Artists Interviews

November 2012: Ann Donnelly

Eddie Who Makes Art

Eddie Rafferty is a visual artist. He was a printmaker for 15 years and now he paints and draws. His work is usually about storytelling. He is Artscare Artist in Residence for the Armagh & Dugannon Area of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust (SHSCT) working with children and adults. He is based in St. Luke’s Hospital in Armagh.

In this interview, guest editor Ann Donnelly asks him about his work and his long-term position as resident artist.

How does this compare to other residency work that you have done?

I work with an age range of 8-80. I could be working with respite homes or schools or SEC’s -Special Education Centres -so I’m travelling about -it could be within a 35 mile radius of here. With this residency you’re working with people: there’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. That’s what the painting of the table tennis table is about: it’s people taking ideas from me and me taking ideas from them.

Is your long-term relationship with the place here? Or with Artscare? Or do you think it’s with the people you are working with?

I would say the people. You just become connected with people, personally too -to the point where you are going out with them in the evening or maybe to the Museum of Modern Art in Dublin or into Belfast to see a show. It’s not always centred round a table making art. It’s to do with the people, first and foremost.

                         Untitled by Kevin, Oaklands Residential Unit

How do you engage people?


I’ve been working with Artscare maybe 8-10 years but Artscare has been operating within the trust for 20 years so it’s well established. Different directed bodies around the hospital are all aware of it.

What happens is a call or an e-mail will come through saying: "Could we have you for a period of twelve weeks?" If someone wants me to go and work with them they have to fill in a short form asking:

Why do you want Eddie to come and work with you?

What do you hope to gain from the project?

Will there be an end product?

The Artscare board assesses the form and makes a decision based on the proposal. This makes sure that the project will be given a bit of thought. 

At the minute we’re drawing. We’re drawing pictures. We’re comfortable. We get to know each other. We’ve had conversations about different things but if I wanted to make a project more personal -real talk - I would build trust up over a period of time and I’d ask people would they like to come and talk about certain issues, we’d work one on one and then that’s where the really good work starts to happen, you know? That’s when it really starts to go.

You get in deeper?

You get in deeper into people, you know? With young children they tell you their woes. An awful lot of people can’t directly tell you when it all went wrong but within the drawings people can tell you -rather than just saying to you straight away.

How do you know it’s working?

-By people’s responses. I could be working with people and they could make a comment like: "Today has been the greatest day of my life. I never thought I could do that." That one-on-one time where you can sit in a room and have a chat with someone and you realise that there’s been a load lifted -that’s pretty good.

And then you’re encouraging them to put that into a professional arts environment, so how do they feel when that happens?

Brilliant. That’s really the icing on the cake when all of a sudden there’s a family with this person and it’s great. That gives you the biggest buzz of all, you know? Sometimes there’s days when you don’t want to be offloaded onto but there’s days that I want to hear the tale. I would say with a job like this you do learn every day.

                            4 lions in the jungle

                            Animals in the zoo

Tell me about your set-up here.

Basically I work in a studio which used to be an upholstery room. I waited a while -maybe 5 years­ to get some sort of a place. I was working out of the boot of my car for a long time and all of a sudden the upholsterer retired and I had the good fortune of acquiring this room. So I’ve been here maybe 3 years and it’s a great place for people to come to work. It’s in the hospital but it’s outside that hospital environment. I don’t work here so much with groups. I would work with individuals. [It’s] a meeting place as well as an art place. People would come in here just to have a chat. Some people aren’t interested in art: they are interested in communication.

I have done paintings here but the studio is also to look after the work that has been created and keep it in good condition so I can become more organised in planning for exhibitions.

How do you share the results of your work here?

I always apply to the likes of the Marketplace Theatre for an exhibition to put the work on a pedestal and show it in a professional gallery and bring everyone in -that whole social occasion to have time to look at the work and give it space. Through other residencies I would bring the work outside the country -we’ve shown the work in Africa 2 or 3 times. 

Do you think your work would have been different if you hadn’t been involved in this residency?

I think I would be different if I hadn’t come here. In the last 5 years I’ve started to realise: I’m on a residency programme in this hospital I should be painting people in this hospital. At the minute I’m painting a series of portraits of people [from St Luke’s] within their environment. I’m feeding from stories from nurses or from past staff that would have told me stories over the years. It’s not every day I want to do a painting about this hospital.

                             Russell by Eddie Rafferty

What do you think the Artscare ethos is if you were to sum it up?

I don’t know, Ann. I suppose maybe compassion. I’m not sure of the words. I mean I don’t see any difference in working with people in the hospital and people out of the hospital. You know I don’t switch off anything or turn it off before I come through the gate. I just do my thing and get on with it. Maybe there is an official ethos but I am not aware of it. I think Artscare are very supportive: if there’s any worries things are sorted out. Artscare has a board and every 3 months we have meetings about what’s going on, funding, different issues cropping up: who owns the work? Can we put your work in a gallery? We have to ask the individual: have we permission to tell this story.

How important do you think it is to the people here that you are a practicing artist?

Eh........... I don’t think it’s important because you’re going into other people’s lives making art and all the rest of it but I don’t think they see me as a professional artist in a way. They see me as Eddie who comes in and does some art.

I suppose maybe to ask it a different way, if you were no longer making and you were just helping other people to make, how would that sit?

I don’t think it would sit that well, to tell you the truth.

So that’s maybe more the angle: how important is it to you to keep up your practice?

It’s hellish important. It’s paramount. The reason I took the job was really to support myself and to make me paint the paintings that I want to paint, you know. That’s the crux of it. That’s the bottom line, you know. It’s great that you are working in a job where there’s a lot of compassion and love and as I say you learn something every day. At the end of the week you want to be sitting in front of your own canvas too. That’s the bottom line.

                           Dreaming of you by Eddie Rafferty (Work in progress)

What are you able to get from this that you can’t get from short term projects?

Well I suppose it’s getting to know people, you know, Ann, You know what it’s like. I get to know a lot of people. There’s an awful lot of people are long stay people.

When you say long term...?

50 years. 50 years, 40 years, 30 years. More than 50 years.

So you’re still very new to them?

I’m still new. Well... we’ve got to know each other, you know? We’ve been growing old together, you know. I’ve worked with some people since they were children and now they are adults. So I know their build. If someone has something to say for 15 minutes there’s room for it and if someone has something to say for an hour a week for a year there’s something for him.

If this was just short term if you were just coming from home and popping in to do 3 weeks would it still work?

It would still work, Ann. Of course it would still work but there wouldn’t be that idea of that whole longevity of planning something and looking for something for the future. I’m not going to say a reward or anything but being able to tell that story in a larger way. You know yourself. You’ve worked in projects where: 3 weeks -you’re only starting when you’re leaving. But with here: I could be working with a lady who’s doing a fantastic drawing and she decides to start knitting and I ain’t getting in the road of no woman’s knitting. But she’s got this great drawing. It’s a fantastic drawing and she’s just not willing to finish it off at this minute in time. "Maybe in 3 weeks Eddie. Maybe in 3 weeks." And then eventually maybe after those 3 weeks she’s working away. If you’re only working 3 weeks you’re not going to get that [drawing] finished are you?

                              2 Rhinos by Kevin, Oaklands Residential Centre

                           Snake and numbers by Kevin, Oaklands Residential Centre

When somebody outside of here asks you what you do, what do you say?

I say: "I’m an artist." And then I would sometimes say when I get to know them after a while [laughing] after 3 weeks: "I work in a hospital." I’m an artist, that’s all.

Your work has gone from printmaking to painting -I was wondering if that was something to do with working here?

I think this country you’re pigeonholed. I’m a printmaker and when I went to Africa I realised that everybody was a printmaker but everybody was a painter and a filmmaker and a writer and a.... a thatcher! The Renaissance still was alive you know? My mother always said to me: "Always learn a trade. Get a trade." You know?

Something you can say you do!

Something you can say you do! So then I started painting again and enjoying painting and drawing -that immediacy. Printmaking had become -you print for so long and then and then all of a sudden this technical thing overtakes you and you become a technical person -you see people looking at a picture three inches away and they are looking at it technically and you think: "I’ve had enough of this." My time in Africa made me say: "Go away and paint pictures. Go away and do whatever you want. If you want to draw, draw."

Maybe that’s something that comes from this kind of work. Because people as you say aren’t pigeonholing you as an artist. They are just accepting you as Eddie who makes art.

Yes, Eddie who makes art.

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