Wednesday 29 March 2023

"Lost" - beginning new work

Although the sorting through and purging from the archive of rooftop portfolios and rolls has taken up a lot of my time these past few months, I have also been busy with some new work. In the autumn I received the delightful news that I would receive an Agility Award from The Arts Council/An Chomairle Ealion for my proposal of a new print series Lost. As often happens with new work, I certainly had moments of confusion and despair as nothing seemed to be working the way I imagined. I finally had my breakthrough moment in early February when everything worked as planned and I knew for certain that indeed I had chosen the right medium (contact monoprints) from which to create this new body of work. All of the works are the same size, 12.5 cm x 18.5 cm (or 18.5 cm x 12.5 cm if they are vertical images), printed on Japanese mulberry paper, which is both strong and delicate. The pictures are about memory and refer to lost moments, lost country, lost time, etc. I decided I wanted the titles to give a bit more information about the story behind the image, at least as a starting point.

Even on a rainy day, the bus might be on time

When I was a teen, I went on an amazing government-sponsored youth project, Educanada, which brought teens from all over the country to the capital to learn a bit more about their own country so there were day trips to Montreal, Quebec City, Upper Canada Village near Kingston, as well as local Ottawa tours of the Parliament Buildings, Rideau Hall (Governor General's home), national police headquarters, National Art Gallery, Museum of Civilization, etc. It was great! The thing that really stood out for me, though, was seeing the log booms floating in the Ottawa River past Parliament Hill. It has been many decades since the industry has transported timber this way, hence my inclusion of this image in my Lost series.

Log booms used to float down the Ottawa River past Parliament Hill

This image portrays a memory of my childhood playing with my little brother in the backyard of the house in Toronto’s east end. 

We used to play cowboy games in the back yard

On my first visit to NYC (back in the mists of time when I was at art school in Toronto) one of my friends, who shared a hotel room with me, was dramatising a teenager on the phone and giving me an art history lesson at the same time; I vividly remember that pop art was the topic so I decided to reference Roy Lichtenstein in my title. 

Well, Brad, let me tell you…

I did not meet my grandparents till I was about 9 years old when my family won a St Patrick’s Day competition from a magazine-type tv show in Toronto (as a matter of fact, the show was called "Toronto Today"). The prize was to bring two people over from Ireland for a holiday if you were picked as having the best reason to do so -- 6 of my siblings had not seen their grandparents since they emigrated and 4 of us, Canadian-born, had never even met them -- so we had a pretty good reason to win! I remember before meeting them that summer that I had been incredibly jealous of my friends who had grandparents and especially those who had a grandparent living with them. So when I met my Oma and Opa my adoration was unconditional. Letters that I have from them attest to the fact that they felt the same way. When my grandmother died in 1980, one of my letters to her along with the goodbye card I made for my grandparents, after that first meeting 11 years beforehand, was found in her purse and returned to me.

Although we only met a few times, they loved me and I adored them

I was born into a large immigrant family

Wednesday 22 March 2023

Rooftop archive 9 - early 1990s

Yes, this rooftop archive is pretty big, but it has served a purpose to go through everything that was there taking measurements and photographing past work, and best of all PURGING work that I don't need hanging around to haunt me! I have recently blogged about the archive (installments 7 and 8) here and here. In installment 6 - here - I have also given links to all the previous installments.

As this piece is undated, I am relying on memory and circumstances to suggest that it was either from 1989 or 1990. It was created after my first solo exhibition in Dublin while I was living with my parents in Bray. It is of course based on dream imagery except for the crazy complicated lightning bolts – lightning configurations that I actually saw during a storm in Ontario  in the 1980s! This untitled work hung on my Mum’s bedroom wall (which had been my room when I lived there) for many years and was returned to me after her death in 2016. This untitled, mixed media work is 157 cm x 150 cm.

In either the spring or summer of 1990, I returned to Toronto to be in a group show with nine other young artists. I created the sculptural element of a work to exhibit while I was in Ireland (a trellis table holding a house with a fimo figure dancing among stars who could be viewed through a bay window on the second floor of the house). Behind the sculptural element was this oilstick drawing, Two Waterspouts. Amazingly, I still had the huge roll of Strathmore paper my mentor professor (sculptor Hugh Leroy) gave me while an impoverished art student at York University, Toronto, some years before. I gessoed the paper before drawing the waterspouts, 107 cm x 63 cm. The sculptural element had live roses added to it for the exhibition; that part of the artwork was sold and I do not have any pictures of it! 

I was living in Toronto, perhaps in turmoil, when I drew this work on Oct 20 1991 (very specific date written on the back of the drawing!). Tornado, graphite on paper, 102 cm x 66 cm.

Two mediums I still enjoy a lot are combined in this drawing that I created while living in Toronto in the summer of 1992. Foxglove, oilstick & graphite on paper, 76 cm x 49 cm.

 In the early 1990s I was quite obsessed with stonework and windows in both ecclesiastical and secular ruins around Ireland. I think this obsession started when I was on holiday here in 1992 and visited a friend who had moved to rural Kerry and ruins nearer to where my parents lived on the east coast as well as ruins in Clones, close to where one of my sisters was living at the time. I did large, loose sketches of a number of windows using monotones from acrylic black paint and I later used these sketches as research for a new body of paintings that I entitled My Tower of Strength (taken from the motto on my family coat-of-arms). These painted drawings are all untitled, acrylic on paper, 76 cm x 56 cm (or 56 cm x 76 cm), the specific ruins that they are based on can be found in Clones (a church ruin), 

Kerry (outer wall of Ballycarbery Castle)

and Wicklow (Killadreenan near Newcastle). 

It is only the stonework in the drawing of the church window at Clones that I recognise as making its way into a future painting. 

Wednesday 15 March 2023

Rooftop Archive 8

I'm returning now to the so-called "rooftop archives", that is the portfolios and rolls of work that I pulled from the roof in the last few months of 2022 in order to actually see what was there and hopefully do some purging! The purging was successful in that I destroyed a lot of things whose moment had definitely come and gone, including all the chalk pastel cut-outs and drawings that I did while on residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig during the spring of 1989. I talk about about my first solo exhibition in Dublin here, the main reason I was on art residency but since I had most of the work done for the show by then, I spent most of my time winding down and having fun. This link also gives all the other links to previous posts about the "rooftop archives" or simply do a search for them on this blog.

I was surprised to find that I kept the irises as I had already thrown out tulips and roses at some other point! But dry pastel is very messy and I have no plans to ever install this work anywhere again, so it was easy enough to make a "trash" decision.

Though I like the drawings well enough, should I ever want to recreate the installation I would use paint rather than pastel.

I loved working large and freely, but there was no reason for me to keep these works once a picture and measurements had been taken (the rectangular drawings are approximately 100cm x 150cm or 159cm x 100cm).

I had made friends with painter Pat Moran (who I blogged about here) while at Annaghmakerrig and he called my studio “the playroom” as each day for several weeks I did large pastel cut-outs of flowers, whales, dolphins, swans and stars and affixed them to the wall. My studio became a space where my dreams could be immersive. Here is the dream imagery on the walls of my studio at Annaghmakerrig.

I can't remember how I affixed things to the walls -- I don't remember having blue tack, but perhaps I did or else just use loops of masking tape. The size of the cutouts is apparent from the chair and the sink area alcove. The figure caught in the trellis is the same figure which appeared in a lot of work and I associate with myself and the sea (as she turns into a red-sailed boat in the original series of drawings, which I talk about here).

I also made some of the stars green in colour as a nod to American poet Wallace Stevens, whose poem Our Stars Come From Ireland was a poem that I had been obsessed with for a few years by this time. 

At the corner of the room I decided to affix another drawing, mixing land, water and air (flight) together in the same space. Sure the stars had already prepared the way...

The final image in the studio is the rose rain area between the two windows. The next area leads to the start again: the drawing of the swan over the sea leading to the big cut-out swan flying over the flowers at the radiator.


Wednesday 8 March 2023

Thyssen-Bornecizma Museum - Madrid

My first afternoon in Madrid was spent at the wonderful Thyssen-Bornecizma Museum. The collection was quite varied, spanning a few centuries. There was something intriguing about all the medieval religious paintings but I was more interested in the modern masters (incl deGoya, Bacon, Magritte, Matisse, Giacometti, O’Keeffe, etc). I was also taken by the paintings of some slightly lesser known masters and am including some of these images here.

I enjoyed the loose painting in this landscape by Maurice de Vlaminck.

Likewise, there is a looseness of style in this streetscape painting by Erich Heckel. The urgency of the brush strokes show everything in motion such that the road flows like a river.

It was brilliant to see the work of Lyonel Feininger again. I had first come across his work on an art school trip to New York but any image I saw of the work (specifically a painting of a ship floating on a seascape) did not do it justice. I remember buying a postcard of the work just as a reminder, but the card always seemed uninteresting and I could never explain to anyone who saw the card image that the real painting was magnificent.

What I especially liked about the Natalia Goncharowa painting was the use of blue outlines to define both people and trees. When I was in art school, in Toronto in the early 1980s, I attended a talk given by a representative from Parsons School of Design in NYC. In the prospectus for the upcoming year there were images of some student work and one of these images was a gorgeous life painting where the student had used a blue colour to define the figures and all shadow areas. The colour was bright and full of light and I thought it was both an effective and an anti-intuitive way to portray shadow. From that point on I had decided for myself to use light purply-blue in shadows rather than any other colour. But of course, this is also something that Matisse did in his paintings too!

I am more familiar with the German expressionist figure paintings of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner so it was delightful to see a landscape.

I am almost sure that Emil Nolde thought he was simply portraying a brilliant sunrise or sunset sky without a thought for how vibrantly abstract this painting is! 

I have recently read Ben Shahn's The Shape of Content so I was glad to see his work in the flesh. In the book, which is a transcription of his 1956-57 Norton Lectures, he talks about the relationship of the artist to both his craft and his wider community so it was good to see that his visual work reflects this.

Wednesday 1 March 2023


I was in Madrid for a few days last week and discovered for myself that, as well as having an incredible array of art museums (the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Prado and Reina Sofia were the ones I visited) the city iself was magnificent! We stayed centrally in a little apartment overlooking the Plaza Santa Ana.

Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes if you go there, as the streets are all cobbled (which is hard on the feet!) but the best way to see the city is by walking around.

I was intrigued by the charioteer and horses on the roof of one of the buildings, so had to zoom in with my phone camera.

On another day's perambulation, I came across the chariot again from a different direction.

I'm not sure what Romulus and Remus have to do with Madrid, but sure enough they're there being suckled by the she-wolf on top of a wedding-cake type building.

There was lots of construction around Puerto del Sol so I never got a photo of the bear and berries sculpture there that is a symbol of Madrid. I preferred this mural of stacked bears that I saw on another day anyway. There is so much to see and do there that four days can't possibly be enough (and it isn't!) so I know I'll be back, hopefully sooner rather than later.