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Work of the Week | 13 March 2023

CAG.0944 Pauline Bewick, Fourteen Steps to Nowhere, 1982, watercolour on paper, 51 x 45.5 cm. Presented, the Artist, 1989. © the artist’s estate.


Fourteen Steps to Nowhere (1982) by Pauline Bewick offers a startling embodiment of female power.

Painted following a visit to Sceilg Mhichíl (Skellig Michael), it depicts a nude woman maternally descending – as if landing from flight – over a nest of speckled seagull eggs. Two feathers appear to fall from her form, as her auburn hair streams in the air.

The perilous Skellig steps – the building of which in the middle of the sea intrigued the artist – rise up behind her dynamic form, while a clump of Thrift (Armeria maritima, or Sea Pink) grows amongst the flagstones in the left foreground.

‘When we went there,’ Bewick wrote in her book, Ireland: An Artist’s Year (1990), ‘we all felt slightly queasy, and we washed that feeling away by diving into the deep black-green water. Half dressed, we climbed the flight of steps, not daring to look back, the drop was so steep. The puffins were so unafraid of us, you could almost touch them. Thrift had been ousted by bladder campion. I dared to look to the right at the upright stone, the Wailing Women.’

Dated 4 January 1982, Bewick’s watercolour expresses a characteristic joie de vivre and interest in the natural world. Part of its power is that it also holds its secrets, its own set of associations and meanings that we may guess at – and even feel – if not fully possess.

Pauline Bewick RHA (1935-2022) lived and worked, between mountains and sea, near Lough Caragh, County Kerry. Her practice embraced watercolours, oils, sculpture, tapestry, and publishing.

Fourteen Steps to Nowhere (1982) by Pauline Bewick is featured in OTHER WORLDS: Harry Clarke Watercolours until 19 March.

The Arts House: Conor Tallon chats with curator Michael Waldron about a work from the Collection every Sunday morning on Cork’s 96FM and C103 Cork. You can listen back to this week’s chat here:


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