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.

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