Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Work in Public Collections!

In 1991, while I still lived in Toronto, I began a series of works which later fell under the collective title My Tower of Strength. I took the title from part of the motto on my family's coat of arms (deliberately leaving out the reference to god). The series of works were based on both secular and ecclesiastical window ruins throughout Ireland and I exhibited the first group of paintings in the first "Me & 9 Others" exhibition in Cedar Ridge Creative Centre in Scarborough, Canada in 1992. When I re-emigrated to Ireland the following year, I had already expanded on the series and brought the paintings with me. I continued with this series and exhibited the paintings and works on paper throughout the country over the next 4-5 years. 

When I dropped off a work recently bought by the Office of Public Works for the State Art Collection, I was asked by the person in the storage area if it was my first piece bought by the OPW. I was able to say "no" as I remember the day in 1996 when I was so excited to get a call from Jacquie Moore (the Art Advisor for the State) asking if a certain painting was still available for purchase. However, at this time I was unable to remember exactly which painting from this series was in the State Collection - no problem! The person in the storage area was able to reference my name and find the piece: The Holly and the Oak, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 91.5 cm, 1992. The window here is structurally (it's been a long time since I've used anything resembling BROWN paint!) based on a medieval church ruin on the side of Bray Head (Raheenacluig, ie, the Church of the Little Bell). At the time I remember reading a book about mythology and rebirth, The Oak King and The Holly King, which most certainly influenced my work.


I am not sure exactly when, but at a Canada Day celebration in the late 1990s I met the Canadian director of Microsoft World Products Group, Ireland and found out there was a company art committee, made up of employees, that bought works regularly for the company's collection. She suggested I send information about my work and some slides. I did so and two of my paintings were bought. I know one that was bought is an oilstick figure drawing from my first solo exhibition in Dublin (but I don't have a photo of it!) and the other is from the My Tower of Strength series. Raheenacluig Light, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 91.5 cm, 1992.


Several later pieces (dawn as opposed to night colours) from this series sold to a private collector in the US, but in 2005, in a case of being in the right place at the right time I sold a number of works to the Health Services Executive (HSE). I was fortunate to be working there part time as they were moving premises to a purpose-built office in Bray and needed artwork for the Board Room in a hurry. I was happy to oblige by first showing off my website, and then arranging delivery of a number of works from which they could choose after in-person perusal. To my surprise and delight they chose several pieces, among which were yet two more early My Tower of Strength paintings. Apple Light, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 91.5 cm, 1992 and


Glendalough Gift, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 91.5 cm. The window ruin on which Apple Light is based is from a castle north of Dublin and Glendalough is my favourite monastic ruin in Ireland. It is in Wicklow, less than an hour south of where I live and that window is structurally based on the largest church ruin there.


As a bonus, I also gave the HSE buyers a framed painting on paper, which was originally placed in the Director's office though later moved to the Board Room with the others. I am just not sure which one I gave them - it might have been this one: Window at Kilcoole, acrylic on paper, 76 cm x 56 cm, 1992 or


Leacanabuile Fort, acrylic on paper, 56 cm x 76 cm, 1992. Window at Kilcoole acted as a sketch for a future painting with a raven flying in the window, and Leacanabuile Fort became one of my favourite ruins when I lived near to it in 1993-1996. When I did the large sketch I had been on holidays in Southwest Kerry and didn't realise then that I'd soon be living there!


What especially delighted me about the HSE sale was that they chose my largest and, at the time, more recent piece for their collection. This painting of tulips in the throes of their final glory is one of two custom-built oversize canvas and stretchers that I had made in the early noughties. It was a no-brainer to get these made from a carpenter who offered them fairly cheaply, but unfortunately for me he didn't stay in that business too long. Tulips, acrylic on canvas, 122 cm x 183 cm, 2001.


In 2007 I put in a proposal to create several possible mosaics as part of a % for art callout from the HSE's St John's Community Hospital in Enniscorthy. I definitely learned something from attending the site meeting: the hospital selection committee was looking to expand their collection and wanted to commission several artists to do smaller works, rather than one artist to create a large piece that would take up the entire budget. I complied to this brief by offering plans for a variety of works as single pieces, diptychs or triptychs and a single piece was selected. Gorse, glass mosaic on marine ply, 100 cm x 72 cm, 2008. It was installed before the walls were finished so that it is a fully integrated part of the room in which it is located.


Around 2010, Europol (European Policing Agency) was looking for 2D artworks to hang in its new headquarters to be built in The Hague. It held a Europe-wide open competition in which an artist could propose one work for its new headquarters. I proposed this untitled piece from 1984 (though of course, as is the way I work, it was part of a larger series where the hand gestures act metonymously for the entire body) and was delighted it was accepted. The 54.5 cm x 37 cm mixed media work on paper was couriered over to The Netherlands in 2011 to be installed before the new premises officially opened. 


Earlier this year, in the final days of Memory Is My Homeland at Rathfarnham Castle (for a virtual tour of the exhibition on this blog see here, here and here), I received an email from Jacquie Moore of the OPW. Was a certain piece still available for purchase for the State Collection? Indeed it was! Kingston Road: Waiting, acrylic on pressed cloth, 76 cm x 102 cm, 2021. The image is based on a self-portrait photograph from the mid-1980s, where I was sitting in my east-end Toronto apartment in front of the window. The curtains depicted in the painting were initially a component (painted sheer net curtains) in an installation about "home" that I had created for one of my classes at York University, from where I had received a BFA in 1986. After I graduated I continued to use the curtains - as curtains - in various apartments. When I came across that photo I felt it really related to my current work and decided to paint a painting within a painting. I liked using the pressed cloth as a ground because it is a material that is used for roller blinds, thus has the relation to windows and domesticity that is appropriate for this body of work.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

RHA Annual Exhibition - part 1 of 2

It has been many years since I attended the annual exhibition at the RHA in Dublin, so it really took me by surprise just how much work there was to see! 


I couldn't help but be impressed by the quality of the work also, it wasn't just quantity.  


The first room downstairs seemed the most orderly in the way it was hung - pieces seemed to relate to one another in a thematic, colour or movement type of way and this was a satisfying way to look at work, though I would have preferred more space around individual works.


Each work deserved way more time than I gave it -- the first couple of rooms really won out when it came to my attention, but it was somewhat overwhelming to know that there were several huge rooms waiting upstairs...



I don't even have a picture of the large hall which was chock-a-block with small works, mostly paintings, skyed almost to the ceiling. The stairwell seemed to be dedicated to the work of one ARHA member. The room full of prints asked for closer attention to individual pieces and I was only able to give this attention if something stood out and/or was familiar - in that I have taken several printmaking classes over the past few years and participated in a number of zoom artist talks during the pandemic so recognised the work of particular artists.


While I object to and don't participate in open exhibitions where the artist has to make a payment, I find the RHA Annual Exhibition somewhat distasteful in that there are three distinct tiers: ARHA (part of the club!) members are ENTITLED to exhibit several pieces of work, for whatever reason some artists are INVITED to exhibit, and the rest (about 2/3) PAY a fee to enter. Competition is high and not everyone is accepted, but it sure is a huge batch of cream! Regardless of my personal opinion, within Ireland exhibiting at the RHA Annual Exhibition is considered a privilege and an honour.


ALL of the work in the exhibition is worth taking the time to see. I will do another post on individual pieces that I paid the most attention to. The exhibition runs till July 24.

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

"Show and Tell" at Signal Arts Centre

The very first evening Show and Tell event was held by Signal Arts Society (SAS) at Signal Arts Centre in mid-May. As I have recently started working at Signal and am automatically a member of the SAS, as well as becoming the sub-committee minute-taker, somehow the event fell to me to make sure this first event ran smoothly. I had already planned to attend the event so it wasn't too much of a stretch to work it. There were two artists scheduled to do the Show and Tell. Myra Jago and Yanny Petters. I introduced Myra first.


Myra spoke of her process - how she created collages on the computer. printed the completed works on silk and crumpled them up and use these works as the subjects of meticulously detailed oil paintings. While she displayed images of the paintings in an accompanying slide show, Myra had brought in a number of the silk works to show and discuss with the audience. The paintings show Myra's artistic concern with light and reflection and she described the detailed work that goes into gessoing and sanding the canvas prior to painting so that the finish is completely smooth. Seeing the actual silk collages, however, gave a huge insight into Myra's psychological concerns with protest, the environment, innocence and any other subject that comes to mind but remains hidden in the final work. 


Yanny Petters gave an equally fascinating talk about one specific piece, which she brought in to show, and accompanied the talk with a slide show of the work in progress. Yanny worked as a sign writer in the past and uses techniques of verre eglomisé and gilding - painting on glass and gold leaf application -
in her gorgeous and delicate floral paintings. Yanny's re-creation of a hedgerow in all its complexity in a two-dimensional space is nothing less than miraculous. She explained the process of painting in reverse order on the back of the glass and visualising the work in reverse order. In addition to the painting and application of gold leaf, depth is manifested by the very shadows that the painted flowers and leaves cast onto the background when the work is framed.


I don't have a picture of the work she brought in that night but here is a triptych of The Rose Family: Bramble - Dog Rose - Wild Strawberry that gives an idea of the detail in Yanny's work.


The front gallery of Signal can hold an intimate crowd (20-25 people seated) and it was full of an enrapt group. Both artists held the audience in thrall and elicited many questions.The evening was a resounding success and sets a high standard for future Show and Tell events at the centre. I look forward to the future events!  

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

inspired by flowers

I always seem to be noticing flowers and admit that I find them inspiring! Wisteria hasn't yet entered my painted repertoire, but I always stop to look at it when I see it. This picture was taken a couple of months ago before the flowers were fully in bloom. I was in Dublin that morning and just had to stop and snap the trained wildness over this doorfront.


My absolute favourite example of the trained wildness that is wisteria is this magical portal here in Bray. I used to live up the street from this house so watched it bloom every year.


This is one of my favourite gardens in Bray, and right next to the wisteria gate is a gorgeous magnolia tree. As the tree is so close to the footpath it was easy for me to do sketches of the flowers in different phases of bloom when I lived so close by.


The result of my sketching that particular tree was this acrylic painting that I did in the spring of 1999 and which was included in my Blessings exhibition at Signal Arts Centre that fall. In 2000 the exhibition was again displayed at Cavan County Museum, Ballyjamesduff. It currently resides in a private collection in the US.


As well as working from sketches and photographs flowers also appear in my dreams. When I lived in rural Kerry in the mid-90s I noticed that many people had beautiful and enormous calla lilies in their spacious front gardens. In fact, I think this may have been my first experience of seeing these flowers other than in pictures and I was quite taken with them. So much so that I dreamt about them, albeit in my dream life the flowers were vibrantly coloured. I made this Father's Day collage card in 1995, and a later riffing on these images painted the curtains that became the main part of my installation Dreaming for Dad, which was created as a memorial for my father (he died in September 1995) and exhibited at The Basement Gallery, Dundalk in 1996.


When thinking of seminal images of my home and life in Kerry for my painting Knockeen, the dream calla lilies made a large appearance. This large painting from 2021 was part of my exhibition Memory Is My Homeland at Rathfarnham Castle earlier this year.