The smell of churros and hot chocolate wafts into my studio from the cafe across the street

At home I’m an architect. Our year in Malaga, even in lockdown, has been truly inspiring for my art

A year in Malaga: Ciarán McCoy and his wife, Enid Bebbington, with one of his Pigsy paintings

A year in Malaga: Ciarán McCoy and his wife, Enid Bebbington, with one of his Pigsy paintings

 

Ciarán McCoy currently lives in Malaga with his wife, Enid Bebbington. They are both from Dublin, where they normally live and work, but are spending a year in the Spanish city

Back in 2019 my wife and I made plans to take sabbaticals from our work in Ireland. We planned to live in Malaga, in the south of Spain, where I could apply myself to being a full-time artist for a year, having been juggling a busy architectural career as a partner in ODKM Architects while also working as an artist under my art alter-ego of Pigsy.

Early in 2020 our plans began to come together, and we had rented an apartment in Malaga with a start date in March last year. We had also sorted out a pet passport for our dog, Dr Bones McCoy, along with getting him booked on a flight on March 25th, 2020. As we all now know, by this date Ireland went into lockdown, and so we and Bones did not end up getting a flight to Spain. The best-laid plans were torn apart by Covid – but luckily we got to Malaga in August last year.

The sun and light in Malaga are having a really positive influence on my mindset and approach to art. I am using colours that are so much more vibrant than the ones I use in Ireland

I hit the ground running when we arrived and got an artist’s residency and studio in La Casa Amarilla gallery, in the centre of the city. My studio is on the first floor, above the gallery, and it has three floor-to-ceiling windows that open on to balconies, facing on to Calle Santos. Across the street the smell of churros and hot chocolate wafts from Cafe Aranda, which has been serving these treats to Malagueños since the 1930s.

I’ve found Malaga to be truly inspiring, and I have been very productive in my time here. The studio space I am working in is really conducive to creativity, and it has also given me opportunities to collaborate with and learn from other artists of varying disciplines.

I am finding that the sun and light here in Malaga are having a really positive influence on my mindset and approach to the pieces I am working on. I am using colours that are so much more vibrant than the ones I use in Ireland.

Painting by PIGSY
One of Pigsy’s paintings

Within a couple of months of arrival I was offered a place in my first Spanish group exhibition, which was really successful – happily, the piece I submitted sold quickly. There is a buoyant art scene here in Malaga, with some cutting-edge galleries in the city that exhibit some excellent contemporary artists. Along with this, there is an edgy vibe in an area close to the city called Soho that is a hub for street art and artists.

Enid, my wife, is looking after the business of my art. In Ireland she works as a librarian, but here in Malaga she has been working on the digital marketing of my art, updating my website and producing a range of merchandise based on Pigsy art.

With lockdowns and Covid restrictions we have had to adapt and change the way we have done things to get my art seen. In November I had my first virtual exhibition presented by DesignYard Gallery, in Dublin. This gave me a great opportunity to introduce my art to a much larger audience, and it was probably seen by many more people on YouTube and my website than would generally attend an art-exhibition opening in Ireland.

Since the Three Kings celebration, on January 6th, we have been living under a curfew here in Malaga, and although the city is noticeably quiet, with no tourists and fewer people around, it has not affected us too much. However, newly introduced restrictions have closed all nonessential shops and restaurants for two weeks. Unfortunately this was when my first solo Spanish art exhibition was due to open in La Casa Amarilla. The restrictions have meant that my exhibition has had to be postponed, and it now looks like it won’t open until March 2021. But this is okay: I’ll just keep working away.

In other ways Covid has had an impact on how my wife and I have found Malaga. We had planned to learn and use Spanish by meeting up with people through intercambios – language exchanges in local cafes. With regulations on the numbers of people allowed to meet, these have all been cancelled. We have also generally stayed away from cafes and bars. But we have been ploughing on with our Spanish and have continued to attend classes in schools that are still operating and do online classes. Although our progress with the language is slow, we are pleased that we have now got beyond just being able to order a cerveza in a bar.

Pigsy: I hit the ground running when we arrived in Spain and got an artist’s residency
One of Pigsy’s paintings

Luckily, things are not on a full lockdown here, so we can still get out and do a lot of things that we enjoy, such as going for a cycle up the coast to visit places such as the little fishing village of Pedregaleo, or taking the dog for a walk in the park – we bring a flask of coffee and buy a pastry in the panadería on our way so we can stop at a bench and people-watch.

In recent years I had taken up Padel tennis in Ireland, and when we arrived in Malaga I signed up straightaway for a few games in a local club. This has been a great way to both meet people and speak a bit of Spanish. Enid decided she would like to give Padel a go too, and now she has a regular weekly class with a group of women and a Spanish coach who speaks fluent English, having spent a year in Dublin when he was 18.

Overall our experience on our “year out” has been really positive. Malaga is a city with a lot to offer, and before lockdowns and closures we were able to spend our weekends visiting different museums and cultural offerings, including two Picasso museums– one situated in the house where he was born – along with other great museums, like the Carmen Thyssen and the Spanish Pompidou Centre. There’s also a really great contemporary-art museum here, the CAC, where we’ve seen numerous exhibitions on our visits.

Malaga is very multicultural, with people from all over the world, and we’ve felt very welcome here. Not having had Spanish when we first arrived didn’t seem to be a problem

Malaga is very multicultural, with people from all over the world, and we’ve felt very welcome here. Not having had Spanish when we first arrived didn’t seem to be a problem, and we found the locals to be very helpful. They didn’t mind helping us with our Spanish when we were out for coffee or a glass of wine or a beer.

Generally people seem to be relaxed about most things, and with Covid there has been a relaxation of some regulations by the city. Now cafes and bars are allowed to spread tables and chairs out on the street. This seems to be working well. Some of owners have said that one of the conditions is that they have to keep the street and area they use clean and in good condition. In fairness, the streets are spotlessly clean, and all of the cafe staff get out and sweep the street as they put away the tables and chairs for the day.

All in all, it’s been a great experience for a change from Ireland. The weather is very conducive to living a good lifestyle, and we’ve enjoyed trying out lots of new things. We have missed a lot of things about Ireland, but the great thing about the world we are living in now is that we can stay connected with friends and family so easily using Zoom and WhatsApp.

We’ve also been staying connected to Ireland by attending different online and virtual events offered by organisations and clubs that we are involved with. It is pretty crazy in some ways to have seen Enid taking part in a virtual cycling talk in Ireland a few weeks ago after cycling around Spain earlier in the day. But it is a much more globalised and connected world, and that is certainly not a bad thing.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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