What is it about the pull of place that so either defines or defies our identity?
A few days ago, I met with a fabulous Kansas City-based artist, Fred B. Mullett, for coffee and a wee chat about life, artistic identity, and the importance of place. Recently relocated to KC from his beloved Seattle, Fred is trying to navigate his way through these thorny and complex issues. We discussed the very topic I have been recently contemplating – Martin Kearney’s identity as an islandman, an Irishman, an American.
It sounds cliché (and so typical of Irish-Americans), but the very first time I visited the Dingle Peninsula and the Blaskets more than a decade ago, I felt a deep connection to the physical look, feel, sound, and smell of the place – the intense, richly-varied colors of land- and seascapes (yellow and orange broom in the hedgerows, tiny scarlet fuschia plants lining the narrow lanes, shimmering, subtle shades of green too numerous to describe, the soft grays and browns of dry-stone fences, the bright blue of the sky in summer and its steely, misty gray in winter, the turquoise, aqua, cerulean, cyan, sapphire, teal and blackish blue of the sea) – the soft moisture always present in the air (the damp mist erupting into wild storms, without lightening, that arise without warning and persist) – and the scent and sound of the sea (rhythms my body and spirit seem deeply attuned to). I loved the lilt and creative ingenuousness of spoken Irish-English (and the complex sounds of the Irish language, so different in the different counties across the Republic and Northern Ireland) and the amazing, ferocious talent of the Irish traditional musicians, playing in regional styles with passion, tremendous skill and centuries-old respect.
I have, over the years, refined and deepened my knowledge of and appreciation for this amazing country – and I have developed a special connection to the place that is the Dingle Peninsula and the Blasket Islands and their people. When I am there – more than any other place I’ve been – I feel home. It feels as if the place is in my blood, somehow (quite inexplicably, really), and when I leave, I take with me a sense of longing so profound that I can hardly stand it. I quickly begin to dream about how soon I can go back.
What is it that causes this deep connection in me, to this place so far away? Is it genetic, something harkening back to my ethnic roots? Possibly. Is it aesthetic, something sparked by austere and lonely beauty, historic tragedies, and sad stories? Could be. Is it artistic, something deeply beckoning to my creative muse? Most probably. All of these things contribute to my personal sense of place and identity – in this beautiful place where I was not born – but which feels like home.
Contemplating living in Dunquin for two months during this sabbatical brings tremendous joy, hope and gratitude. I will be thinking, reading, writing, reflecting, and composing – in a place where my identity as an artist feels free and inspired, nurtured, and deeply at home.
These are things I wish for Fred B.Mullett, in his quest for home – place and identity.
Please visit Fred’s site, Stamps from Nature Prints, for a taste of his expressive, exquisite art work.
Here’s a photo of Fred preparing the lovely gift of his 2011 calendar for me, designed using works in his Maquette Series (“a maquette is a small working model or sketch usually intended for something larger”). Good things do, indeed, come in small packages. Thank you, Fred.
Fred B. Mullett Company/Stamps From Nature Prints