Painting Emigration

Recently new figures emerged in Ireland which show 250 (mostly young)  people a day are leaving our shores.  Emigration has always been a painful feature of Irish life.  During the 1800’s when famine ravaged the country, it is estimated that up to a million people left Ireland, travelling on what became known as ‘coffin ships’ to seek a new life abroad, mainly in the United States.  With the exception of a brief hiatus during the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger” years of the 2000’s, emigration has always been a feature of Irish life.  Those who emigrate now are generally well-educated and highly skilled and these skills are valued abroad.  The world is also a smaller place now-cheaper air fares and the impact of social media and new phone technologies make it easier for people to keep in touch with family and friends at home and to return for holidays as well as for important family events.  Despite this, it does not make the decision to go any easier, nor does it lessen the sadness for those left behind. The impact it will have on Ireland is not yet known and we may not know for years to come.  When people left in previous decades, these technologies were not available.  In the early part of the twentieth century, ‘American Wakes’ were held by the family of the emigrant, both as a celebration and a final farewell.  Those going and those who were left, never had any expectation of seeing their loved one again and so in that sense it was a death.

Sean Keating Ulysses of Connemara, (121cm x 122cm ), Oil on Canvas, Private Collection

The painting I want to talk about today is Ulysses of Connemara by the Limerick born artist Sean Keating (1889-1977). It is a depiction of emigration and shows a group of people who are waiting by a shoreline in Connemara as one of them prepares to depart.  The emigrant stands waving to a ship in full sail out at sea, while a boatman prepares to launch a currach (a small boat, unique to the West Coast of Ireland) which will take him to the waiting ship.  On the viewers’ right are a group of four people huddled around what appears to be the ruin of a house.  One figure, undoubtedly the mother is seated, her eyes downcast and her face stricken with grief and resignation.  Beside her is the seated figure of a man (who bears a striking resemblance to Keating himself).  He holds an object,  it could be a bottle or glass containing, perhaps poitin or whiskey, or maybe Holy Water to bless the emigrant on his journey. Behind are the figures of a woman in a shawl and a youth. The woman may represent the girlfriend or fiancée of the man who is leaving.  Perhaps the youth is a younger brother or maybe his friend.  The emigrant is not is not looking back at the family group but since we cannot clearly see his face, we can only guess what he might be thinking.  It is a sentimental vision of emigration, but the mother’s face tells a story as relevant now as it was when this was painted.  Keating often used allegory to make a point, and the ruined house could represent Ireland itself,  and is something which resonates in modern Ireland as well.

Keating studied under William Orpen who regarded him as his greatest pupil.  He has been described as an academic painter and he was certainly a traditionalist, who had little time for modern art, much of which he regarded as bogus.  He was influenced by Realism and Romanticism and can be justly described as among Ireland’s greatest representational painters.  He was fiercely nationalist in his thinking  and his paintings record the birth and development of the Irish Republic.  Aside from his iconic paintings of the War of Independence, such as Men of the South (1921, Crawford Art Gallery) or Allegory (1922, National Gallery of Ireland), he also painted a series of paintings which record the building of a hydro-electric power generator at Ardnacrusha on the river Shannon.  The paintings record one of the great achievements of the new Irish State.  His paintings are often romanticised and idealised depictions of life in Ireland and there is always an element of heroism present.  He was very interested in and greatly admired the lifestyle of the people of the Aran Islands, which he visited for the first time in 1914 on the advice of his friend Harry Clarke.  

Ulysses of Connemara was sold in 1977 to a private collector for stg£400,000, a record sum for a Sean Keating painting anywhere in the world.  There is a certain irony that such a large sum was paid for a painting whose subject matter deals with economic need and deprivation  – but that’s the art world for you!

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Paul Funge and the Gorey Arts Centre

I wrote this text to coincide with PERIPHERIES | Art by Proxy. On the 4th August 2012, Gorey School of Art launched it’s second annual Peripheries event. This is a new arts initiative, developed and operated by Gorey School of Art as part of it’s ongoing commitment to showcase the work of leading national and international contemporary artists in Gorey. (see link at the end of the text)

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A few years ago while walking along a beach in Wexford, I found two perfect starfish which had been laid out and pinned down by pebbles, one on each of its five arms. I imagine that this was done by children but it looked very beautiful and very sad – a little art installation on the beach. I didn’t have a camera with me unfortunately but it often crosses my mind.  I remember thinking at the time that it looked like a tiny Dorothy Cross installation.

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The Irish artist Dorothy Cross talking about her work

The artist Dorothy Cross is one of the most interesting artists working in Ireland today. I intended writing about her but I found this video of her on youtube talking about her work.  She can speak far more eloquently about her work than I can.

Source: youtube

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The whole point of a blog….

The whole point of a blog I suppose is that one should post something on a fairly regular basis. I can give all sorts of excuses as to why I haven’t posted anything recently (in fact the last one was in May) I have been very busy and my sister was getting married and I had relatives home from abroad and because I have often not been at home I have been out of broadband coverage (believe it or not in 2010) I think the real reason was that I thought no one was reading the blog.  Well how wrong I was!! At a post wedding get together recently a niece of mine asked why I wasn’t blogging anymore.  It never occurred to me that she would be bothered reading them (but glad you were Myra!) Inspired by this and encouragement from others as well, I am restarting as of today.

The painting I want to share my thoughts on is a painting by the artist Martin Gale who although born in England, moved to Ireland at an early age. The painting is called Bachelor and is of a house in a rural landscape.

Martin Gale RHA - Bachelor, 2007 Oil on canvas 10" x 12"

The house looks as if it is no one lives there, glass in one of the windows appears to be broken and the grass around the house is uncut. The title suggests that someone does live here, a bachelor, probably living alone.  To me, this is an image of loneliness and even without the title, I think the painting depicts this very well . It is very interesting that Gale has chosen to paint a house while referring to a person and I think this is what makes this work so disquieting.  Had he painted an image of a man, the impact of what he is saying could well be lost. Houses such as this one dot rural Ireland, inhabited by men who never married and  who stayed on small holdings, often only barely making a living.

Gale paints in a photo-realist or hyper-realist style and much of Gale’s work deals with images of the Irish landscape, (although townscapes feature as well) and all of them seem to have this disquieting element.  They provide a commentary on rural life in a modern Ireland, which has rapidly changed over the past two decades. These are not the pretty postcard image of the Irish landscape, so beloved of photographers. They suggest isolation, uncertainty and unease in a time of great change.

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Paul Funge Kilmore Quay

Paul Funge Kilmore Quay (2007)

Today I am going to share my thoughts on a painting by the Irish artist Paul Funge.  An important figure on the Irish art scene,  he is regarded by many as one of Ireland’s foremost portrait painters and his sitters have included politicians, judges, academics and pop stars. As a landscape painter, his work is fresh, exuberant and lively with a wonderful sense of colour and feeling for paint.  He  founded the Gorey Arts festival in 1970, regarded as a milestone in the development of the Arts in Ireland. He has exhibited widely in Europe, the United States and South America, as well as exhibiting extensively throughout Ireland.  His paintings hang in many important private and public collections in Ireland throughout the world.

The painting I want to talk about today is a landscape, Kilmore Quay, painted in 2007.The painting is of a church in the fishing village of Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford. What immediately strikes me about this painting is its simplicity, everything is stripped to its most basic elements. The building itself is shown without windows or doors and the trees in front are expressed in their simplest of forms. In restrained but definite brush strokes, he manages to convey a complete landscape and one where you know the sea is not far away.  What I really love about this painting is its colour – improbable but perfect. The pink gable and green roof of the church, the blue trees, the sky brought to life by the dramatic streak of pink and the greens and blues of the foreground combine to produce a work that is at once dramatic and charming – though I am not sure that Paul himself would approve of the word ‘charming’ with reference to the work.  It is a painting that evokes for me,  a feeling of optimism and harmony and one that the more I see it, the more I love it.

You can check out more of Paul’s work on his own webpage from where I took this image.

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Spring is here

Spring is here

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My 8 yr old niece decided to copy my sea painting – clearly she has a different take on the sea than me

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My thoughts are always on the sea


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Beautifully done

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<a href="http://Great photo (almost surreal)  from National Geographic on Twitpic“>

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