Maud Gonne and the poet

Ann McBride is from Stonehall in Newmarket-on-Fergus and after returning to the Limerick School of Art and Design as a mature student to study ceramics she was inspired to tell the story of the great unrequited love story between WB Yeats and Maud Gonne MacBride through her art. She spoke to Joe Ó Muircheartaigh about her work that was recently part of the Ceramics Ireland exhibition in Farmleigh.

‘ONCE Were Warriors’ was 1994 film based around a urban Maori family in New Zealand when one of the characters uttered the immortal line ‘I wear my tats on the inside’.
Stonehall artist Ann McBride could well identify with that one — she doesn’t have any tattoos, but her new work certainly does as she brings the relationship that endured between Maude Gonne McBride and WB Yeats to life in ceramics.
It’s in fine bone china cups, saucers and plates that the great unrequited love story of 20th century Ireland is portrayed — the result of which formed the basis for Ms McBride’s submission to end of her final year degree show at the Limerick School of Art and Design and the Ceramics Ireland exhibition that recently took place in Farmleigh in Dublin.
“The original inspiration for the work came from the fact that we used to go to Sligo on holidays when we were kids and my aunt lived close to Drumcliffe where Yeats is associated with,” she reveals.
“And of course I love the poetry,” she continues, “so I decided to do something on Irish mythology. It just kind of graduated into trying to represent Yeats’ poetry but as I progressed through it I found the aspect of Maud Gonne more interesting and a bit lighter, because his poetry was heavy, very poignant and filled with a lot of yearning.
“I wanted to make it a bit of fun and by bringing Maud Gonne into it, it was a case of her being pursued by him and her lack of commitment to him.
“Trying to illustrate that, was a lot more enjoyable for me than yearning for love and loss,” she adds.
McBride is a graphic designer by trade, having started out in art college many years ago before returning to the Limerick School of Art and Design in recent years to study ceramics.
“I always wanted to go back,” she says, “and the ceramics course was the most appealing one for me.
“I am drawn to illustration through graphic design and to that aspect of decoration as opposed to making the physical shape.
“I found that it suited my work, it suited me to do a ceramics course, doing the surface decoration as opposed to the building of the piece. It was an alternative way of working for me — to do it in 3D as opposed to 2D all the time.”
The result is work that’s stunning in its simplicity, but incredibly evocative of the Maude Gonne/Yeats relationship.
“I wanted to tell the story of Yeats and Maud Gonne using every day objects,” she says.
“I wanted to make it more accessible to everybody and not have it too high end.
“It was a good way of making it accessible to everybody, because people tend to be tactile and want to pick them up and feel them as opposed to looking at a painting. It added another dimension.
“It is unrequited love because she has become the controller in the relationship.
“I was looking at the type of woman she was. Maud Gonne was a very strong figure and she was the better known figure around Dublin at the time when they would be seen together.
“When they were seen together it was a case of Maud Gonne and the poet and not the other way around.
“She was a very striking person and was in high society at the time — she was a nationalist and very involved in the freedom movement,” she adds.

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That’s where the tattoos come in, with McBride defaulting to the old Maori tradition of covering one-self in body art as a way of expressing her personality.
“Because she was strong, how would I portray her,” she says. “How would I get that across today?
“Because she was strong I thought covering her in tattoos made her look more independent and free spirited. The tattoos are mixed with his poetry to get the whole message across — this was her, but he was projecting all these scenes on to her,” he adds.
Along the way McBride tells the story of their relationship — one that endured for over 30 years, during which time Yeats asked for Maud Gonne’s hand in marriage on four separate occasions, only to be rejected every time.
“The initial drawings display the love and the hope and yearning at the outset,” she says.
“The poppy is a symbol of love — it gives me a lot more to work with because it’s beautiful in its early stages and it’s beautiful in its full bloom and it’s stunning in its decay, so I thought there was a lot more going on with the poppy.
“At the very end of it the poppy has died and it has gone, but it’s still a beautiful symbol.
“Then with her rejection of him she became the puppeteer — he was the puppet and she was controlling the relationship.
“He tried every way to get her as his life partner but she wasn’t having it and when it came down to it she just wasn’t into him,” she adds.
McBride worked from water colours, creating the illustrations in water colour before transferring into electronic files, bringing it through photoshop, compiling the images for print and firing them in her own kiln.
“I was so happy with the response I got to the work,” she says, “because when you’re immersed in the work you don’t think of anybody’s reaction to it, but when it’s done and when it’s exhibited it’s just fantastic.”
This is sure to be the first ceramic exhibition of many for the Stonehall artist.

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