Office Hours

In 2000, I spent 10 months as a resident artist at Broadstone Studios in Dublin, Ireland. During that year I did a three-month painting project. I painted the Irish sky every morning at 4 a.m. and every evening at 4 p.m. Then I installed the 180 paintings of the sky in the Immigration Office on Harcourt Street in Dublin. I did these paintings of the sky as a meditation on my new home. There was a tension in Dublin that year about the increased immigration. So I painted the sky to suggest that we could learn from the clouds: They always seem to know where to go, and they don’t worry whether they are Irish clouds or German clouds or American clouds.

I had just arrived in a new country with an eight and a twelve year old and a husband involved in writing a new book. It would have been easy to accomplish little in the studio that year, because, as always, there were plenty of things to worry about. But this daily practice centered me. In addition, because it was so predictable, my family could adjust around it. If it was 4 o’clock, they knew I was painting—whether at football games, in gardens, or on rooftops. The sky was always there, always beautiful and changing. Through this painting practice, I had many conversations about art, clouds, and immigration. I made friends who were interested in painting and who encouraged and helped me with my work.

Some words from Thomas Moore on this work:
“When Hari Kirin and I lived with our children for a year in Ireland, we had to pay an official visit to the immigration office. I saw Joan looking closely and carefully at the place, and I wondered what was going on in her head. She was conceiving a public art project to be in direct response to the lack of beauty, civility, and respect for persons we saw in that place, attitudes quite different from those we found generally among the Irish people.”
Once again, she linked spiritual practice with art by painting small pictures of the Irish sky at four am and four pm every day for three months. She called the work “Office Hours,” an allusion to the chanting of psalms by monks at specific times of the day. The paintings are the size of twenty-pound notes, reflecting officers’ concerns about the financial status of immigrants. In several months the 184 paintings were completed and exhibited in a small glassed-in cubicle at the entrance to the immigration office, creating what she saw to be a “chapel” for people coming to make a life in Ireland.”
The clouds are not symbols, but they do suggest to the Irish the particular sky that is so familiar to them, and to immigrants and immigration officials the notion that some things take no notice of artificial national boundaries. I have my own associations to these clouds: a sense of time passing in relation to the weather, echoes of Turner’s subtle landscapes, the sheer beauty of the twilight and daybreak sky, my love of Ireland, and Hari Kirin’s skill at evoking many layers of experience in a single, commonplace natural object.”
“The sky is an image that often suggests infinity, divinity, fate, and the mysterious. But clouds bring it close, making an otherwise pure and limitless space intimate and imagistic. There is something friendly about the clouds that speed over Ireland keeping the land green with gentle showers for the most part. These qualities are compressed in the beautiful small paintings Joan gathered together for her complete project. They also represent her current interest in playing a role as an artist in the life of the commons, those areas of public life that are not interpreted fully by politics, government, and the media. Hari Kirin’s paintings of the clouds bring a sacred perspective to the movement of people among nations, offering both a critique of current immigration methods and a more natural, spiritual, and humane vision.”
Thomas Moore

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