The healing power of art and photography

Jenny Lee speaks to Fermanagh artist Michelle Duffy who used painting to help her cope with the pain of losing her father. Next month she joins Belfast photographer John Mallon in a unique retrospective exploring the beauty all around us in Ireland

Fermanagh artist Michelle Duffy captures the beauty of The Rusheen in Garrison on canvas.

A FERMANAGH artist and Belfast photographer who have used Ireland's picturesque landscape and the power of art to help them battle bereavement and mental illness will share their work in a unique retrospective exhibition.

Michelle Duffy from Garrison, Co Fermanagh, studied art and design at University, initially working in interior design. But life as a busy mum to three young boys means her paintbrushes were soon left redundant.

However, towards the end of her father's long battle with COPD, she got back into painting. And, following Barber Gregg's death in February 2015, she found her art acted like a "healing therapy".

"I spent spare evenings and weekends exploring beautiful places taking photos and going home and painting them. I still miss dad a lot but I suppose with every brush stroke I have the feeling he would have been very proud of me," says the 37-year-old.

"My art definitely helps me on a daily basis. Time passes very quickly when I paint and although its alone time, by creating sunsets and beautiful places I have been helps to me to relax and almost feel like I'm still sitting on that beach watching those waves."

Michelle works with acrylic paints as well as chalks and acrylic mixed media for capturing sunsets. In addition to Rusheen Park and Lough Melvin in her home town of Garrison, Michelle enjoys capturing the changing seasons of Donegal and Sligo's beaches and mountains.

Michelle connected with Belfast photographer John Mallon initially through social media.

"His photos had a parallel with my painting," says Michelle, who later met with John and discovered the reason why he takes photos.

John, 51, suffered for many years with mental health issues and came within seconds of ending his own life.

Now he uses his photography to help others, working tirelessly with groups to promote positive mental health.

Michelle and John share a love of capturing the images and landscape around them and together they bring an exhibition titled Beauty on our Doorstep: Life through the Lens and Canvas to Belfast next month.

"I feel very strongly that art heals, and with our photos and paintings we hope to possibly inspire others to get out there and look at the beauty that we sometimes take for granted and don't take time to enjoy," says Michelle, who like John is starting to share her passion with others.

"I have taken a few art classes with some carers' groups. They were all there to get some time out from caring for their own loved ones and when they started painting they all zoned-out and really got into it."

:: The retrospective combination of photography and art by John Mallon and Michelle Duffy runs at PM lighting/Paul Hampton Home Showroom, Boucher Road, Belfast from March 9 to 11.

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