There is a particular pleasure, tinged with an almost voyeuristic thrill to thumbing through an artist’s sketchbook. They are intimate documents, a space where problems are worked out, and randomly appealing data is collated, ready to be truffled through. Given the visceral strangeness of Alice Maher’s distinctive imagery, an opportunity to look over her shoulder as she works and thinks is an enticing prospect. Reservoir is a fitting title for this visual compendium of ideas, encapsulating both the idea of a store or bank, but also conveying the fluid dynamism of thought processes, distilled here as drawings or scribbled notes. Some of the sketches even have a watery, saturated feel; black lines soaking fatly into soft watercolour paper, pools of ink spreading in erratic tendrils, looking in one instance, like a static charge around a female figure.
All the motifs of Maher’s work are here in germinal form; sketches of hair and hairstyles, skirts, beds, neatly coiled turds, bodies covered in stubbly pelts.
The sketchbooks are fanned open against vividly coloured backdrops; turquoise, coral or peony pink, which heighten the raw immediacy of her drawings, and the spreads are further feathered by torn Post-its to reveal yet more categories – this is a Maher dictionary of mythic and organic femininity, of metastasizing forms and earthy bodily processes. All the motifs of Maher’s work are here in germinal form; sketches of hair and hairstyles, skirts, beds, neatly coiled turds, bodies covered in stubbly pelts, and the publication closes with a selection of the finished pieces into which these initial ideas have evolved. Reservoir is a visually gorgeous production that provides an intriguing glimpse into the creative thought processes of one of Ireland’s most important artists.
Sarah Kelleher is an independent arts writer and PhD student currently researching a study of the work of Maud Cotter, Dorothy Cross and Alice Maher since 2000.