A painter’s painter

Why is it that those in power in the Irish art world so seriously neglect their major artists? Stroll through any contemporary art museum in mainland Europe and you will find major attention being paid to contemporary artists. Peruse their bookshops and you will find large numbers of retrospective exhibition catalogues (in Ireland most artists, like Mick Cullen, are dead before the possibility is even thought of), not to mention an enviable series of their catalogues raisonnés.

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Golden Fleece winner shortlisted for Venice Biennale

Large-scale Jacquard tapestry from ‘Inscription IV’ Photo Andy Keate.


Among the major postponements of arts events due to Covid-19 restrictions is the 2021 Venice Art Biennale, which has been moved to 2022. Shortlisted to represent Ireland at Venice is artist Ailbhe Ní Bhriain (with curators Mary Hickson and Francis McKee). Ní Bhriain was also the overall winner of the Golden Fleece Award earlier this year. While the award’s criteria were initially restricted to craft and figurative visual art, in 2018 these were broadened to include all forms of visual, craft and applied arts.

Ní Bhriain describes her work as ‘a kind of suspended storytelling’, in which she assembles diverse elements and juxtaposes different processes – including CGI, photography, film and collage – to challenge established practices of representation. Her work plays with and dislodges master narratives in order to highlight their absences and contradictions; a central aim is to interrupt the flow and traditional categorisations in order to question representation and its conventions, whether manifested in a museum collection, a portrait or as an edit in a film narrative.

A key element in her recent show, ‘Inscription IV’, is a large-scale Jacquard tapestry that combines ‘colonial portrait photography with imagery of excavated quarry walls’. Her award will allow her to extend her work with materials, such as the Jacquard tapestry. With the Jacquard loom – which is based on a system of binary code and inspired the Victorian mathematician Ada Lovelace – Ní Bhriain plans ‘to explore the backwards transition from the virtual to the tactile’. She intends to work with Flanders Tapestries in Belgium, as well as exploring the casting of hybrid objects from found, crafted and AI-generated, 3D-printed forms at the Bronze Art Foundry in Dublin.

Originally from Clare, she has a BA in Fine Art from the Crawford College of Art in Cork, an MFA from the Royal College of Art, London, and a PhD from Kingston University in London. Her work has recently been seen at Dublin’s TBGS; VISUAL, Carlow; Sirius, Cobh; and Crawford Gallery in Cork.

The final selection for Ireland’s representation in Venice will be announced later this year.

Stephanie McBride


David Dunne with Refuge ‘power and debility’ 2017


Influenced by his travels, David Dunne’s work has been a deep and profound study on honouring sites of rupture, writes Mike Fitzpatrick

David Dunne’s work is intense, emotive and engaging. His artistic vision has been influenced by his travels, which have empowered him to engage with issues of fracture, displacement and disruption. Over a sustained period, his work represents a deeply personal commitment to bearing witness to events that breach our concept of humanity.

Over the past twenty years, his work has been a deep and profound study on honouring sites of rupture – sites that have marked man’s lack of humanity to man, such as Auschwitz, Lidice and Kosovo. His recent works display a visceral concern for refuge, vulnerability and containment within the context of migration.

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Force of Nature

landscape by Jeremiah Hoad

Celtic Landscape 1999 oil on board 58 x 114cm


James Gorry recalls the unique life and work of semi-reclusive painter Jeremiah Hoad, who quietly pursued his ‘gentle art’

Jeremiah Hoad (1924-1999) was a uniquely original painter, whose semi-reclusive lifestyle and lack of interest in material things contributed to the fact that his name in Irish art circles is not as well-known as many of his contemporaries, yet there remains a loyal and appreciative group of art lovers and collectors who recognise his importance. I knew Jerry and his wife, Judith, a writer, for many years and was privileged to act as his agent and gallerist until his death in 1999. I always enjoy creative ‘left-thinking’ people – be they in art, politics or society in general – and Hoad fitted the bill in spades. He gloried in the planet earth, with the present-day landscape sometimes transformed into a spiritual vision of it before mankind. In his paintings, houses were sometimes removed and figures were rarely introduced in a portrayal of the earth without contamination, pollution and consumer capitalism. In 1995, he and Judith stayed at the Rainbow Camp, Fintown, Donegal, living in a wigwam to show support for Native Americans and other ethnic races in danger of extinction.

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Peat’s last stand

James Fraher’s black-and-white images of Derrinlough Briquette Factory document the manufacturing process, from gathering the turf to the distribution of the polished bales, writes Stephanie McBride

James Fraher has worked as a photographer for more than thirty-five years in fine art, marketing, editorial and documentary projects. Originally from Chicago, he has been living in Co Sligo for many years, where his knowledge of bogs has been nurtured through photographing local terrain and by working on the bog – physically cutting and saving turf, old style. He was also involved in the Lough Boora sculpture park project, developed by artist Kevin O’Dwyer with Bord na Móna, in a creative interpretation of the natural and industrial heritage of boglands.

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Orchestral flair

1 Jonathan Hunter Winter Song 2016 oil on canvas 21 x 15cm

Jonathan Hunter Winter Song 2016 oil on canvas 21 x 15cm

In a time when ‘visual culture’ can mean ‘words’, Jonathan Hunter continues to find rich possibilities in an insistently visual painterly language, writes William Gallagher

Any encounter with Jonathan Hunter’s work suggests an artist aiming at an expressive painterly resonance, between powerful colour and ambiguous narratives, maintaining a poised balance between the defined and the amorphous, the physical and the poetic. Conversation with the artist on his work, however, turns immediately not to its subjects but to its materiality; the how more than the what of the painting experience. Speaking about a recent painting, Night Crossing, rather than discussing what’s represented, he starts by considering the working of its lake colours – the transparent lake pigments, not the colours that might render the waters of a pool. Laid over one another to create the deep tones in which the swimmer floats, his immersion in colour might make an apt metaphor for the artist’s own absorption in painting.

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Sotheby’s: 9 September

Louis le Brocquy (1916 – 2014) Travelling Woman with Newspaper 1947-48 oil on board 115 x 83cm

The highlight of Sotheby’s September sale is Louis le Brocquy’s Travelling Woman with Newspaper, which comes from the dispersal of the collection of Michael Smurfit. He bought the painting at Sotheby’s in 2000 for £1,050,000 – which is the highest price paid for a Le Brocquy by a considerable margin. The next highest price is half a million less. Guiding at £750,000 to £1,000,000, this painting was first shown at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art (IELA) in 1947. Its original title was The Last Tinker and this is inscribed on the reverse, along with Le Brocquy’s signature and the date (1947-48). That ‘48’ may seem confusing as it was exhibited in 1947, but apparently Le Brocquy took the work back after the IELA exhibition and reworked it. He clearly was not satisfied with the picture and decided to make changes prior to entering it in Twelve Contemporary British Painters (1948-49). This was the British Council touring exhibition where the painting was reputedly seen by Willem de Kooning at the Stedelijk Museum.

This work was painted during Le Brocquy’s ‘Tinker period’, which extended from 1945 to 1948. He painted works such as Tinkers in a Landscape (1945), Connemara Landscape (1945), Tinkers Twilight (1945), Sick Tinker Child (1946) and Tinkers Resting (1946) – the latter work hangs in Tate Britain. Critics differ on the source of his interest in Travellers. Some see it as relating to the 20th century interest in ‘primitives’, as also seen in Synge’s fascination with the natives of Connemara. Le Brocquy would have been aware of Synge’s notion of the bond between the Traveller and the artist – both alienated from normal society. Given the period in which the series were painted, Yvonne Scott’s comments also seem pertinent: ‘The Travellers series was carried out in the wake of the Second World War also, to some extent in sympathy with the plight of the gypsies who had suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.’

Le Brocquy himself asserted: ‘For me the Travelling People represented, dramatically perhaps, the human condition.’ The titles of many of the works in this series have been revised to spare the blushes of the retroactively sensitive. The work itself has a cubist feel and there are strong intimations of Picasso’s influence.

John Kelly Castlehaven 2017 oil on canvas 69.9 x 121.9cm

Another interesting work at Sotheby’s is John Kelly’s painting Castlehaven, a depiction of the harbour from near his house in Reen. Kelly, whose work is often surreal and fantastical, was inspired to try his hand at his local landscape by an encounter in the Merrion Hotel with a Paul Henry painting of a harbour that reminded him of Castlehaven. Kelly is an Australian artist with Irish connections and he has been living in west Cork for nearly twenty years. He is a major figure in contemporary Australian art and indeed internationally (his work hangs in the very prestigious Yale Center for British Art). He is best known internationally for his Cow in a Tree sculpture, which once graced the Champs-Élysées and established his reputation outside Australia.

Kelly was taken very seriously ill in his remote property two years ago and, only for the alacrity and efficiency of the West Cork Rapid Response (WCRR) team, he would have died. The proceeds from the sale of Castlehaven at this auction will go to that organisation – a group of volunteers who do sterling work all over west Cork.


Adam’s: 2 September

Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890-1978) Portrait of Charlotte Elizabeth Hollingsworth oil on board 60 x 47cm

Gerald Leslie Brockhurst is very rarely seen at auction in Ireland, although his portrait of Florence Forsyth sold at Adam’s in June 2019. He spent most of his career in Britain and the US, apart from a sojourn in Ireland during the First World War. He is best known for his dramatically posed portraits of celebrities and society ladies. He moved in high society and at one time cornered the market in scandalous duchesses. He painted a very striking portrait of the infamous Duchess of Argyll and also a flattering painting of the no-less-notorious Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.

Brockhurst was involved in a major scandal himself when he left his French wife, Anaïs Melisandre Folen, for his model, Kathleen Dorette Woodward. The tabloid newspapers of the day made much of the ensuing brouhaha, publishing details of Brockhurst’s earlier affair with his wife’s sister. The hounded couple fled to the US, where Brockhurst continued a successful and lucrative career depicting Hollywood luminaries such as Marlene Dietrich and Merle Oberon.

Brockhurst was also an accomplished etcher and there are examples of his work, including Portrait of Oliver St John Gogarty, in the National Gallery of Ireland.

The painting on offer at Adam’s Important Irish Art sale is Portrait of Charlotte Elizabeth Hollingsworth, the wife of a Dublin insurance executive. It’s a fine example of Brockhurst’s style. Charlotte was the mother of Florence Forsyth – whose aforementioned portrait achieved €50,000 at Adam’s last year. This identically sized portrait is guiding at €10,000 to €15,000 and although there is no record of the date it was painted, it was likely done as a commission during the artist’s stint in Ireland around 1917.

Donald Teskey Coastal Report I oil on paper 76.2 x 101.6cm

Donald Teskey is one of only a few living Irish artists whose work does consistently well at auction. He has been in the news following John Kelly’s very sympathetic and revealing profile on RTÉ’s The Works last May. This focused on his West of Ireland seascapes, of which there are two prime examples in the auction. Coastal Report 1 features the dramatic encounter between the turbulent sea and the craggy shore that is Teskey’s trademark. This fairly large (76.2×101.6cm) oil on paper is guiding at €10,000 to €15,000. A smaller more benign West Cork Landscape is also on offer at €8,000 to €12,000.


Hats off to the Highlanes

Still from Bernie Masterson’s film Flight


In the midst of lockdown, as galleries had to keep their doors firmly closed, the Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda announced a competition that was ‘developed in response to the constraints of the current global situation’. The award, announced at the end of April, is a new biannual competition with an open submission process for artists working on the island of Ireland. The top award, the Janet Mullarney Prize, is €3,000, with four accompanying awards of €500 each for highly commended works.

In May, some 517 artists made online submissions through the gallery’s portal. The judges – curator Sean Kissane of IMMA, artist Joy Gerrard and gallerist Jerome O Drisceoil – had their work cut out for them. They were unanimous, however, in their selection for the major prize – awarded to artist Bernie Masterson for her film Flight – which was announced just five weeks after the launch of the competition.

Of her winning film, Masterson says: ‘Flight is a reference to the story of Icarus in Greek mythology. The visual and the audio are an embodiment of the dramatic inner dialogue, simultaneously questioning the nature of our existence, behaviour and morality in a global climate of uncertainty and fear of the unknown.’
Perhaps reflecting the high standard of submissions, a further five artists (not four) were each awarded €500 for their highly commended works: Laura Fitzgerald, Helen Gorey, Alasdair Asmussen Doyle, Susan Buttner and Elaine Grainger.

The whole process, from the conception of the idea to the announcement of the winners, all happened with Ireland in full lockdown. Furthermore, a purchasing exhibition of the award winners and shortlisted artists’ works was mounted in the gallery in June, with installation images and a video available to view online.
Hats off to Highlanes director Aoife Ruane and congratulations to all involved.



The spirit of Glendalough

The National Museum of Ireland’s up-coming Glendalough exhibition includes items that have come to light in the valley and its environs over the last two or three centuries and which have never been seen in public before, writes Matthew Seaver

Glendalough, a valley of two lakes (as its Gaelic name elegantly implies), is one of nature’s and human’s gems, hidden away in the Wicklow Mountains some thirty miles south of Dublin. For the early Christian Irish, it was renowned as the home of one of the four most important monasteries in the country – the goal of pilgrims for centuries – and a burial place that equalled Rome in helping the soul arrive at heaven.

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