Fishing for Ghosts

The sea provides a wealth of inspiration for installation artist Janet Crymble

Walking along the beach at Whitehead on the County Antrim coast where she lives, Janet Crymble came across a large bundle of washed up gill nets. Formerly used by deep sea fishermen they are now banned - once they drift to the bottom of the ocean they continue to trap fish by their gills.

The award winning artist brought the nets home to her cliff top studio. Over a period of three months, as she pondered where they might have been and what they might suggest in their new life on a gallery wall, she cut the nets up into tiny pieces like stick men, Xs, chromosomes or kisses and patiently glued them together into haphazard fronds.

At the same time, still using the X motif to build up embryonic patterns, she worked on five mixed media pieces called TRACE, all the while producing pen and ink drawings on squares of white paper suggestive of the spaces between the netting. Some were mere doodles expressive of subconscious feelings and thoughts; others were more specific – footprints, sea shells, or sea urchins.

Following an intense week setting up her Fishing for Ghosts exhibition at the Higher Bridges Gallery in Enniskillen’s Clinton Centre, Crymble took me on a guided tour. At first sight the installation on the main wall seems to be made up of webs of black seaweed. The overall impression is of continents linked by globes or circles. All of the work on display is black and white, reminiscent of the place where it was conceived.

Whitehead, so named because of the limestone deposits which have been mined in the area, is also nicknamed Blackhead from the nearby basalt cliffs which overlook the mouth of Belfast Lough. Gazing at the sea from her clifftop fastness, Crymble is fascinated by its changing moods, the ebb and flow of the tides and the traffic on the waterway from tall ships to ferry boats.

She explains, 'most of my work is monochromatic. By taking the colour away I find I have more space and maybe it is also a reaction against the virtual world of the computer where colours are often so digitally enhanced and distorted that we no longer know what is real'.

Crymble refers to the large circles in the work as voids, though they also remind her of the full moon hovering over Belfast Lough. 'When my father died three years ago I missed him terribly. I lost my anchor, my lynch pin and began to question where I had come from and where I was going?'

She became interested in images relating to chromosomes, genes and DNA. These works, named TRACE 1-5, drawn with charcoal and sealed with spray paint resemble embryonic matter. The pen and ink drawings, some 50 in all, have been hung so that they resemble a shoal of fish or a pattern of islands.

This self styled doodler is also a wanderer who has travelled to Namibia, Finland and the Basque country, to take part in workshops or carry out research. While leaving her artistic imprint behind she continually stores away new ideas for future images.

Fishing for Ghosts runs in the Higher Bridges Gallery until Feburary 2.

Jenny Cathcart