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 known 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.
Haystacks. New Works. New Departure.
Chára’s latest collection, Haystacks is the culmination of four years of meticulous planning, research and painting. The series of twelve paintings was formally unveiled to the public in a building befitting the works in Dublin’s Georgian capital and sponsored by one of Ireland’s leading wealth management companies, Merrion Private and Chára’s long-time acquaintance, Fergus O’Mahony of The Warren Gallery. The works capture the essence of the Irish country landscape at harvest time, inspired by the Kildare farm of her mother’s youth. Tightly rolled haystacks rise from scorched grounds, pushing upwards against heavy horizon lines. Dynamic cloudscapes and golden shafts of light in some, inky nighttime skies, shot through with floods of moonlight elsewhere. A remarkable, evocative collection of farmland scenes, Haystacks will awaken summertime memories of Ireland.
A return visit to Kildare, catching sight of the old family farmlands being harvested, triggered a memory for Chára. She recalled a time, just before graduation from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, when as a young artist, she was commissioned to paint a riverbank scene by her late Aunt on the Kildare farm. At the time, eager for change and adventure, the work was a welcome means to an end, the opportunity to use her talents to pay for flights to London to start her career. Twenty years later, the primal tug of the very same landscape would draw Chára back - memories of summertime on the farm, the excitement of baling season, the gathering of family and neighbours. The sights, sounds and smells of farming life, intrinsic childhood memories for so many Irish who grew up in the country. And so, the Haystacks series came to life.
Haystacks captures the raw, scorched beauty of lands that have been stripped of their cover. Large, tightly wound hay bales are scattered across the landscape, their cylindrical form modern and industrial, the natural content barely contained, bursting from their binds. The ground is spiked and bruised. Each painting captures a different mood, with low horizon lines and animated cloudscapes, shafts of golden light and inky night time skies reflecting the mercurial nature of the Irish weather.
Known for her use of bright acrylic colours in her figurative works, Haystacks required a very different medium. Chára began researching traditional painting methods and following a visit to the Louvre, the Old Masters works in tempera provided the solution.
Mineral pigments from Magasin Sennelier in Paris were sourced, derived from natural materials. Chára mixes her paints daily, adding organic eggs, distilled water, Stand oil and Damar varnish to each pigment to create tempera grassa. The purity of this paint reflects the clarity of the subject and the finished effect is transparent and durable. Chára describes using these materials as akin to “painting the source, with the source”.
Haystacks are of course a subject which many artists have approached, from Monet’s 1890’s Haystack series, monumental, dominating the landscape, to Paul Henry’s use of haystacks as one of many elements in the narrative of his stunning Achill scenes. Chára spent much time considering and observing how these great artists and many others tackled the material, to find her own response to the subject.
Chára Nagle’s Haystacks series are familiar Irish moments captured in time, images that nudge at memories of harvest time on an Irish farm – the gathering of families and neighbours to bring in the hay. The hypnotic chug and grind of tractors and combines, juxtaposed with the squeal and swoop of flocking birds as the bare ground is revealed. The loud bustle and sweet smells of farmhouse kitchens from dawn to dusk; the back and forth to fields, laden with bottles of thirst quenching lemonade, steaming flasks of sweet tea and baskets of fresh cooked food. The scratch of the hay, the deep sores of baling twine, the smell of the burnt earth, all against the dramatic backdrop of the ever changing Irish skies, looming clouds and spits of rain, giving way to scorching sun, before moonlit quiet descends.
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.