Aislinn O’Keeffe’s studio allows us to peer into her processes. Some of the works from her previous projects still adorn the walls, at home again after travelling to various exhibitions. Spread out on the desk are a variety of brushes and mediums, as well as some pieces she is currently working on, in between her larger projects.
Hints of her next series of works are on the table and in various corners of the room: books on more neglected parts of history such as witch hunts, art books, faint sketches and apparent experiments with paint, colours, stains, and different materials.
In the midst of the chaos of media, Aislinn sits in front of her vast workspace, looking entirely at home. But this wasn’t always the case for O’Keeffe. After she finished studying, having completed her degree in Fine Art in Painting in Limerick School of Art and Design, she says she “didn’t know where to begin being an artist so it was kind of safer to walk straight in to a job.” She spent some years working in management in retail but found that the itch to get back to doing art never left.
She eventually decided to go to University of Limerick to do a Masters in the History of Art and Architecture while still keeping her job. Once the Masters was complete, Aislinn became a member of the first group to begin using the Wickham Street studio space.
It was here that she began dipping her toes into the art community. “Art can be a very solitary thing,” she says. “I like that in some ways because I can work away myself and I don’t have to answer to anyone else or please anyone else, but if you work too much on your own it can be difficult. You need to talk to other artists.”
It was through reaching out to the art community and volunteering at the Hunt Museum and Ormston House, that Aislinn began to learn about the contemporary art world. Over the years, she has become increasingly engaged in that sphere. Her work has been exhibited in various parts of the country and has been published in The Ogham Stone Literary Journal, and Bunny Magazine.
Within the work itself, the choice of medium is as important as what is created with it. The use of almost traditional, figurative work using traditional media seems to be subverted by the simultaneous use of unorthodox media. O’Keeffe says that the interplay between medium and image to convey meaning in her work began back in her days of study at LSAD, when she did a project for her thesis with the title “Domestic Goddess.” “It’s an oxymoron,” Aislinn says.
In the series she juxtaposed traditional images of beauty with standard household items that made for unconventional art materials such as bleach, sponge, beetroot and tea. She says that she was “deliberately using materials that are associated with women,” and that, “if you are going to use materials that aren’t typically art materials you need to use them for a purpose.”
O’Keeffe’s work seems to speak to the limitations women endured throughout history by juxtaposing habitually unrelated things. Her most recent series, ‘As If She Had A Right To Be There,’ consists of drawings of women who contributed to Ireland’s independence which fade into tea-stains and wallpaper, as well as politically-charged quotes embroidered on handkerchiefs, giving a somewhat claustrophobic effect. They mesh an immense achievement with a sense of routine, imprisonment and loss. “Women have been excluded from history and art history for centuries,” O’Keeffe says. Her work seems to put them back into history as subjects while acknowledging the limitations they faced. She wants her work to recognise the threads of the past that run through modern life by “looking to history to understand the roots of how women are being treated in society today, the roots of how women are seen and viewed.”
O’Keeffe, like many others, has cut her own way as an artist. I ask her what her future plans are. She said it can be hard to know for definite, as an artist, what is next. “For now at least I will be continuing with women’s history and trying to build up as much work as I can.”