Derry artist Laura home after 20 years: ‘I would hear this voice: You’re in the wrong place’

In March 2020, artist Laura McCafferty returned to the north west after two decades pursuing her passion in England.

Laura has moved home and has become the new Public Programmes Curator at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Derry.

Art Arcadia, an artist-run organisation providing artist residencies, will exhibit Laura’s latest body of work, titled Shape of the Place. The exhibition runs from June 28 to July 2 (12pm–5:30pm) at St Augustine’s Old Schoolhouse, Palace Street in Derry city centre.

The residency with Art Arcadia has given Laura the space to express her ideas as an artist. Shape of the Place consists of a growing collection of photographs, paper collages and quilted textile panels. Laura says moving back to Derry has been years in the making.

Artist Laura McCafferty.

“In hindsight, looking back, I grew up in Derry always thinking that I was going to leave,” she said.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision; it was just like ‘when, and where?’ - and not if. I have been thinking about it for a longtime. It took eight years of planning and decision-making to come back to Derry.

“We made the decision to move, and we sold the house, handed in both our notices and the studio keys - it took a while to pack our entire lives down into storage, and then we got the call from our movers in Cookstown to say that Covid was looking bad, and they were really worried that the ports would close - so they asked if we could be ready in two days.”

Laura moved to England in 2000 where she studied Decorative Arts at Nottingham Trent University. After graduating, she furthered her studies by completing a Masters in Fine Art at Goldsmiths University in London. Whilst studying for a Masters, Laura also taught Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University.

“There is a wee story of trying to come back, and not coming back,” said Laura.

“I had my first child in 2009, and a couple of years after that I wanted to come back to Derry. Then I decided to do a Masters at Goldsmiths, and to kind of completely feed myself in a new way. I graduated from there in 2016, and had another baby that year. So it took two more years of working and living to get to the point of: ‘Right, we are leaving!’ - and so I told my partner that we were leaving, and he was like: ‘You’re serious aren’t you?’

“For about two years I just felt like I was in the wrong place. Even walking down the streets I would hear this voice going: ‘You’re in the wrong place’. I would hear this all the time, and it was quite debilitating. I knew I wasn’t where I needed to be. I felt like I was living half-a-life.

“My family would send me pictures of them with my granny and my mum; I would literally just sit and cry. Leaving got harder and harder every time I had to wave to my mum at Eglinton airport.”

Artist Laura McCafferty.

Laura describes Art Arcadia as a ‘beacon of hope,’ - over the course of her residency, she has unearthed the significance of place in her practice, seeing it as something that underpins the research; its substance moving between a response to the space, a disconnection to a place or her relocation to the north west after 20 years.

As the new Programmes Curator with the CCA, Laura works with emerging artists who are from NI, or based here. “It was one of those jobs where you read the description, and it is like your whole life on a list,” she said. “While I was in England, I had my art practice, and before that I worked with lots of craft organisations like the Craft Council. I went to Japan and New York twice to do exhibitions. I managed to do well with that body of work I graduated with in 2003. I had a style of work then which was figurative, hand-embroidered, screen printed, and big scenes of people all in textile.”

Laura found lots of opportunities to utilise her skills as an artist growing up in Derry. Before moving to England she was already establishing herself as a local artist. Laura says she was making work all the time, and even skipped Geography class to pursue her love of the arts.

“I just wanted to stay in the art room,” she said. “The teacher would send somebody with the work up to me, and would say “How do they know I am here?!’ - and they’d say ‘Everybody knows you’re here’. We had a little gang up the back of the art room, and I was just so immersed in it.I “was with Jackie Wilde the other evening, who is the chair of the board of Trustees for the CCA. I mentioned that I did the Texaco Children’s Art workshops in the Orchard Gallery.”

“This was in the 80’s. I was selected from my primary school, which was Carnhill. She said she helped organise them.

“The Sisters of Mercy of Thornhill commissioned me to do loads of arty stuff. I designed their mandala one year and it went on their postcard; it was also made into bookmarks and banners.

“I got to paint the windows of my family’s pub. I would get paid 50 quid to go in and do Christmas scenes. I had a wee moped at that time, so I would also go off and do murals in children’s rooms - so I always had my paints and stuff hanging off me.

“While I was doing my A Level art at Thornhill, I did an extra portfolio-building class above the old Foyle Street bus depot. There was an art room where we would do photography and drawing. I would go every Thursday night to do more work!”

In May 2020, Laura was invited to join a new collective of artists across the island of Ireland, called ‘NINE’. The group met weekly and created a strong presence on Instagram. The collective had two publications included in the Dublin Artist Book Fair in 2020 and 2021.

“We released a collaborative project in the Hyde Bridge Gallery in Sligo in July 2021,” said Laura. “We are still connected as we respond individually to everything opening up again.

The artists are a great support both critically and practically. It was a fantastic opportunity to be part of it on my return home.

“Alongside this I received an Donegal Artist Bursary in November 2020, had a small publication ‘On the Other Side’ selected for the Dublin Artist Book Fair in December 2020 and was invited by Visual Arts Ireland to write an articled for their Visual Artist’s News Sheet (VAN) for their Donegal focus.

“Following the Crits for CCA, I’ve also been invited by Visual Arts Ireland to lead Peer Critique Sessions for artists in counties Dublin (South), Louth, Kilkenny and Kildare. These have been a fantastic opportunity to speak with artists across Ireland.“

Laura’s current practice combines paper collage, drawing and large-scale textiles in brightly coloured, boldly patterned cotton. Sitting on the edge of narrative, this work subtly messes with what’s expected. Often using repetitive processes, the act of making innately assumes great importance.

Whilst admitting the absurdity of the tasks, she remains unashamed by the joy invested in her labour. Cutting, sticking and piecing together, one thing leading to another, she describes her making process as both “purposeful and futile.”

*If you would like to find out more information, or keep up-to-date with Laura’s artwork, please visit her website: www.lauramccafferty.com, or alternatively on Instagram: @laura_mc_cafferty.