seemed very exciting!

What happens when you return?

I chanced my arm and applied for a grant from the Arts Council for a glass kiln. I was lucky enough to get that grant and from there I started to teach myself the techniques required to create fused glass. I also started to incorporate fused glass into my sculptural work. Since then I have been using glass in my work as a constant.

What is the name of your new fused glass project?

I was working on a piece of work called “Flight of Souls”, which was a piece of art created during lock down in response to my Dad passing away. Generally my work is connected to and inspired by the land where I live. I am often working away in the garden and I will dig up a piece of crockery, or an artefact of some sort which is connected to the people who lived here before me. I am the fifth generation who has lived in my house, and so part of my artistic expression is to recognise and appreciate my ancestors.

How does this sculpture get into the Botanic Gardens in Dublin?

There was an open application process for an exhibition called Sculpture in Context and it is an annual exhibition displayed in the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin.I had always wanted to apply but I was never really sure that my work was good enough. Part of that reticence is that I have always thought that given I was self taught in terms of working with glass, that my work would not measure up to people who had gone through proper training.
>I am very happy that I applied and that two of my pieces have been accepted for display.

This is a large exhibition?

Yes. In previous years there have been as many as 120 sculptures displayed and my pieces will be part of that exhibition.

Do you get paid for your work?

In terms of financing, I will be hoping that I am able to sell my sculptures through the exhibition, because that is how the work is paid for. I also have three sculptures being exhibited in an exhibition, “Straight out of Ireland” which is celebrating the Irish diaspora, in Philadelphia in November. I am one of twenty artists from Ireland who will be part of that exhibition. I think that these artworks have quite a bit to offer in that there are some ancient Irish texts throughout the sculptures, there is a connection to place, and there is also a very personal element to these works. I always hope that people will enjoy the sculptures I produce.

Where to now?

My aim is to have my work seen and to work against the idea that being self taught is an obstacle to producing good work.

To see more of Tracey McVerry’s work here:

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.