May 28 • 35M

In between words

Cristín Leach spent years writing herself out of her articles, but with her first book, she's painting a surprisingly vulnerable portrait of the usually obscured figure of the art critic.

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Click the play button above to hear Cristín Leach talk about her memoir, Negative Space.

Cristín Leach. Photo: Conor Horgan

Negative Space

Working with negative space is a skill that artists learn: there’s a knack to seeing the world by observing the absence that surrounds objects, rather than the objects themselves.

Cristín Leach has been the Sunday Times Ireland art critic for almost 20 years. Before that, having graduated from an MA in Journalism, she became culture editor for RTÉ’s first online presence, RTÉ Interactive, in the late nineties when she was 23. But before that, at just eight, she was writing book reviews for the RTÉ guide.

Words are inarguably her medium, then, but in her debut book, a memoir titled Negative Space, she uses the term, taught to her as a child by her artist mother, as a clever metaphor for all sorts of phenomena in human life.

Negative space, she says, is “what is said and unsaid, what we see and don’t see. And we’re all doing versions of that, all the time.”

“Journalism has rules. You don’t reveal yourself in the story.”

Leach tackles the tricky ethical terrain of the omnipresent yet invisible author head on in her memoir, writing herself back into the picture by weaving together extracts of some of her art criticism down through the years with a self-portrait that provides a glimpse of a woman whose life was in flux.

Having undergone the end of her marriage and moved away from her home near the Galtee Mountains, and variously suffered crippling anxiety, tinnitus and crises of confidence even while attending exhibitions and filing articles to deadline, Leach now retrospectively fills the negative space between her original articles, notes and musings on art and her own inner world.

Battling her own inner critic and kicking back against the oh-so-Irish silence surrounding marital breakdown, Leach finds a voice beyond art criticism.

She’s highly conscious of the double meaning of her title as a reference to people being in a negative space, as in, in a bad place. If you read the book, you’ll see that this is all too apt at times.

Now, at 46, her children in their teens, sitting in her kitchen on the Douglas Road in Cork city, she says she’s actually in a very positive space these days.

Two launches for Negative Space in Cork and Dublin have seen her debut book met with a positive response, making it to the top of Dubray’s bestsellers list following the Cork launch.

Negative Space by Cristín Leach, published by Irish Academic Press, is available in all good booksellers now or online from the publishers here.

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