The Shell/Ter Collective

Shell/Ter is made up of artists Diana Copperwhite, Allyson Keehan, Niamh McGuinne, Sharon Murphy, and Geraldine O’Neill.

The collective developed organically during the pandemic, initially through shared dialogue about the effects, both personal and professional, of a shifting and unpredictable world. The purpose was to create a space where members could explore, enrich and diversify their practice while supporting each other. The artists work in very different formats, yet their underlying reoccupations and the issues they address overlap.

See their exhibition, Shelter, in our Print Gallery until 12 November and read on to discover more about their art in their own words. 

Diana Copperwhite

In the artist's own words:

"The new work included in Shelter ‘The right to be forgotten’ deals with my ongoing interests which are being further shaped and enriched by being part of a collective. The focus of my work has always been about grappling with human consciousness in the face of technology and how to deal with this in a physical, material way. I look at science, human movement and psychology, architecture, musical sequences, memory and dreams to find a personal lexicon in painting. In the slippage of time and memory in a world of endless information, the human voice and presence are in tandem with each other often in strange, banal and surreal ways. 

The right to be forgotten, the right to be erased from search engines conjures up a strange dream space for me and calls into question ideas around virtual archaeology. The paintings are moments of clarity that are underpinned by instability.

Coda, one of a series of carborundum prints I've been making recently. The anonymous presence of someone at play. 

My sketchbooks are like diaries keeping track of moments in drawing and notation that are important for me. Some are highly personal, whilst others record a passing whim, a new piece of significant information or merely a mark."

About the artist:

Diana Copperwhite, lives and works in Dublin. She exhibits widely in Ireland and abroad. Recent solo shows include: Onomatopoeia, Highlanes Gallery, Limerick City Gallery and Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre, 2023;  Proto Fiction and the Sleep of Reason, Kevin Kavanagh, Dublin,2019; The Clock Struck between time, 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel, New York, 2019; Depend on the morning sun, 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel, New York, 2016; Driven by Distraction at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, 2016.

Read more about the artist here.

Allyson Keehan

In the artist's own words: 

Pink Velvet Scenario, 2022 (oil on panel with artist frame): The shallow depth of field of the painting is mirrored in the depth of the frame. The materials are selected from within the trope of fetishism or abjectivity: silk, satin, cardboard, or in this instance velvet. Materials exude sensuality and tactility.

Fabricating Fantasy: Pink Satin Installation, 2023 (oil on panel with fabric and frame): In this installation, the drapery is a metaphor for skin, an organ that stretches, folds, creases. It comprises two separate lengths of fabric held together by sutures. These describe the sutures post-childbirth and a fragile moment for the new mother and her twin babies, her body being held together and stitched together by thread. The fabric as skin is a shelter for the body and soul. Furthermore, the drape is the threshold between the real and imaginary. In the work, the conflation of actual and imaginary space is brought together by the drape. The fabric marks the threshold of liminal space. It is a device for transition that moves the viewer between the reality of the exhibition space to the fabricated forms of the painting.

Cardboard Drape Scenario, 2022 (cardboard on panel with shelf): Cardboard is an often-overlooked material in the realm of fine art. Here, in this work, it is deliberately chosen for its abject quality. It is elevated from its utilitarian and practical functions to a new shaped and reformed appearance as an elegant drape. Cardboard also has more practical applications, such as in temporary shelters and protective structures. 

About the artist: 

Allyson Keehan, born in Ireland in 1978, is a visual artist and researcher. She received a PhD in Fine Art Painting from Glasgow School of Art in 2021. She holds a Masters in Fine Art from Byam Shaw School of Art (University of the Arts London) 2004, and a BA Hons Degree in Fine Art Painting from Limerick School of Art and Design 2002. She is Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Painting & Printmaking Department and MLitt Curatorial Practice in Glasgow School of Art. Keehan’s work investigates expanded notions of painting by creating painting/sculpture hybrids. The work explores the parameters and boundaries imposed by conventional painting practices. These ideas are analysed through the materiality of painting and detailed paintings of drapery. Drapery has a wealth of history relating to painting and these connotations amplify the experience of viewing. Bringing together the techniques of painting folds on canvas alongside re-articulating the frame, the structures create complex experiences of real and imaginary spaces. Keehan’s approach is external, opening up possibilities beyond the flat surface of the work, at times into the architectural environment.

Read more about the artist here.

Niamh McGuinne

In the artist's own words:

Hirsute, 2017 (etching and aquatint on paper)

The portrayal of hair is a fascinating theme, it is an interesting connector between the inner and outer selves and has been used as symbol of attractiveness and desire. In fairy tales, hair can assume a life of its own, continuing to grow after death, symbolising health, vitality and sexuality. It can also serve as a warning that all is not as it seems as in Angela Carter’s story ‘The Company of Wolves’ from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. Here she recreates the traditional tale of Red Riding Hood but in her reinterpretation, the young girl on the brink of puberty is not a victim of the wily wolf but a willing partner and capable of looking after herself and the life she chooses. She knows that ‘the worst wolves are hairy on the inside’, and she shivers; however, she does not shiver because of fear but because of ‘the blood she must spill’. In Hirsute, the figure’s exposed hairy pelt references her relationship to the wolf, while alluding to her own sexuality. The scissors, which in the fairy-tale are used to cut open the wolf to release the grandmother, are on hand, as she is coming out of her shell, and her lineage as part of the animal world is evident in the brooch she wears.

Her Suit, 2022 (transfer screen print, textile).

This suit of clothing is printed using a composite of animal and human hair. It presents an invitation to dress up and inhabit a place not normally accessible, where new behaviours can be tested and a different voice can be unleashed, one that may be unaccustomed to being heard but is nonetheless present. Empty of a female protagonist, the suit is ready to be worn, prepared for 'her' to don attributes deemed male in both a suit and hairiness. It promotes the idea that women need to become more masculine and enhance their animal instincts to take on an empowered role in the fight for sexual equality and give in to the more base nature of sex. ‘If there's a beast in men, it meets its match in women, too.’ - Angela Carter, quoted in Hair and the Moon by Neva Elliott.

Comfort of Obscurity 1 and 2, 2023 (transfer screen print on acrylic, foil, etching on paper).

What hides under a mound … something that wants to stay hidden, secure in the knowledge that nobody will think to look for them there, or if even they do think of it, will be reluctant to approach for fear of what they will find. To lie here requires a hardened exterior, an exoskeleton of shell-like armour. But what happens when it wants to come out – must it wait patiently for some external force to release it from its confines? How does it emerge … secretly waiting for a gap in surveillance, the weight is momentarily lifted. It contemplates a brash exit versus a slow stealthy route. Donning camouflage, repeating a ritual, chanting a mantra, waiting for the stars to align, all these elements are required in order to make the passage, but once out will it ever be let back in? What must happen next … blowing itself up into an inflated carcass, a larger than life version, mirroring all that is shiny and new, it uses whatever means at hand to fit in and stand out at the same time. Such delicate balance is required - to secure a little limelight, but not too much as to invite unwanted scrutiny and jealousy - to show a hint of bravery but that’s all, that’s enough for now don’t you think? And what is left … a midden of ideas, tests and experiments all proclaiming that this once was … exhausted it creeps back to its hiding place…and prepares to re-emerge once more.

About the artist:

Niamh McGuinne lives and works in Dublin and is a member of Graphic Studio Dublin (GSD) since 2010. She graduated from NCAD MFA in Fine Art in 2020. She is a practicing paper conservator and has an MA in Conservation of Fine Art from the University of Northumbria, UK. She is currently a paper conservator in the National Gallery of Ireland. This background has influenced her approach to ideas of permanence, timelessness and the notion of perfection.

Her practice can be defined as expanded print, as her work incorporates sculptural elements, film and installation. She uses a combination of low-tech and analogue systems of production along with traditional and experimental methods of etching, screen and transfer printing on a variety of materials including film, paper, textile, Perspex and metal. These prints are often combined in 3D configurations either as a method of display, to encourage interaction or in order to film and animate.

Read more about the artist here.

Sharon Murphy

In the artist’s own words:

I am a visual artist whose practice is lens-based incorporating photography, video and text. My work investigates the boundaries between the seen / unseen, fictive / real, conscious / (sub) liminal. Drawing on a background in theatre and informed by concepts in magic realism and psychoanalysis, recurring motifs in my work include: theatre curtains; carousels; circus tents, performative sites; embodied / disembodied staged spaces. My works address uncertainty, the uncanny, the 'there / not there', linked to an investigation, quintessential to both photography and performance) of what it is the viewer is shown or is seeing.

Interval, 2014 (photograph): The theatre curtain is re-occurring motif. Its power lies within this state of unknowing. I am drawn to find out what lies beneath/behind/beyond. Just as ‘gilded tombs do worms enfold’, so an innocuous curtain may conceal an unimagined horror. It offers itself as a liminal space, a threshold and carries with it possibility. It invites reflection on the relationship between the seen and the unseen, and the immanence of allegory or revelation in the mundane and material, the ordinary and extraordinary. The curtain as a signifier of the communal experience of theatre at once evokes a sense of home and shared experience and a sense of estrangement and confrontation depending on perspective and perception. Like the shuttered carousel or the circus tent the worlds implied or symbolized are both actual and potential, characterised by a capacity to juxtapose several spaces and instances of time and experience within one tangible space. Fabric is the ultimate material for this process of transformation. It acts to create an imaginary everywhere or anywhere, a shelter of sorts, a primary means to create separate architecture for dwelling.

but here alone, 2022 (photograph): This series uses as a starting point Freud’s definition of the uncanny: ‘that class of terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar’. In this nascent series of works, I am drawn to the Parisian carousel as both image and locus. They simultaneously suggest or provoke a strange familiarity of a delightful childlike pastime, a game of creating an imaginary elsewhere, a shelter and conversely a deep sense of unease. Touching on elements of Magic Realism, the carousel (still and shuttered and open and increased motion) provokes a tension between the real and the imaginary, as something normal gathers a sense of abnormality the longer they are looked at. I have drawn into this particular image (the white of the shuttered carousel) using pencil and watercolour to etch out little houses from the found dirt drawing on the surface – my own desire to find a shelter in the work.

The Twelfth House, 2023 (installation): ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’ (Carl Jung). In Jungian astrology the twelfth house is commonly referred to as the house of the unconscious – the house of the unseen realm, of shadow, of sorrow and of invisible enemies. It rules the subconscious mind, dreams, intuition, instinct, and secrets. It dominates all that is hidden, including activities going on behind the scenes. The boundaries between reality and fantasy, conscious and unconscious merge into one. The twelfth house is a place of deep introspection and aloneness, it's also where the interconnectedness of all things is possible. This is its paradox. The installation is a 3 d manifestation on my works on paper and in its sculptural material form is literally, figuratively and allegorically a shelter and non-shelter.

About the artist: 

Sharon Murphy is a lens-based artist whose interests centre on the performative aspects of photography, on the nature of performance, and on the liminal space between the fictive and the real. Recent works address the territory of uncertainty and of the uncanny, the unsettled nature of ‘what we see and what we know’ (John Berger). Murphy uses digital and large format 5 x 4 analogue cameras, sometimes making soundscapes and video works. She conceives of space (urban/landscape/constructed) as ‘staged’ and the body (child/woman/self) as ‘site’, where the outer world and inner feelings intersect. She works with performers in creating staged works that play the space between what’s there and not there, what is shown or suggested, or sheltered from view.

Read more about the artist here.

Geraldine O’ Neill 

In the artist's own words:

At the core of my work is the inevitability of decay, our time limited and our fragility exposed. Included in my compositions are dead songbirds, diagrams, children’s drawings appropriated images, picked flowers and so called weeds which refer to our futile attempts  to control nature while drawing attention to the destructive impact of human activity ; never before has nature so much needed to be sheltered from us. As a parent I address the role of protector with a sense of foreboding - I portray my children as often unwilling or slightly disconnected subjects placed within my fantasy worlds where space and reality contradict each other playfully yet menacingly. Focussing on their vulnerability and innocence, they are the centre of my universe and I paint to affirm that I can shelter and protect them all the while knowing that so much is beyond my control.

Alltar, 2023 (oil on canvas). This painting was made in in response to the Shell/Ter workshops and discussions with my fellow collective artists. In the background, I quote and repurpose Patinir, who delighted in the minutiae of nature in his compositions. My son MacDara stands with a jawbone in his hand. He is disconnected from this imagined world.  An obsolete TV lies on the floor. (This discarded set was collected with care by my fellow Shelter member Niamh!) Luxurious textiles offer MacDara a poor and flimsy protection and shelter from this imaginary space. The appropriated child’s drawing layered at the bottom refers to a time when life was more simple and hopeful but challenges the extent that the world this world is a better and more sustainable place under my watch.

Diminished Vision, 2022 (plaster models, acrylic paint). This is a sculptural piece from my exhibition Solastalgia 2022. These are  solid plaster old portable televisions, of archaic technology, representing the increasing pace of change in how we see and what we see as our world is irretrievably transformed due to the impact of industrialisation. The images are painted with watered-down acrylic washes and the fragile surfaces have the look of fresco. This is slow painting, slow art and opposite in tempo to our modern world that we inhabit. 
Return, 2008 (lithograph on paper). Made with the Graphic Studio Dublin in 2008 when I was there as an invited artist. 

About the artist: 

Geraldine O’Neill lives and works in her native Dublin. She studied at the National College of Art and Design and in 2008 she completed her MFA. Elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) and Aosdána in 2015, O’Neill is well known for her large scale many layered meticulous paintings, that interweave images from art history with depictions of contemporary objects and people. She is represented by the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery.

Read more about the artist here.

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