Tales From The West Opening Speech by Frank X Buckley

Inishlacken, Acrylic/Canvas, 100x100cms

This evening we celebrate the achievement of two artists, Rosie McGurran and Gavin Lavelle, both of whom live and work in and draw their inspiration from Connemara, Rosie in Roundstone and Gavin in Clifden.  I had already seen Rosie’s work on exhibition in the gallery here in the past but I was not familiar with Gavin’s when Bryan asked me to speak at the opening; so I took myself off to the west to meet them both and to see their paintings. That visit confirmed again for me how fortunate we are to live here in Ireland, just how beautiful this island of ours is where wherever we live we can reach mountain, sea, rivers or lakes within minuets, to breathe deeply the refreshing bracing air of the open countryside and be disturbed “with the joy of elevated thoughts”, to leave behind the searing with trade, the blearing with toil. But of all the available options Connemara is special.  It is a region of superb scenic grandeur dominated by the rocky mountain range of the Twelve Bens and the Mamturk mountains with its bogs and moorlands, its many lakes and rivers. It really is spell-bindingly beautiful and I was entranced by it all. Such spectacular countryside intimates the sublime, a presence that disturbs, a divine imminence and transcendence. It is easy to understand why landscape is so prevalent in our visual culture and why so many of our artists chose to live in the west: Paul Henry, Charles Lamb, Maurice McGonigal, George Campbell, Gerard Dillon, to name a few and, of course, Rosie and Gavin.  This marvellous region is still every bit as awesomely beautiful as it was in Paul Henry’s day.  Time and again I seemed to recognise the scenes he painted although I didn’t see any stacks of turf anywhere and the low thatched cottages are replaced by slate roofed bungalows, more to the health and comfort of those who live in them.

Gavin was brought up in Dalkey.  His father was born in Clifden but settled in Dublin when he was engaged as an engineer to work on the Kish Lighthouse and other projects. Gavin went to school in Monkstown CBS.  There was no art program there but one of the teachers had an interest and gave some classes and Gavin progressed so as to gain entry to NCAD where he studied fine art from 1986 to ’91.  After his father died he returned to the family home in Main Street Clifden, which gave him his studio where he continues to work and to be inspired by the landscape which surrounds him. He painted in the rich lush colours that I associate with Franz Marc and the Fauves, the Brucke artists and the Blaue Reiter Group but which is occasioned here by the clear bright light and the clean air which is a special feature of Connemara  and at which I marvelled during my recent three days’ visit.  These paintings were the result of slow and careful practice and the close observation of the seasonal changes of the landscape in which he lives.

In the last year or so while keeping that bright and exhilarating palette and still inspired by the surrounding countryside he has introduced a surreal element into his paintings. By using collage, the medium at the core of Dada and surrealist art (not because he cannot draw or paint – he is extremely competent in both) he inserts texts  and images into his meticulously painted landscapes and maps and half-globes, cut-outs from books and other printed works.  They make idiosyncratic connections: strange beasts, dinosaurs and flying fish, disproportionate flora (blossoms the size of oak trees and bigger) and fauna, images from history and imagination, from paintings and sculpture. He builds riddles out of life’s components, contrasting disparate incompatible and alien elements, highlighting the absurd.  With a magical, poetic transmutation of the mundane he jogs us out of our complacency, forcing us to stop and think about our world and what we take for granted. He juxtaposes chance and subconscious imagery which amuses, intrigues, stimulates and, sometimes, shocks. His ingeniously composed and meticulously realised compositions linger in the memory enduringly with their lush intense colouring and fulsome rich hues.  These paintings can be read on several levels. They prompt narrative and speculation of alternative histories and evolutions, strangely different worlds, and contrasting religious influences.

His mentors and antecedents might be Bosch, Breugel, Archimboldo, or Blake, Moreau, Ernst or de Chirico. We see images of Flemish masters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in whose work exquisitely painted landscapes were an integral part, transposing the Christian message into their own time and context. The narrative of the Northern Renaissance landscape, as Gavin himself writes “ the Arcadian idyll of Poussin, or the nineteen centaury English pastoral often provide a base or a template for disassembling and reworking”. The less known Joachim Patinier who used landscape as a subject in itself has also influenced him.  Latterly he has developed his theme further having semi-spheres constructed by a local collaborator, shaped and sanded, on which to paint and collage his provocative images, evoking the moon as well as the earth.  In all this body of work he incorporates pictorial references to other cultures, their painting, sculpture, architecture, raising historical, religious, political questions about the past, present and the future.  There are no easy answers or analyses but the questions hang and suggest possibilities. What if the Armada had sailed through the storms? What if Islam had continued northwards as well as to the east? What if Wolfe Tone had committed himself to the Three Graces rather than to the Triple Ideals?  He prompts us to pleasurable speculation.

Rosie McGurran hails from Belfast. She excelled at drawing and painting while still at secondary school where Dr. Denise Ferran taught art, She later studied Fine Art at the University of Ulster. She went on to complete residencies at the British school in Rome, in Australia at the Centre founded by Arthur Boyd and Sydney Nolan, in Iceland and New York and elsewhere. She is a member of the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts and exhibits regularly in Ireland and internationally.

She first discovered Roundstone and Innishlacken in the late 90’s and was enthralled and disturbed by what she saw and heard: the village, it exquisite harbour, the island and its deserted homes in ruins, the crisscrossing dry stone walls, tiny enclosures, its stories of hardship, struggle and emigration. Dr Ferran, who has remained an admirer of Rosie’s work and a friendly support to her, wrote in a recent catalogue “The draw that Roundstone and Innishlacken had for Rosie was realised in 2000. She had found her location, her dream, seeking answers to painting’s problems, continuing her journey through life, following in the footsteps of Henry and Dillon and like them finding her unique voice”.

I can understand something of how deeply she feels for the community and place in which she has settled. I spent some time with her on that recent visit to Roundstone and she brought me out to the island. The previous day a lobster fisherman from a village close-by had drowned and his neighbours had just found his body after searching all night.  A daughter of one of the last island dwellers, Christina (Woods) Lowry came with us.  Christina named the family of each abandoned home we passed as we walked the island’s perimeter. It made a deep and penetrating impression on me and the images have stayed with me, haunting my dreams at night and my memories during the day: the bleak and barren land, the smallness of the holdings, the abandoned roofless ruined cottages.

Several of Rosie’s paintings of the past show a young woman standing erect with her long flowing hair and a serious questioning expression. She wears a fulsome skirt or apron in which she gathers her memories and her hopes: dolls, small model houses, bundles of glistening fish, images of island life and what might be once more.

Her paintings show her deeply felt response to a community’s destruction, its people dispersed, its homes abandoned, and her continuing concern for a culture under threat, fishing no longer a viable career, a village and neighbourhood in danger of becoming a ghost land of cottages, empty but for a few weeks’ vacation in the year, its schools and businesses closed down.  Innishlacken typifies the danger and inspires her art, her creative imagination and her commitment to save her adopted community. She has always been interested in the human story, no doubt a product of her teenage years helping in the family pub in Belfast when she gained insight into the concerns of her customers by listening to their stories.

Rosie has now established her own home and studio in Roundstone and integrated fully into village life.  She greeted and was greeted by everyone we passed.  She organises an annual residency for artists every summer on the island, one of the ways she lives out that commitment. She is strongly aware of the influence of the earlier artists in the area’s culture and history. That she feels is something to be nurtured, developed and respected and, so, she invites artists of the highest calibre to work in the residence she organises.

While her paintings can be appreciated as beautiful landscapes, capturing the pure light and particular colours of the countryside, the sea and the island they depict, like Gavin’s they have a surreal quality.  Fish, houses, birds’ nests and eggs, placed incongruously, balance on the head of the heroic female figure or fly through the air. Some of the pictures are dark with a brooding atmosphere. “The role of the sea in modern life”, she writes, “has been diminished.” What was important and significant in the people’s lives has been reinterpreted and has become a mere accessory, an entertainment to visitors. The blood of fish and the yolk of egg, symbols of life and life’s nourishment, are poured to the ground. National and European economics have deprived a people of their homes and their livelihood.  The paintings’ dominant figure recalls Alice lost in her wonderland, the children of Narnia adrift in the forest. She has created a kind of magical realism where another community of created characters live and work and interact.

Like Magritte and de Chirico she makes riddles out of the components of reality.  The existing order is outmoded, hypocritical and discredited. Rosie takes her hopes, her dreams and subconscious vision and translates them into a pictorial structure while retaining its fantastic character.  As with Gavin’s it may seem humorous but it has serious connotations. And the wonder of it all is that they communicate these concerns in works that have a sublime and delightful beauty.  Rosie’s fellow Northerner Michael Longley has written: “ A short boat ride from the harbour of Roundstone lies Innishlacken where the ghost of Gerard Dillon presides and where on the rocky shore at low tide you can draw water from a well. This is Rosie McGurran’s soul-landscape.  Her art refreshes like a spring of drinking water hidden among sea-weed and rock pools.”  I have been greatly inspired and enriched in being engrossed in these works.  I hope you will be too.

Frank X. Buckley

Albert Irvin profiled in Abstract Critical

 Bert in studio, courtesy of the artist and Gimpel Fils

Bert in studio, courtesy of the artist and Gimpel Fils

In the studio with Albert Irvin

Written by Sam Cornish

Last week I went to talk to Albert (Bert) Irvin having recently enjoyed a mini-retrospective showing of his paintings in the Canary Wharf offices of Clifford Chance. In the course of an enjoyable hour or so we covered a range of topics including his annual celebration of Turner’s birthday, how a younger British artist (currently being honored with a much criticized retrospective) bought a number of paintings from his last exhibition, the Hockney merchandise currently being hawked at the Royal Academy and his daily ‘schlep’ across London to the Stepney Green studio he has worked in for the last forty years.

ALBERT IRVIN Terrace 1996 acrylic on canvas 24 x 24 in/61 x 61 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Gimpel Fils
ALBERT IRVIN Brandenburg 1994 acrylic on canvas 84 x 120 in/214 x 305 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and Gimpel Fils
ALBERT IRVIN Plimsoll 1979 acrylic on canvas 84 x 120 in/213 x 305 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and Gimpel Fils

ALBERT IRVIN Flodden 1978 acrylic on canvas 84x120in / 213x427cm, Courtesy of the Artist and Gimpel Fils

Like so many artists of his generation Irvin was profoundly influenced by the exhibition of American painting put on by the Tate in 1956, and he remembers the experience of seeing the Abstract Expressionist pictures there as ‘like a bomb going off’, the impact primarily being their scale, that is the paintings’ ‘real scale as opposed to just their size’. He had previously worked in a figurative manner and he showed me a number of small and very early copies he had made after Rembrandt; an artist whose rich dense browns seem very far away from the bright palette with which Irvin is now associated but whom he still values immensely for the ‘physicality’ of his brushwork. Through the fifties Irvin gradually worked his way toward the abstract, at first attracted to Willem de Kooning, whose use of the figure seemed to offer a halfway house, but then increasingly excited by Franz Kline, in particular by the way in which ‘brush marks make up the elements of his language’.

An important jolt along the way was provided by meeting Peter Lanyon in St Ives in the late fifties. It was through talking to Lanyon that Irvin became convinced that abstract art could stand in meaningful ‘relation to your own perception, you could move across a canvas in a way that you move through the spaces of the world… notions of space like proximity and distance could be revealed by moving across a canvas with a brush’. Instead of an abstract art being nothing more than a ‘decorative series of relationships’ he began to believe that it could ‘vitally parallel your experience of being in the world’. Later as we talked he commented that though he knew that his paintings often fulfilled ‘a decorative function’, particularly within private collections, he hoped that they would go beyond this and offer some ‘human content’. Similarly he described his coming over to abstraction  as connected to the feeling that it could have an immediate impact, that there was ‘no need for interpretation, like music’ and that you ‘could reveal something of the human condition’ in paintings which did not have ‘bits of humans in them’.

Speaking very broadly, Irvin’s route through abstraction began with an emptying out. Through the late fifties and into the sixties and seventies the size of his pictures increased whilst the elements of which they were comprised became larger, fewer in number and physically lighter. His marks slewed off any sense that they carried literal weight, or that they were bonded together, limited in the way that we understand objects in the world to be (and which figurative painting attempts in a huge variety of ways to mimic). Instead of describing objects (even abstract objects) the elements of his paintings often suggest, to me at any rate, an arrival or a bringing to attention. Sometimes this seems to occur slowly, with the gradual blooming of a cloud of colour. More frequently though I think it is as if something previously tensed, coiled or restrained had been unleashed so as to it fall into the picture’s space or had, at just the moment in which we see it, pressed itself flat against the picture-plane, or at least advanced toward it. At around the beginning of eighties this sense of arrival or bringing to attention was increasingly accomplished through marks which corresponded to the movement of his hand or the flick of the brush, and the paintings filled up again, with marks arranged in angled grids and formed into basic signs; ‘V’s, crosses, circles, stripes. More recently these have been joined by more complex shapes loosely transcribed from things seen in the built environment; quatrefoils, windows or the arches of bridges.

There is perhaps something theatrical about the way in which Irvin’s marks address the viewer, their sheer drama, and the way in which the force of their making carries over into a suggestion that they have been created or revealed just as we look at them, and perhaps specifically for us. Painting as dramatic entrance is common to much of Abstract Expressionism and its progeny; the ‘arena’ which Harold Rosenberg wrote about action painters working in is perhaps a stage as much as anything else (Robert Linsley has recently written about this). For Michael Fried, writing in the (long) wake of the Abstract Expressionists, theatricality had negative connotations. For him it stemmed from the ‘primordial condition’ that ‘paintings necessarily imply the presence before them of a beholder’. As far as I understand it, what Fried saw as theatrical paintings played on this condition, and made a direct appeal to the viewer, one which made the viewer self-conscious about his or her status as a viewer and so broke the spell of their ‘absorption’ in the painting. It was better, Fried felt, that works of art ‘treated the beholder as if they were not there’. If a work of art could create the ‘illusion’ that it existed only for itself, that it was completely ‘absorbed’ in its own workings, then this would, somewhat paradoxically, allow the viewer to themselves become completely ‘absorbed’ in it. The viewer would be able to achieve a state of ‘rapt attention, being completely occupied or engrossed or absorbed in what he or she is doing, hearing, thinking, feeling’.

<img src="" title="ALBERT IRVIN Varden 1976 acrylic on canvas 84 x 120 in/213 x 305 cm, Courtesy of the Artist and Gimpel Fils " alt=""/>

There is something compelling about Fried’s discussion of theatre, particularly in our age of distraction (which as a melodramatic cliché of my epoch I often feel as a personal affliction, though this is likely an excuse for nothing more than laziness). But beyond the – potentially large – problem of returning to words which are so weighed down with meaning, thinking about Irvin’s work (particularly that of the seventies) it occurs to me that I would like to try and begin to reclaim ‘theatrical’ as a positive word in painting. Not positioning it as Fried did within a theoretical scheme covering the whole of modern painting but simply in a limited sense, as a positive adjective suggesting drama, an openness to life and to sensation and an achieved and striking display of bravado.

Sam Cornish, April 2012

All the quotations in the first 3 paragraphs are from my interview with Bert Irvin, April 2012. Those in the penultimate paragraph are from Fried’s Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot, The University of Chicago Press, 1980

James Gibbons Writes About Collete Murphy Opening in The Irish Times


THE SOCIAL NETWORK: The Peppercanister Gallery on Herbert Street was full of Murphys on Thursday evening for the opening of Colette Murphy’s exhibition, A Space In Time. Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “roll it there, Colette”, the artist told me that she rolled the canvases up and brought them to Ireland in ski bags from New York. She then set about stretching and mounting them for her first exhibition in Dublin.

Murphy was born in New Ross but emigrated to New York at an early age. Michael Murphy, Colette’s father, is a first cousin of a former chairman of the Arts Council, Patrick Murphy, whose wife Antoinette and son Bryan run the gallery.

Meeting and greeting relatives was all a bit much for Colette’s 11-year-old daughter Tyger Lily Gaynon, who decided to have a pizza just outside the gallery with her cousin Rosa Vizcaya, who is two.

Carey Clarke opened the exhibition and said Murphy’s paintings were “seductive”.

Her exhibition includes images of sailing ships and floating icebergs which were serendipitous, according to Clarke, since we are celebrating the centenary of Titanic.

What we drank Chardonnay; 2011 Shiraz Grenache Viognier Mourvèdre

Who we spotted Patricia Quinn of the Brandon House Hotel in Wexford; artists Bernadette Madden, Liam Belton and Carmel Kelly.

Shaping The Landscape Of Half A Century - Aidan Dunne reviews 50 Years of Modern Painting in The Irish Times

SINCE IT OPENED in 1999, the Peppercanister Gallery has pursued an interesting exhibitions programme, alternating early and later modern and contemporary artists, predominantly Irish or with strong Irish connections. It has also championed several relatively neglected, sometimes underestimated figures, such as Robert Janz, Sonja Landweer, Deirdre McLoughlin, Breon O’Casey and Joseph O’Connor.

It was launched as a partnership between mother and son Antoinette and Bryan Murphy. With her husband Pat Murphy, Antoinette is an art collector of long standing, and from early on Bryan shared his parents’ enthusiasm for art. 50 Years of Modern Painting is a compact survey show reflecting this lengthy family involvement with Irish art and in particular Bryan’s close personal engagement with the work of painters from the mid-20th century to the present day, encompassing figures beyond the gallery’s own stable of artists.

The earliest piece in the show is by Camille Souter and dates from 1961. The most recent – just completed, in fact – is Liam Belton’s The Last Time I Saw Paris, a still life in a crisp, realist manner. But landscape is perhaps the main strand of subject matter in Irish art – its default setting – and it’s naturally central to the Peppercanister’s show. Three other areas are evident too: the human figure, including portraiture – abstraction, and interiors.

The Figure

 The Artist (2011) by Andrew Vickery

The Artist (2011) by Andrew Vickery

ANDREW VICKERY is best known for his sequences of narrative paintings about journeys. There is an appealing storybook quality to them, but they also withhold information. We rarely see the people or the interactions implied by the images. By contrast, the series of character portraits showing in this exhibition focus on the people, casting each individual in a role defined in terms of profession, vocation, family or emotion. Again, Vickery’s style is simplified and approachable, and each work hints at a potential story.

Also featured in the show are Graham Gingles and Neil Shawcross. The latter is one of the best-known portrait painters per se in Ireland. He too has long employed an informal, conversational, graphic style that cheerfully embraces elements of caricature and whimsy, all in the cause of conveying a subject’s character more vividly. Gingles, best known for his intricate box sculptures, is an exceptional draughtsman, approaching his human subjects with incisive precision, often on a miniature or close-to-miniature scale.


 Spruces by Gavin O’Curry (September 2011)

Spruces by Gavin O’Curry (September 2011)

GAVIN O’CURRY’S Spruces (2011) is a big monochrome study of a forest of spruce trees on a mist-wreathed hillside, an image that evokes the spirit of Casper David Friedrich. It is typical of a great deal of contemporary painting in using a second-hand visual source and making clear that it is doing so. Rather than trying to disguise its documentary photographic origins, the painting highlights them, inviting us to speculate about representational style and meaning. By comparison, Sean McSweeney’s Shoreline, Ballyconnell (1987) clearly emerges from the painter’s prolonged, attentive familiarity with a specific place. It’s a direct, nuanced response rather than an investigation of artifice.

Somewhere in between, perhaps, is the Barrie Cooke work included. Dating from the mid-1970s, it is one of the extraordinary rainforest landscapes made following a sojourn in Borneo. In the dense linear patterning of the paint surface, Cooke suggests the rainforest as a labyrinthine network of interconnected organic processes. This analytical approach to the landscape prefigures his subsequent treatment of Irish-landscape subjects in relation to environmental pollution rather than traditional picturesque concerns.

Interiors and still life

 Liam Belton's The Last Time I Saw Paris (2012)

Liam Belton's The Last Time I Saw Paris (2012)

LIAM BELTON is one of Ireland’s foremost academic painters, and has built a considerable following for his meticulously realistic still lifes. They are characterised by his liking for very formal compositions and a spare, almost monochrome palette, with an emphasis on white or, more accurately, whites. He also likes to build allegorical hints into his work. The Last Time I Saw Paris, painted this year, simply marshals a number of items from the city in a tightly organised arrangement.

Graham Gingles could also come under the heading of interiors given that his sculptures are rooms within rooms, infinitely recessive interiors packed with myriad images and objects that hauntingly suggest the strange workings of memory.

Galway-based painter John Brady’s small, intensely chromatic works are based on interior spaces. That may not be immediately evident as he seems to begin with a straightforward image of, in this case, an art gallery and overlay it with areas of colour that convey an emotional response to the space.


PERHAPS SURPRISINGLY, abstraction has flourished in Ireland, even if there are often associations with aspects of landscape in otherwise purely abstract works. Camille Souter’s Pale Shapes (1961) is a case in point. A wonderfully warm arrangement of forms, it came at a time when landscape, still life and human subjects were increasingly finding their way into her pictorial language, a language that had strong links to Abstract Expressionism. Here, it is in texture and shape that we sense a world beyond the composition itself.

No such ambiguity is evident in the work of Albert Irvin, Ciaran Lennon, Richard Gorman or Makiko Nakamura, although none of these artists would discount the importance of the real, outside world in their painting. For Gorman, the world as embodied in his sensibility and awareness is always there in the process of making a painting and is inescapably part of what we see. Nakamura’s rigorous abstracts with their lustrous surfaces are partly – but significantly – about time and memory.

50 Years of Modern Painting

Concise overview of modern and contemporary painting in Ireland. Peppercanister Gallery, 3 Herbert Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6611279

Touching The Void - Aidan Dunne reviews gallery artist Deirdre McLoughlin's show at The National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny

 Form and function: ceramic 
sculptor Deirdre McLoughlin takes a break in her Amsterdam studio where 
she is finishing the final pieces for her exhibition, Shaping the Void. 
Photograph: Aidan Dunne

Form and function: ceramic sculptor Deirdre McLoughlin takes a break in her Amsterdam studio where she is finishing the final pieces for her exhibition, Shaping the Void. Photograph: Aidan Dunne

Also unusual is the way her language of form is derived equally from craft and sculptural vernaculars. As a medium, clay is more or less wedded to the vessel and the plate, to functional objects and shapes that cannot be denied. Nor does McLoughlin deny them, but the Netherlands (like many other places) does not have the hang-up about craft translating into fine art that is still evident in Ireland.

Born in Dublin, McLoughlin went to school with the Sisters of Charity and then studied philosophy, history and English literature at Trinity. After that she went to Amsterdam and her life changed direction dramatically.

She came across the work of Rosemary Andrews. “Rosemary made sculptures in clay, which was a revelation. To use clay as a medium of expression was something new to me.” It sparked something in McLoughlin. “I had really never thought of working with my hands,” she says. “Then one day someone gives you a lump of clay and says: ‘Make something with that’. Little things like that can change your life.”

She started working in Andrews’s studio on the Keizersgracht and then, on her return to Ireland, shared studio space with Anthony O’Brien and other ceramicists in Dublin.



Sonja Landweer, who had lived in Ireland since the mid-1960s, was a major and enduring source of inspiration and advice. “It’s not just her work in itself, which I very much admire. But also her absolute level of commitment.”

Nonetheless, it wasn’t all plain sailing. “There came a time when I really had to decide if I was going to commit myself to this – I mean, I didn’t want to do it, I could see making a living was going to be a big problem, and I just didn’t want to be as poor as I’d been when I was a student. But it was something I had to give in to. It was the only way I could get any peace.”

Since then she has followed her work: “I don’t lead it, it leads me. And I must say I respect artists – and I don’t mean myself – who magnificently don’t care about the money question.”

In the early 1980s the work led her to Japan, “because there was a thriving tradition of making sculpture with clay there”. She spent several years working and learning in Kyoto and, in 1985, travelled in China. Back in Ireland, she had a studio on Mountjoy Square before moving to Amsterdam in 1988. She exhibits regularly in Ireland with the Peppercanister Gallery.

From shelves at the back of her studio she brings out a succession of substantial ceramic sculptures comprising several series of works, each making up a family of forms. Broadly speaking, there is a group of rhythmically bulbous shapes, a group of cup-like shapes, each with a single “heel” or spur and, the largest and most recent, a group of vessel-like shapes with spouts.

They all evoke both functional ceramic objects and living things – those spouts, for example, could be noses. McLoughlin likes the notion there is a vitality to them, that they have character and personality.

 &nbsp;White Life III

 White Life III

The ovoid form that is “absolutely basic to everything I do” could be read as a metaphor for the human body, the human being. The renowned ceramacist and writer Betty Blandino had no doubt McLoughlin is continuing a tradition of figurative sculpture that extends back to the earliest surviving human artefacts. She included her in her authoritative study, The Figure in Fired Clay , published in 2002.

The word McLoughlin favours is biomorphic, a term most commonly used in relation to ambiguous but curiously life-like abstract shapes in surrealist art.

While the forms she makes are elegant, and the coloured glazes she uses sumptuous – this is often achieved by polishing and repeated firing – there is also a distinctly humorous quality to the work, a playful sensuality. She’s happy if our first engagement with a piece takes the form of a question: what is that? It’s a question that is never definitively answered, but her intention is that in an effort to answer the question, the viewer is led into an intriguing labyrinth of associations and possibilities. The uncertainty is emphasised by a certain precariousness about the way each piece is ingeniously balanced, something she came to value in Japan.



“That a work is beautifully poised is important to me,” she says. But the appreciation of poise stems from something more than sculpture as such. “I dance,” she says, “I mean, I’m no dancer, but I enjoy dance.” In Ireland she attended Kalichi’s dance workshops. “I’ve learned more about form through dance than from drawing. That’s where the feeling in the work of being alive comes from.”

Communicating that vitality is essential for her. “You could say everything’s been done, but as with dance, I think sculpture is capable of constant renewal. I know I am more deeply alive when I’m working. It’s an adventure.

“The tingle you experience when something is happening in the work, when you are finding a new direction, is very exciting, when the shapes you are making guide you in what you are doing. And when you encounter that, you feel that, somehow, it hasn’t quite happened before in this way. That is what you work for.”

Shaping the Void: Ceramic and Bronze Sculptures by Deirdre McLoughlin is at the National Craft Gallery, Castle Yard, Kilkenny from January 20th-March 21st, then travels to the Wandesford Quay Gallery, Cork from March 27th-April 23rd

Rediscovered Artist Proves a Hit 100 Years On As Gallery Extends Exhibition - Eillen Battersby reviews Phelan Gibb in The Irish Times

phelan gibb.jpg

RECESSIONARY TIMES are not ideal for selling art yet such is the interest in a recently rediscovered Irish artist that a Dublin gallery has had to extend an exhibition to accommodate prospective buyers.

Phelan Gibb (1870-1948) may not immediately mean anything to many art critics, never mind the general public. However, the show of his work currently on view at the Peppercanister Gallery, Herbert Street, Dublin, near the famous church of the same name, has proveda revelation, on several counts.

This is not least because of the European ambiance of his work which makes him to Irish painting what Thomas MacGreevy is to Irish poetry.

Having been approached about the chances of mounting the show of Gibb, who had studied with Henri Matisse and Georges Braque in Paris and later joined both of them and other members of the Fauve School to paint in the south of France, gallery directors Antoinette and Bryan Murphy agreed.

The Fauve movement had been founded by Matisse in 1905 when he invited Andre Derain to come and share the unique light of the south where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean. By the end of that first summer, Matisse had completed a large body of work including 100 drawings. Phelan Gibb, the only Irish Fauve artist, arrived the following year and one of his finest works, Paysage, on show at present, dates from this stay.

In 1909 Gibb was back in Paris sharing a studio with Matisse and Braque and had become friendly with Gertrude Stein who was an admirer of his work.

Gibb also knew Picasso.

The Dublin show is exciting; on entering the space there is a sense of Matisse, Braque, Picasso and also Chagall. Gibb has a subtle, whimsical feel for colour and his otherworldly vision evokes Jack B Yeats with whom he exhibited in New York in 1913.

Both painted natural objects, particularly horses. There are two themed horse paintings in the show as well as a deer peering through a window. The exhibition continues at the Peppercanister Gallery until next Saturday

Relatively little is known of the early life of Gibb, who was born in London in 1870 to an Irish mother who gave him her surname, Phelan. Before arriving in Paris, he had studied in Newcastle on Tyne and Edinburgh.

Bruce Arnold’s sympathetic programme notes set the scene well. Gibb was famous in his day before outraging Dublin clerical sensibilities in 1913 when an exhibition of his work, including nudes transferred from Paris by Oliver St John Gogarty and Count Markievicz, artist husband of Constance, was closed by the police for “indecency”.

Why did he fall from fame to obscurity after his death in 1948? Among the suggestions is that he suffered severe depression.

Aidan Dunne Reviews Vue National Contemporary Art Fair in The Irish Times


Featuring most of the main Irish galleries, North and South. Royal Hibernian Academy, Gallagher Gallery, 15 Ely Pl Fri Sat 11am-7pm, Sun 2-5pm Ends Sun 01-6612558

When Louis O’Sullivan’s annual Interiors Fair at the RDS began to incorporate the National Contemporary Art Fair, it seemed as if the idea was really taking off. Then came the economic collapse.

Now the Art Fair is back as VUE at a really exciting venue, the revamped RHA building in Ely Place, right in the heart of the city. It’s a terrific opportunity to get a sense of what goes on in the majority of contemporary Irish art galleries, including the Kerlin, the Rubicon, Green on Red, the Taylor and the Peppercanister.

While many people are still wary about going into a commercial art gallery, the fair provides a perfect setting for familiarising yourself with the distinctive character and policies of each one. There is a wealth of work on view and prices are more competitive than ever.

Aidan Dunne Reviews STILL in The Irish Times

 New York View by Abigail O'Brien

New York View by Abigail O'Brien

Peppercanister Gallery, 3 Herbert St, Dublin Tues-Fri 10am-5.30pm, Sat 10am-1pm Until Oct 8 01-6611279

Abigail O’Brien’s photographs stand out in a strong show of lens-based work by seven artists. Perhaps the most photographed city in the world, New York grew up with photography and we are so familiar with it as seen through the lens that it’s a challenge to come up with something new or different. Yet O’Brien has managed to do that with her shimmering images, beautifully complemented by her remarkable Salt Lake studies, featuring blankets of crystallizing salt.

Each of the seven artists included has a persuasive and distinctive voice, including Robert Janz’s records of ephemeral water drawings, Ruth McHugh’s meditations on time and photography, Irene Barry’s take on Ophelia, Aindréas Scholz’s startling distortions of scale, Erin Quinn’s surveillance snapshots, and Mary Kelly’s exploration of commemoration. In all it’s a thought-provoking essay on photographic possibility.

Breon O'Casey Obituary in The Irish Independent



Emer O'Kelly on the son of Sean O'Casey who forged a career as an internationally recognised painter and sculptor

Breon O'Casey should have been Irish. He nearly was: he was born in London in 1928, shortly after his parents left Ireland, his father Sean finally despairing of an artistic future in his own country. The last straw had been Yeats's rejection of his ground-breaking play The Silver Tassie for the Abbey. A secondary consideration had been the evidence of independent Ireland's horizons becoming narrow and stifling as liberalism and creativity disappeared beneath the stifling blankets of censorship and right-wing Catholicism. (Sean O'Casey may have been a lifelong atheist, but he was baptised at birth as a member of the Church of Ireland. Interestingly, nobody has ever called the docks labourer Sean O'Casey "Anglo-Irish": that was reserved for middle-class Protestants, whose religion was denied recognition as a stream of Irishness in the Free State.)

His son Breon was to become established as both a painter and a sculptor, and despite becoming familiar with Ireland quite late in life, his work was strongly influenced by Celtic mythology and motifs. Recognition didn't come without struggle. Initially Breon worked as a jeweller, mostly in silver and gold, and his pieces achieved huge recognition and popularity internationally, influenced as they were by the iconic artifacts of Alexander Calder (whose work was on show recently at the Irish Museum of Modern Art). O'Casey was a supreme exponent of the cross fertilisation between art and craft, working for some years as a weaver of art rugs, with a pragmatic preference for seeing them on the floor rather than hung on walls.

But even the success of his craft wasn't enough for a living, and he worked for many years as a telephonist, abandoning it for full-time art only in his 40s.

He had moved to Cornwall in the Fifties, having come under the influence of the painters loosely known as the St Ives group, and he served what amounted to a sometimes agonised apprenticeship in the studio of Barbara Hepworth from 1959 to 1963, years when he was also vice- chairman of the Penwith Society, the influential localised art group. (He always denied the received wisdom of the Cornish light being the attraction. According to O'Casey, it was the sense of comradeship against an artistically hostile world which gave the group their inspiration ... a sentiment strongly reminiscent of something his truculent father might have said. (The late Tony O'Malley, also a member of the group in those years, was his close friend.)

His breakthrough as a painter came in a London show in the Sixties, when he showed with his friend and sometime mentor Denis Mitchell at the Signals Gallery, moving a couple of years later to have two enormously influential and successful solo shows at the Marjorie Parr Gallery.

O'Casey's early work had been somewhat dark, perhaps reflecting his struggle to become established, but it became lighter over the years while still maintaining a strong influence from nature, and when he abandoned jewellery-making about 15 years ago in favour of sculpture, that work too maintained a simplicity that reflected basic sources of inspiration.

In later years O'Casey exhibited with the Berkeley Square Gallery in London and with the Peppercanister Gallery in Dublin, maintain-ing a steady output despite increasingly frail health which severely restricted his movement.

Breon O'Casey was 83 when he died peacefully in Cornwall a couple of weeks ago.

Countess Ann Griffin-Bernstorf presents Ros Tapestry to President Obama

ross tapestry.jpg


THE INTERNATIONALLY renowned Ros Tapestry, featuring one of President Barack Obama's ancestors, was looked upon in sheer amazement by the First Lady during the American Presidential visit last week.

Michelle Obama was taken aback in astonishment as she viewed the intricate Ros Tapestry panel during her brief visit to Farmleigh last Monday.

The project tells the history of the development of early medieval Ireland under the influence of the Normans and the particular panel the Office of Public Works organised to be displayed in Farmleigh featured a distant ancestor of the US President - Hervey de Montmorency.

Entitled ' The Landing at Bannow', the panel depicts Hervey de Montmorency seated on a horse and carrying a standard with the de Montmorency arms, four spread winged eagles.


According to Countess Ann Griffin-Bernstorff from the Ros Tapestry Project some years after the panel was finished the Ros Tapestry discovered through the Kilkenny archives that Hervey de Montmorency was one of Barack Obama's ancestors.

'As it was a relevant panel we sent it up to Farmleigh along with a précis of the work so the Obama's would know what they were looking at,' explained the internationally known artist. ' The Tapestry was the one thing Michelle Obama stopped at and was astonished. She seized Barack Obama and said to him ' you are not to go another inch anywhere unless you see it'. She was able to tell him what the panel was about and point out his ancestor and he was very interested in that,' added the Countess.

' The Tapestry was the one thing Michelle Obama stopped at and was astonished. She seized Barack Obama and said to him ' you are not to go another inch anywhere unless you see it'. She was able to tell him what the panel was about and point out his ancestor and he was very interested in that,' added the Countess.

According to the Ros Tapestry project Hervey de Montmorency arrived in Ireland in 1169 when he landed with the first Norman Knights at Bannow Strand. He was the nephew of Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke, the future king of Leinster.

In 1172 he granted land to the Cistercian order who founded at an abbey at Dunbrody outside New Ross. The abbey was consecrated by Herlewym, bishop of Loughlin and nephew of Hervey de Montmorency. In his later years he became a monk and retired to a Cistercian monastery in Wales.

from New Ross Standard