Mainie Jellet at the Peppercanister New work from Andrew Vickery features in the Christmas Group Show at Dublin’s Peppercanister Gallery. Currently working in Berlin, Vickery creates paintings with an appealing immediacy – full of charm, yet with an underlying subversive element. The gallery will also exhibit a collection of drawings and gouaches by Mainie Jellett. Jellett's abilities in pencil and watercolour derived from the brilliant teaching of William Orpen at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, her time at the Westminster School in London, under Walter Sickert, and finally in Paris with André Lhote. She produced an exceptional body of work in the period 1915 – 22, leading into her abstract gouaches, in the early 1920s. Fine examples from all periods are included (until Dec 17) in the upcoming show. Christmas Group Show: 3 – 23 December. Mainie Jellett: until 17 December
Evidence of Albert Irvin RA’s irrepressible thirst for adventure on canvas can be seen in the heavily spattered surfaces in the east London studio he has occupied for over 30 years. By Fiona Maddocks.
If you visit Albert Irvin RA, always known as Bert, you have to go in through the ‘Girls’ entrance. For the past four decades his studio has been in the former Stepney Green Jewish School – an Edwardian redbrick building off Mile End Road in east London – which closed its doors to pupils in 1970. His workspace is an adjoining pair of first-floor classrooms where the blackboards are still in place, long ago painted white by Irvin, although nothing else has been touched, no improvements made. ‘Well, that’s not quite true,’ he corrects himself. ‘There used to be enormous cast-iron radiators that looked marvellous but never worked. After freezing each winter for more than 30 years, I thought I could allow myself some central heating.’
On a still, golden autumn day, light flooding in through the 336 panes of glass which comprise the tall windows at either end of the north-south axis of the main studio (the other room is used for storage) you can easily imagine the sound of fidgety children scraping chairs and slamming desks, wanting to be in the playground outside. ‘You used to be able to see the scuff marks of shoes on the parquet floor, around where the desks once stood,’ Irvin recalls. The artist Mark Gertler, the playwright Bernard Kops and the band leader Jo Loss were among the school’s distinguished alumni.
‘When I got together with five other artists [including the late Michael Kenny RA] to rescue this building from demolition for use as studios, this part of London was still predominantly Jewish – a big Russian and eastern European immigrant community. Now it’s more Bangladeshi. Sometimes, former pupils come back and want to see inside. I do my best to show them around, even if it is a bit of an interruption... It’s often very moving.’
A tall, upright and unbelievably youthful 88-year old, with twinkly chestnut-brown eyes, Irvin appears to have emerged from one of his canvases, his striped rugby shirt, jeans and shoes comprehensively spattered with the rainbow colours which make his large, abstract paintings so instantly familiar. On closer inspection, it’s as if he has stood upwind of a spin painting machine, since the thick acrylic splashes cover only his front half. His rear is spotless. Is this his work uniform? ‘Well, yes, in a way. I change when I get here [on the tube from Clapham, south London]. I don’t wash these jeans. This pair is about two years old. Eventually, I throw them away.’ They look as if they would stand up unaided. A new pair and a denim jacket hang neatly in a corner of the room, ready for his 5pm commute home.
His studio is not, as he needlessly observes, a clinical kind of place. Every inch of floor is covered: pots of acrylic, buckets full of big brushes, phone book, shoes and socks, a trestle table crammed with radio, old light bulbs, kitchen roll, water biscuits. On a pin board, a few art postcards – by Matisse, Van Gogh, Turner and a scruffy note from the composer Morton Feldman saying, ‘Bert I’m in the Pearly King [pub]’ – act as quiet inspiration. Irvin works, first propping the canvas on several rusty old four-pint beer tins, ‘sullying’, as he puts it, the background in a dominant colour of choice. His knees evidently give him no trouble. The array of quatrefoils, multifoils and hinted architectural forms that shape his visual language are then added, often using his favourite wide-headed brush – ‘ordinary trade, the kind used to paint walls’ – in which the four ferrule-secured tufts give a broad, open, spontaneous quality to his brush strokes.
Around the time he turned 80, Irvin decided he ought to stop working on huge canvases and confine himself to (slightly) smaller ones that he could manoeuvre more easily. He has no assistant, so has to rely on his own muscle power. But the vivid yellow, ochre, orange and green canvas he has just completed is on the old scale. Has he found some magic elixir to restore his strength? ‘No, I had some of the large canvases left over from my last order. It was an effort of will, really. I just thought, “Come on Bert, bugger it, just do the bloody thing”.’
It took him around three months, and the result is entitled, appropriately, Inextinguishable (2010). It relates in part to Carl Nielsen’s fourth symphony, which shares the same name, but also to the unquenchable spirit of this popular artist, who did not become a Royal Academician until he was over 75, giving him immediate senior RA status. ‘I don’t mind that at all, though I get a bit frustrated that, as a senior RA, I can’t sit on any of the committees. I suppose they think, or back in the mists of time once thought, “Can’t have these doddery old sods droning on...”’ He says this with a warm grin.
‘Inextinguishable’ is also the title of Irvin’s forthcoming show at Gimpel Fils gallery in London which opens in November. As part of a trio of winter events, in December Kings Place, London, is holding a show of his prints and Lund Humphries has just published a book, Albert Irvin: The Complete Prints. ‘I think I’m pretty lucky,’ he reflects, touching wood. ‘There was no sense from my childhood or upbringing that I could live a life as an artist.’
He was born in Bermondsey, south London, in 1922. His father ran a grocery shop but during the Depression fell on hard times. ‘I have always lived an urban life. I see my paintings as a metaphor for my journey through life. It’s why I have used street names so often as titles.’ When he was a boy, the family moved to north London and he was a pupil at Holloway County Grammar School, near Arsenal football ground. At the beginning of the Second World War they were evacuated to Northampton where he attended art school, benefiting from fine teachers who had also fled London. ‘So this little shoe- making town didn’t know what had hit it, with all these talented people from art schools such as Camberwell, Chelsea and St Martins moving in.’
This period of his life proved a turning point. In Northampton he met Walter Hussey, vicar of St Matthew’s Church and an inspired patron of the arts. ‘He commissioned Henry Moore’s Madonna and Child [1943-44]. Going into his house was the first time I had ever seen works by Graham Sutherland, Stanley Spencer, Blake, Epstein – right there on the walls. This was a very significant encounter for me. It made me see what was possible in life.’ Hussey became Dean of Chichester Cathedral and his collection is now in the city’s Pallant House Gallery.
After serving in the RAF as a navigator during the war – ‘I was never a pilot. I didn’t trust my steering ability. In fact I have never learned to drive a car either’ – Irvin completed his art studies at Goldsmiths, where fellow students included Bridget Riley and Mary Quant. ‘They were younger than me because they hadn’t been in the war.’ By this time he had met his future wife, Betty, who had also been at art school in Northampton. They married in 1947 and now have grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
'During the war she retrained, as several women artists did at the time, as a graphic designer in the aircraft industry. That skill came in useful later when, in the ups and downs of my career, she was able to earn money!’
As we leave the studio, he points to an enlarged picture leaning against a wall. ‘That’s Ruskin’s drawing of Turner – one of my great heroes. He keeps an eye on me, and makes sure I get on with what I have to do.’ Bert Irvin shows no signs either of taking it easy, or of disobeying.
English-born Dublin-based artist Andrew Vickery has his first one-person exhibition at the Peppercannister Gallery from August 27th to September 12th. Charming, initially appealingly naïve but slightly sinister, these paintings are people-free stage sets or cinema shots waiting for a narrative. Painted from memory in gouache on canvas, themes which recur in Vickery's work include nature, culture, sex and travel, and he describes the work as "a threshold to another reality: a world of enchantment, romance, sex and escape." Peppercanister Gallery, 3 Herbert Street, Dublin 2.
Charlie Whisker is on cloud nine. He has just become a dad to Lady Ruby Mae Whisker and a recent exhibition in the Merrion Hotel, 'Memory and Promise' was a huge hit. As he sits in his Bray home he says life is good but don't get him started on the rubbish and litter in Bray, rubbish so bad he is considering leaving his elegant three-storey house on Sidmonton Road for the cleaner streets of Sandyford or Killiney.
Hailing from Bangor, Co. Down Charlie (59) came to Bray by circuitous route and while art was always his passion it was not always art in the traditional sense that put food on the table.
He veered away from painting and teaching when he was asked to make a music video for Bob
Growing up in Bangor, a northern version of Bray according to Charlie, he said he had an idyllic childhood but 'the Troubles came and destroyed it (the North)'.
The recent return to violence, however, has not shocked him. 'I think that certain representatives in the government want to keep it going on in the background. I am not shocked by the return to violence but I am appalled by it. It is an appalling thing to do, to kill a policeman, someone that is there for the community, working for the good of the community.'
His experiences in the North, including witnessing the shooting of one of his students, Michael Browne and sitting with the 16 year old until he died from his injuries waiting for help to arrive, have influenced his style of painting.
'Having had an idyllic childhood and then seen the Troubles I tend to litter my paintings with sweet and sour images, tragic and joyful. I like to do it in a way that is forensic so that people can put it together in their heads. So that it involves the viewers.'
The birth of Lady Ruby Mae, Ruby Mae for short, has also subtly altered the direction of his paintings. 'The joyous arrival of another child has influenced me. I start thinking of the toys she will have, the toys I had as a young child and things like ladybirds are creeping into my paintings.'
It was teaching art in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) he was contacted by Windmill Lane Studio in Dublin who wanted someone with visual skills to make a music video and basically poached him from NCAD.
The move snowballed and he moved to America where he enjoyed an amazing ten years making music videos for the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. To this day many die hard Dylan fans reckon that Series of Dreams, the first video Whisker did for him, is Dylan's best.
'I was a great Dylan fan and to meet him and work for him was amazing and I really enjoyed it. I also did a lot of work for Bruce Springsteen. He was very approachable and great fun.'
Life in America was 'extremely joyous' where the Whiskers met a lot of musicians and actors.
'People were very welcoming, particularly in California. They included you and made you feel welcome. Initially I felt nervous. It was top end work and I also made a series of musical documentaries myself but it was a case of people like Dylan and Springsteen, having seen our showreels, asking us to make their videos.'
The move to America may perhaps have come about through other means had an opportunity with NASDAQ not presented itself after the first Dylan video was produced in Dublin.
On seeing the video they offered him a four year contract making commercials and the Whiskers moved en masse to America.
'I was very excited. I wanted the kids to go to America and to go to school there. I didn't want them to be taught religion here and I wanted a system like America and I also liked the idea of them growing up in a warm open climate and broadening their experiences.'
The dot com explosion however in the early noughties led to a different style of video and the Whiskers moved back to IreDylan in Dublin's Windmill Studios and this took him to America where he settled in Los Angeles with his wife Mairead and two daughters India and Domino.
However a return to Dublin was followed by the breakup of his marriage and it was some time before he met his current partner, author Julia Kelly, at the artist retreat of Annaghmakerrig in Co. Monaghan.
Now back painting Charlie loves the aspects of nature that Bray and Wicklow turn up.
'I never know what I am painting. I start with an abstract image and from that comes an idea and I develop it. I never sit down with a painting in mind. I do react with nature and I walk every day with our two dogs particularly down by the sea and along the coast.' land. 'It was hell moving back. 9/11 had just happened and we sold our house in Santa Monica but when we converted the money from the sale we lost a lot of money on the dollar. When we came back a rundown house in Dun Laoighaire was more expensive than a house in Beverly Hills! We didn't know whether we would be able to fit back in but thankfully we were both able to re-establish ourselves.' Living in Bray with Julia, new baby Ruby Mae and the couple's two rescue dogs, Miss Mouse and Blue, Charlie seems very much at home but Bray's reputation as one of the dirtiest towns in Ireland, gets him hot under the collar.
'Bray was beautiful; it was the Brighton of Ireland. But it is gone very dirty and neglected. The pier is falling apart. I loved Bray as a child and I loved moving here but I am distraught to see the way that people are abusing it. There is a stunning natural beauty to Bray but humans are intent on littering it. We are thinking of getting out. I just can't deal with the rubbish and filth. I find it abhorrent.'
His latest exhibition proved a big hit with many painting selling on opening night. 'With these times in mind it went very very well. There is definitely a drop in spending and had I known last year I would have dome some smaller pictures. But I had a very good response on the night and sold well.' The couple's house is very much an artist one with Charlie working on the top floor with music blaring while Julia works down stairs in silence. However it works well although the arrival of Ruby Mae may have an impact on working arrangements as time progresses as the couple figure out a schedule that suits them both and their daughter once work resumes in the household.
In Praise of Shadows - Andrew Vickery part of Paolo Colombo curated exhibition 'In Praise Of Shadows' at IMMA
A major exhibition presenting some 90 works in the form of shadows, shadow theatres and silhouettes by eight leading contemporary artists opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 5 November 2008. In Praise of Shadows is inspired by the long history of shadow theatre in Turkey and Greece and comprises works that are based on folk tales or simple contemporary narratives. These are being shown alongside films by two master filmmakers from the first half of the 20th-century. Through the work of such celebrated artists as William Kentridge, Jockum Nordström and KaraWalker, the exhibition explores the parallels between the traditions of shadow theatre and the new narrative spirit in contemporary art. It also reveals the influence which this traditional art form has had on the world of contemporary art in recent years. At the heart of the exhibition is the shadow theatre tradition of Turkey and Greece and its main protagonist Karagöz (Karaghiozis in Greece), an ever-hungry trickster who lives through hundreds of adventures and misadventures along with a cast of other characters. The exhibition brings together key works by Haluk Akakçe, Nathalie Djurberg,William Kentridge, Katariina Lillqvist, Jockum Nordström, Christiana Soulou, Andrew Vickery and KaraWalker, selected for their specific affinities with that world. They range from freestanding model theatres, drawings and wall installations to films, photographs, texts and manuscripts relating to shadow theatre. Early silhouettes and stop motion (frame-by-frame) films by Lotte Reiniger and Ladislas Starewitch, pioneers of animated films from the first half of the 20th century, form an important part of the exhibition.
In Praise of Shadows includes a number of key works by the distinguished South African artist William Kentridge, among them his free-standing theatre and preparatory drawing for Preparing for the Flute, an abridged version of Mozart’s Magic Flute. Katariina Lillquist will present two films, The Country Doctor and the Maiden and the Soldier, and the puppets and props she handcrafted for the films. Both owe much to the practice of the Polish theatre director and artist Tadeusz Kantor; also an acknowledged influence on the work of William Kentridge.
The exhibition will feature drawings, silhouette installations, videos and paintings by the celebrated African American artist Kara Walker. Much of Walker’s work is closely related to the original traditions and techniques of shadow theatre, which she employs in her video animations and in real shadow plays to explore issues of race, gender and sexuality, as in … calling to me from the angry surface of some grey and threatening sea. I was transported, 2007. In addition, a 2004 collaborative video by Walker and William Kentridge is being shown for the first time.
The work of the pioneering German filmmaker, Lotte Reiniger, has a central place in the exhibition. In the early 1920s, Karagöz became a direct source of inspiration for Reiniger and her silhouette films became a two-way street between the traditions of shadow theatre and European high art. The exhibition will screen some of her best known works - Die Abenteuer des Prinzes Ahmed, Papageno, Carmen and A Night in the Harem. Related material, including the original silhouettes and storyboards, is also being shown.
Likewise, Polish filmmaker, Ladislaw Starewitch, a master of 1920s and ’30s stop-motion animation, a technique used to make manipulated objects appear to move on their own, is represented with his original treatment of such traditional fireside stories as The Mascot, 1933 and Love in Black and White, 1923. Andrew Vickery, a British-born artist, and long time resident of Ireland, is showing his free-standing theatre – a contemporary Punch and Judy-like presentation, Do you know what you saw?, 2004 – from the IMMA Collection. The name Karagöz is derived from the Turkish kara meaning black and göz meaning eye.
The shadow theatre, of which he was the hero, dates back to at least the 16th century in Turkey where it spread throughout the Ottoman Empire, finding particularly fertile ground in 19th century Greece. In both countries it came to represent the voice of the disenfranchised and to act as a source of political critique. Over the years in Greece, a number of plays relating to a specific local context were introduced. At times, these stemmed directly from classical theatre, while others reflected current social and political situations - from the German and Italian occupation during the Second World War, to more contemporary political commentaries involving prime ministers and politicians in the 1970s. Only in the second half of the 20th-century have they become a vehicle for children’s theatre and for family orientated narratives. Karagöz/Karaghiozis stories are still performed today by many puppeteers who have adapted his adventures to today’s public and to contemporary subjects.
The exhibition is curated by Paolo Colombo, formerly Curator at the MAXXI-Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo in Rome from 2001 to 2007, and Director of the Centre d’art contemporain in Geneva from 1989 to 2001. Following its opening in Dublin, the exhibition will travel to the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art and the Museum Benaki, Athens.
Discussion On Tuesday 4 November at 5.00pm Paolo Colombo will discuss the curatorial ideas behind the exhibition with IMMA Director Enrique Juncosa. Admission is free, but booking is essential. Online bookings can be made on www.imma.ie or by telephone on +353 1 612 9919.
In Praise of Shadows is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue designed and produced by CHARTA, with texts by the following authors: Metin And, Evamarie Blattner, Paolo Colombo, Lewis Hyde, Enrique Juncosa,William Kentridge, Carolina Lopez, Francois Martin and Lotte Reiniger.
In Praise of Shadows continues until 4 January 2009.
Belfast-born Sarah Longley will open the Peppercanister Gallery programme for 2009 with a series of Italian paintings. Her work ranges from intimate domestic interiors, still tiles with flowers and fabrics to portraits of friends, family and self-portraits. A sense of place is the central theme in this exhibition, which is her fifth one-person show at the gallery. Sarah Longley: January - February
The Peppercanister Gallery's Christmas Exhibition puts the spotlight on small to medium sized contemporary works from artists including Basil Blackshaw, Brian Ballard, Liam Belton, Neil Shawcross and Andrew Vickery. There will also be sculpture from Robert Janz, Eileen MacDonagh and Breon O'Casey, and jewellery by Duibhne Gough and Sonja Landweer.
With the titular Marlix Bull dominating this surreal landscape of sharply defined images, this oil painting is instantly identifiable as the work of Dublin artist Liam Belton. This proud Taurus was originally of Persian extraction from the ancient world, although it was more red in colour then, because it was made from terracotta. It stands like a defiant sentry among familiar Belton objects -- ceramic bowls and eggs -- and through the two doorways, you can glimpse fragments of two of his abstract paintings.
Belton has gained an international reputation for his paintings that are notable for their clarity and meticulous attention to detail. He peppers his minimalist backdrops with realistic depictions of familiar objects -- eggs are something of a signature touch -- alongside the exotic, imbuing them all with a sense of complete stillness and detachment, as if the empty space is as important as the filled.
A broad selection of recent work features in a major solo exhibition currently showing at the Peppercanister Gallery (www.peppercanister.com), consisting of 12 large still-life paintings and also 28 abstract oil works on paper --a relatively new departure for Belton.
LIAM BELTON – PEPPERCANISTER GALLERY
The master of still life, Liam Belton, is exhibiting recent paintings in the Peppercanister Gallery from 04 -24 Sept. In addition to still life paintings, he will show abstract oil paintings.
Gallery Details: Peppercanister Gallery, 3 Herbert Street, Dublin 2, www.peppercanister.com
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 10:00-17:30, Sat: 10:00-13:00
PATRICK J MURPHY discusses the development of John Behan's distinguished career as he marks his 70th birthday and prepares for two exhibitions later this year. John Behan is seventy years of age this year and marks this important birthday with an upcoming exhibition of new work at the Lavit Gallery in Cork next September, followed soon afterwards by a major exhibition at the prestigious Beaux Art Gallery in Bath, which specialises in featuring the works of important modern sculptors. Behan at seventy is an impressive, successful artist. He has come a long way from his early childhood in the inner city neighbourhood of Sheriff Street, to being one of the most popular and best patronised of living Irish artists with an international reputation. From earliest childhood, he yearned to become an artist. At fourteen years of age he was haunting the public library in Marino, devouring the contents of the little pocket books on art, featuring such Renaissance masters as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Old master drawings were also then a source of intense inspiration for the budding artist, as was the almost daily sight of vast herds of cattle being driven down to Dublin port for live export by drovers, from the cattle market near Prussia Street, then known to Dubliners as Cowtown. No wonder the apprenticed metalworker soon began to fashion images of sturdy bullocks from scrap metals, before quickly graduating to modelling and casting in bronze. First though, he received a thorough training in welding and forging iron, copper and brass from the blacksmith Paddy McElroy who himself developed his own artistic style and taught the young Behan how to express himself in sculpture.
The first work of art that Behan ever made was a bull, he told John Quinn, in an interview for the radio series 'My Education'. From this apprenticeship it was a logical progression to study art at the National College of Art in Dublin, before intellectual curiosity and single-minded ambition drove him further afield for broader study, first in London and afterwards in Oslo, then returning home to pursue a career as a full-time, professional artist. It was by no means the best of times, particularly for a young sculptor. There were then few enough patrons of contemporary art, and those that bought the works of young artists tended to confine themselves to paintings. Oisin Kelly was then a senior Irish sculptor who made powerful figurative sculptures when occasionally commissioned but had to supplement his meagre artistic earnings by teaching at St Columba's College. Behan was impressed by his flights of birds and in the years to follow was influenced by this artist and created many small and large sculptures of birds in flight and shoals of fish, cast in bronze. John Behan first exhibited at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1960. Soon he became a member of a like-minded group of young figurative Irish artists known as The Independents, which included such influential figures of today such as, Brian Bourke, Michael Kane, James McKenna, Charles Cullen, Edward Delaney and Joseph O'Connor. The new art was vigorous and robustly representational in an expressionist style which went against the current styles then prevalent in Ireland, including abstraction coming in from abroad, and conservatism within the membership of the Royal Hibernian Academy. The Independents were against the establishment of the day and had to struggle for exposure and recognition. They exhibited together in 1965 and then set up the historic Project Arts Centre in 1967, which became a venue for many subsequent exhibitions and began to attract newer, younger audiences. Behan was a founding member of the co-operative. A few years later he took the much needed initiative of setting up the Dublin Art Foundry with colleague Peter O'Brien, thus enabling young Irish sculptors to cast their own works in bronze at reasonable cost and to learn the intricacies of that process at the same time.
Since those early days Behan's reputation has gone onwards and upwards. Writer Fred Johnston has described him as 'arguably Ireland's foremost sculptor' in a Sunday Times review. Critic Brian Fallon does not go that far, but enthusiastically traces the development of his career in the publication The Work of John Behan, Sculpture 1960-1994, published on the occasion of the artist's retrospective exhibition as part of the Galway Arts Festival 1994, in which he recalls what a stir Behan's small bronze bulls made at the outset of his career. They still do forty years later. It is a feature of Behan's art that he returns again and again to his favourite themes, particularly that of the bull, fashioning numerous variations of his chosen subjects. For example, the Charging Bull of 1994 (Fig 8) leads on to the witty and inventive Woolly Bull of 2000 and the extraordinary Llanac Bull of 2006, which is one of the finest works of art he has created (Fig 1). In this recent masterpiece, he emphasises the strength and the men acing virility of the mighty creature in an expressionist tour-de force which departs from realistic representation to give us a truly wonderful depiction of a great beast of the imagination. Then, just to demonstrate that he has lost none of his representational powers in that same year, he produced the realistically modelled Fighting Bulls with horns locked and bodies straining (Fig 3).
John Behan has acknowledged his admiration for the art of giants of 20th-century art Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore. He is fascinated by Picasso's creative inventiveness, for example, his ability to turn the saddle and handlebars of a bicycle into the seminal sculpture Head of a Bull, Metamorphosis, 1943. Likewise, he has admired Picasso's early cubist bronze Head of 1909 and his sculpture of a goat, fashioned principally from a discarded shopping basket. These may have prompted Behan to model the striking portrait image of poet Seamus Heaney and the witty depiction titled Paddy McGinty's Goat in 2006, which were exhibited that year inThe Kenny Gallery in Galway.
Behan's reputation grew rapidly in the 1970s. He was awarded the gold medal of the Oireachtas Exhibition in 1972 and made an associate member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1973. He was now reading voraciously about Ireland's past, particularly publications on Fenian mythology. This became a fruitful source of other imagery for many years to come. The 1974 bronze Two Warriors in the collection of AIB may owe some debt of inspiration to Henry Moore's Warrior with Shield of 1953-4, and is as close to abstraction as Behan was likely to go (Fig 6). He made many sculptures in bronze and assorted metals in the decades to follow, on themes from the 'Fiannaiocht' saga, culminating in the noble Cutchulainn in Chariot of 2006 (Fig 9), in which the great warrior stands clutching his spear and shield, in preparation for battle, just as Don Quixote was depicted in 1951 by French sculptor Germaine Richier. The scale of his sculpture began to increase in the 1970s and 1980s.
Years later, after making the Winged Man for Ennis in Co Clare in 1990, he was commissioned by a new admirer Tony Ryan of Guinness Peat Aviation to make the large Icarus-like sculpture of a winged figure for Shenzhen in China in 1992 (Fig 2). The artist's obsession with the themes of famine and emigration now followed and culminated in his being awarded a major State commission to install a tall three-masted Famine Ship at Murrisk near Westport, County Mayo, looking out towards spectacular Clew Bay. This was so successful and so well received in government circles that he was soon afterwards officially commissioned to make the massive bronze famine ship titled Arrival (Fig 4) for the plaza of the United Nations in New York in 2000. This led to the making of many maquettes and smaller versions in bronze of famine ships, an outstanding example of which is the unique Ghost Famine Ship of 2003 where the rigging and the flattened bodies of the expired emigrants coalesce into a dense horizontal pattern of powerful moving abstracted imagery (Fig 7). An atypical but superb public sculpture is his Equality Emerging of 2001, a female figure located near the Salmon Weir Bridge in Galway City.
Behan is now an established name in Irish art and has travelled extensively to countries as far away as China and Vietnam where the plight of boat people moved him to conjure up new images of indigenous fishermen and boats. Travels in Greece and Cyprus inspired him to make haunting bronze images from Greek mythology and even ancient crumbling dwellings. In the years to follow he made several variations on the theme of Good Friday Fish, the most recent showing sailors holding aloft a giant fish in a narrow craft, reminiscent of a Norse longboat with a dragon prow (Fig 5). He has been elected to membership of Aosdaina and the Royal Hibernian Academy and awarded many prizes and honours culminating in an honorary Doctorate of Literature from NUI, Galway in 2000.
John Behan has now been making sculpture, drawings, etchings, and even sometimes paintings, for more than forty years. His energy and his industry in his seventieth year are as vital as ever, and one hopes that his creativity and his zest for life will lead on to many further successes and achievements. He is a charming, generous artist with his own unique artistic personality who has inspired and helped many younger artists, and given pleasure to legions of art lovers.
PATRICK J MURPHY is Art Adviser to the Office of Public Works. John Behan, New Work,Lavit Gallery, Cork 16-27 September; John Behan, New Sculpture, Beaux Arts Bath, UK 20 October - 15 November 2008.
to download a copy of the PDF click on the link below.