O’Donnell’s practice explores the mnemonic possibilities of painting by focusing on three areas: working from the archive, memory and identity in relation to exploring her present day experience compared to that of earlier Irish migrants in the 20th century. She makes paintings from archived photographic images and stories exploring personal experiences and history entwined in the broader social/historical context. She is interested in the similarities between painting, memory and history in relation to having a free hand in terms of its selective capabilities, abstractness, fluidity, as well as creative license. Her most recent body of work called ‘Models’ is based on the stories and images archived for the text Models for Movers: Irish Women’s Emigration to America by Ide B. O’Carroll. It is a unique collection of Irish women’s oral histories spanning three waves of twentieth-century emigration to America in the 1920s,1950s and 1980s. O’Carroll found historical texts tend to ignore women completely or include them only in accounts of the human experience. With her work she attempts to push the boundaries in terms of how much narrative, can be contained the further the images are abstracted and absorbed into the painting. She is interested in the blurring and sometimes subconscious editing that takes place in relation to story telling and historical documentation from the past and the images, signifiers and elements that break through as well as the ones that are left behind. She also use abstract elements and specific colour studies as a way to pull the figurative work apart, while at the same time bringing a connective element to groupings of work. Some of the colour line studies have developed as a physical and time based map of making the paintings, with each line made using a colour from the figurative work.

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