Monica Callaghan

Monica is taking part in our coming Home is a Feeling show in Faversham on 13th and 14th November.

Describe what you do as a creative.

I am a painter of pictures and occasionally murals.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a South African who has lived a fairly nomadic life. Whitstable is the first place we are striving to settle down in – my husband jokes with the neighbours saying he plans to die in our house! I had a completely insane childhood growing up in a cult and in many ways I am still trying to find a frame for that part of my life that makes sense. When I left school I joined a travelling theatre troupe – we performed political protest theatre and were regularly thrown out of ‘whites only’ venues.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be all manner of things. Definitely a ballerina at some point but having some rather serious congenital defects to my hands put a stop to that.

How did you begin doing what you do?

Our youngest has some severe learning difficulties and getting him through school became my full time job. I started painting the year I turned 40 as a way of finding something that could be all mine. Something that allowed absorption and self-expression. While I home-schooled him for a season, I did a painting certificate from the Art Academy in London – sadly I just missed getting tutored by Thai Shan Schierenberg! This was followed by four years in Germany where he went to an American School with a cracking Dyslexia program. It was there, in the foothills of the Black Forest, that I was able to develop my painting practice and started working at my art full-time. We returned to the UK in 2019.

What turns on your creativity?

Very often the process itself is the spark. Just the smell of the mediums, the spread of the colours on the palette. The light on any given day. Music. Something I see while walking the dog. Visiting galleries. Travel. Stumbling on an exhibition in a foreign city and seeing work fantastic new work by some obscure artist.

What do you like best about your work?

I can get totally lost in it. It is totally immersive and satisfying. There are some days when I am off and things are a struggle – where the ideas don’t translate. Those are rare and if that happens I take a day off and spring clean the house or tidy the garden!

When were you most satisfied in your work?

I love framing my work and getting it hung – whether that is in an exhibition or a home. I still get really excited every time I get a commission or sell a large painting. It was also a real thrill having one of my portraits included in the Portraits for NHS Heroes book (initiated by Tom Croft) and more than that, meeting the nurse for whom I had painted it.

Describe a memorable response to your work?

I love when people say that my work is uplifting and soulful. I love when people say ‘that resonates with me’. I loved when at a solo exhibition last year, a young boy dragged his mother over to a painting saying really loudly that SHE HAD TO COME AND SEE THIS ONE!

What is the most exciting part of your work at the moment?

The most exciting thing is really just having my studio back. With lockdown we had both our adult boys back home and I gave up my studio so they wouldn’t need to share. For a time I tried working in our bedroom but it didn’t really work! I am very happy just to have a room where I can work on several things at once and all my materials are to hand.

What is your dream project?

I don’t have a dream project – just getting to paint is the dream and I am doing it…but I do dream about working really large – larger than my space will allow. And making a really big mess without worrying about carpets or getting paint on the dog.

Which artists / creative people are your heroes and inspiring figures?

The creative people I admire are often just those who poured themselves out for their work and didn’t make themselves small – Georgia o’Keefe, Frida Khalo, Helen Frankenthaler…

Your idea of happiness

Light streaming into my studio. Work that is engaging all of me. Sunshine. The sound of the sea. A good Malbec. The warm smooth tummy of our puppy. The gathering of my family over a hearty meal.

What art/creativity related book should everyone read?

No one book will do it for everyone. I love biographical works about the lives of artists, and practical books like Bridgman’s Constructive Anatomy.

Tell us a lesson life has taught you.

Do the yoga. Just get out of bed and do it.

Anything else you would like to add?

Life is full of wonder.

Author: nathalieb