Chára’s natural facility for drawing and painting was evident from a young age. This talent was initially nurtured in the Crawford Municipal School of Art in Cork and later in the National College of Art and Design in Dublin where she graduated with a joint honours degree in Fine Art Sculpture and Art History (1996). The tutors in NCAD challenged Chára’s creative process and changed how she interpreted the world. An initial task was to find seven different types of dust, and it was through this minute examination of the mundane that the artist began to investigate simple objects such as the dazzling brightness of a dew-drenched autumn leaf. This allowed her to create an alternative reality that transported the viewer away from the everyday, like the magical effect of childhood films such as The Wizard of Oz. This ‘imaginative interpretation’ became the linchpin of the design practice that Chára established after graduation. Indeed, it was this unique ‘way of seeing’ that heralded the success of CNdesign as it attracted commissions from such elite brands as Smirnoff, Jameson, Budweiser, MINI, BMW, Guinness and Coca Cola.
Having spent a decade in the business world, Chára decided to re-engage with her fine-art practice. The Celtic Tiger was roaring and the Irish were celebrating their financial success on the world stage, travelling abroad and enjoying the good life. With camera in hand, Chára documented this phenomenon. Through a process of taking thousands of photographs, culling and cropping them and, by applying good market research, she honed the images until the selected pieces provided an intriguing glimpse of that iconic life-style. From these she created a sell-out collection of romantic paintings, entitled Moments I, capturing the Irish at play in sun-drenched settings. While images such as Binocular Girl epitomized the new confidence of the flourishing Irish, closer examination of the subject suggested a more complex narrative.
In the wake of a second successful Moments II exhibition in 2008, Chára found that this motif no longer excited her imagination. On the advice of her mentor, she embarked on a new topic documenting the Irish racehorse industry. This investigation of Irish bloodstock began in Willie Mullins' yard in Carlow, where Chára was immediately overwhelmed with the size of the animals and the complexity of their training.
This necessitated an increase in canvas size and the technical aspect of the whole project was daunting. Using a similar methodology to the Moments series, Chára documented these majestic animals in large scale, her biggest work, Under Starters Orders, measured 330.2 x101.1 cms, and took sixteen months to complete.
This collection know as Portrait of a Horse, formed the basis of a number of successful exhibitions, and earned the artist the honour of becoming Artist in Residence at the world famous, Curragh Race Course.
It was during this time that her current subject evolved. Driving home along the Old Dublin Road, Chára passed her mother's home place, a Kildare farm, now owned by her cousins. Glancing towards the house, she saw the most amazing landscape as the scudding clouds parted over tightly-rolled hay bales. Her foot immediately hit the brakes, and grabbing her cameras, she headed into her family’s land to capture the effect. Hay bales littered the landscape and she the sun came through the clouds like the prelude to a divine presence.
The hayfield triggered a memory, a time between graduation and setting out for London, when Chára undertook a commission from her late aunt to paint a riverbank scene close to that very location. It was a time when the artist was eager for change and couldn’t wait to move on to bigger and better things in the English capital. But maturity and experience intervened and, twenty years later, the primal tug of this Kildare landscape began to exert a magnetic force on the artist's imagination.
As this new topic evolved, it revolutionized the artist's work. It meant a change of subject matter, which meant a change of painting material, which meant a change of process and a change of methodology....
This new collection of work will be on display at Chára's upcoming solo show, Haystacks in partnership with the Warren Gallery and Merrion Private at Heritage House, Stephen's Green, Dublin, 7th March, Running until 21st March.
Maebh O'Regan Ph.D
Maebh O'Regan, a lecturer in visual culture in the National College of Art and Design, began to make a series of studio visits to Kildare-related artists, choosing individuals that excelled in different disciplines. This resulted in the book Studio Secrets, Art in Kildare and the Kildare Biennale exhibition.
Chára Nagle was the prominent focus for an entire chapter of the book. Click the button below to read the extract.