Ryan made this work while she was artist in residence at Tate St Ives (1998-2000). Asked to respond to Barbara Hepworth’s work in situ, she worked in Hepworth’s studio, using marble which had been donated by the Hepworth Estate. Although anxious not to emulate Hepworth’s work, Ryan found her studio a ‘good environment in which to concentrate’ and felt as if she had found a ‘friendly muse’ there (Ryan, Veronica Ryan – Artist in Residence: Quoit Montserrat, exhibition leaflet, Tate St Ives 2000, p.2). The Cornish peninsula strongly reminded Ryan of the Caribbean island of Montserrat, where she was born and had lived until her family emigrated to the United Kingdom when she was one and a half years old. During her residency she also made a related work, owned by Tate, Mango Reliquary, 1998 (Tate T07771).
Quoit Montserrat is a Carrara marble cuboid, similar in scale to Mango Reliquary, with silicone inserts embedded in its upper surface. Marble was a new material for Ryan, who hitherto had worked mostly with plaster and lead, often combined with found objects. Although at first apprehensive about its precious quality, she enjoyed both the close physical experience involved in carving it and what she perceived as its ‘meditative aspect’ (Veronica Ryan, p.3). Ryan has also remarked how marble has a cold, ‘death-like quality’ and a ‘resonance of mortality about it’ but also that, by working it, this coldness could be replaced by a ‘soft and warm’ appearance (Veronica Ryan, p.6). In her works she often experiments with different materials and textures, mixing hard and soft, cool and hot (see also Untitled, 1985, Tate L01938, and Relics in the Pillow of Dreams, 1985, Tate T06530). Thirteen carved indentations in the top of Quoit Montserrat are studded with black rubber inserts modelled in the shape of soursop fruits. A member of the custard apple family, the soursop is a tropical fruit which Ryan first tasted when her family briefly returned to live in Montserrat, in the mid-1960s.
Soon after Ryan was invited to work in St Ives, one of Montserrat’s many volcanoes erupted, bearing destruction and covering the Southern part of the island, where she had lived, in ash. This work relates to Montserrat and has a deep personal resonance for the artist. Quoits are Neolithic dolmens or burial chambers commonly found in Cornwall, and the title Quoit Montserrat is clearly meant to evoke the devastation and death recently experienced in the island. The rubber fruit on the top are symbols of Montserrat for Ryan, who has said that her memories of living there are mostly linked to the sensory experience of tasting new fruit like soursop, which she described as having a perfume that is ‘so pungent it is both sweet and sour.’ (Veronica Ryan, p.7.)
Veronica Ryan, The Wood Street Gallery, Pittsburgh 1993
Veronica Ryan – Artist in Residence: Quoit Montserrat, exhibition leaflet, Tate St Ives 2000, reproduced front cover and p.3 (detail)