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Contemplating SPACE

The east facade seen from the Fellows’ Garden

Winner of the 2022 RIBA Stirling Prize Níall McLaughlin tells Raymund Ryan that the ‘real function of architecture is to situate us in time’

This year’s Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize has been awarded to Níall McLaughlin Architects for the New Library at Magdalene College Cambridge. Claire McMenamin was the project architect. It is the fourth time the practice has been shortlisted for this most prestigious annual award for a building in the UK, and its first outright win.

McLaughlin’s success with the New Library follows on from being shortlisted for the Stirling for the Bishop Edward King Chapel at Ripon College Cuddesdon near Oxford in 2013, a housing project at Darbishire Place in London’s East End in 2015, and the Sultan Nazrin Shah Center at Worcester College Oxford in 2018. Apart from long-established masters of British architecture such as Norman Foster or Richard Rogers (both peers of the realm) and slightly younger stars such as Zaha Hadid or David Chipperfield (dame and knight respectively), few practitioners have garnered this level of esteem.

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Blighted culture

Kevin Mooney Blighters (detail) 2018-2021 oil on canvas 160 x 220cm

 

Seán Kissane explores the work of Kevin Mooney, in which complex webs of history and cultural references abound

Circularity, transformation and shapeshifting lie at the heart of Kevin Mooney’s painting practice. He mines Irish cultures in search of a new art history that might address the gaps in our shared material culture, impoverished as it was through colonial hegemony. He takes well-known and sometimes clichéd tropes of Irishness and looks at them askew. What is revealed is far less familiar and more uncanny than may initially have seemed the case.

An example is Ilcruthach (Fig 3). Ilcruthach or Éimhne fhial ilcruthach is a shapeshifting fairy from Celtic mythology. She is beautiful, but also malign, and moves through boundaries of human and animal, mortal and immortal, man and woman. Mooney’s painting captures this spirit in this process. Mooney piles a patchwork of mythological and contemporary references on top of each other to arrive at this image. At the centre of the picture is a vagina, derived from a Sheela na gig carved in stone and framed by fingers. Like Cú Chulainn, the figure has seven toes at the end of each of its legs. The stormclouds in the background could be giant wings, or a spiralling energy that evokes the special effects of 1980s horror movies. The different painting processes produce an expressionistic mood and this suggests the violence of the metamorphosis, giving the surface a haptic quality.

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RDS Visual Arts Awards

Winner of the €10,000 RDS Taylor Art Award, Venus Patel. Photo Shane O’Neill

 

‘What you’re seeing is a cutting-edge snapshot of the future of Irish art,’ says artist Aideen Barry, curator of this year’s RDS Visual Arts Awards. Barry’s own work incorporates drawing, sculpture and film, and the show that she and her fellow judges assembled provides a rich and entertaining blend of these media.

Winner of the R.C. Lewis-Crosby Award, Sadhbh Mowlds’ entry in the foyer is a startlingly lifelike Eve, which sets the tone for a show full of colour and technical verve. Orla Comerford’s Oidhreacht is an innovative video showing her father, a woodworker, building a boat. The film is projected onto three large, curved screens, with the images moving from abstract to figurative, depending on how far you stand from the screen. This provides the viewer with a taste of Comerford’s own visual impairment. It is a technical tour de force, an aesthetically pleasing encounter and a meaningful expression of the artist’s psyche. Another arresting piece of video was Aisling Phelan’s Dual Reality, with its meditation on our digital identities.

The longlist of candidates for the awards, and indeed the awards themselves, were inclusive in terms of ethnicity and LGBGTQ+ representation

The longlist of candidates for the awards, and indeed the awards themselves, were inclusive in terms of ethnicity and LGBGTQ+ representation. However, there was a noticeable shortage of male contenders on both lists, with only one man making it to the final thirteen: Szymon Minias’ small self-portraits in oil were full of character, with echoes of Édouard Vuillard and Eugène Leroy.

Michelle Malone’s striking tapestries of Artane Industrial School, accompanied by video and interviews with those whose lives were touched by the abuse there and in places like it, was another moving work.

The main award, the RDS Taylor Art Award, went to Venus Patel for her film Eggshells, a darkly humorous take on her experiences as a queer person. Myfanwy Frost-Jones’ alarming film deals with pollution in Kenmare Bay, combining grim facts with distractingly gorgeous views of the south-west.

It is a shame the exhibition did not enjoy a longer run as, notwithstanding the serious issues it addressed, it was highly engaging and professionally presented.

John P O’Sullivan

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Taoisigh and the Arts

Kevin Rafter
Martello Publishing, 2022
pp 256 fully illustrated p/b
€14.95 ISBN: 978-1-99989-688-1
Patrick J Murphy

This book is a fascinating read for all who are interested in the development of Irish culture since independence. The author, Kevin Rafter, is the current chairperson of the Arts Council. He has a special interest in the visual arts, poetry and theatre and for many years was a distinguished political journalist, which gave him unrivalled insights into the thoughts and actions of leading Irish politicians. The facts are carefully researched and accompanied by many anecdotes that shed light on who were the important taoisigh when it came to the development of the arts nationwide.

We learn that WT Cosgrave and Éamon de Valera, preoccupied with what they regarded as more pressing matters, were not particularly interested in the arts. Yet Cosgrave nominated WB Yeats and Oliver St John Gogarty to the Senate, and de Valera was vitally concerned with the revival of the Irish language and Ireland’s image in America. Censorship of films began in 1923, and the stained-glass artist of genius Harry Clarke became an early victim of censorship when Cosgrave’s government held back his commissioned window for the League of Nations building in Geneva because it contained small nude images drawn from Irish literature.

The facts are carefully researched and accompanied by many anecdotes that shed light on who were the important taoisigh when it came to the development of the arts nationwide

The reluctant taoiseach John A Costello was the first head of state to have a genuine interest in the arts. He collected fine furniture and Irish silver and bought paintings by Nathaniel Hone the Younger, Evie Hone, WJ Leech and Grace Henry. He considered the National Gallery of Ireland a valuable asset and commissioned Thomas Bodkin to prepare a report on the state of the arts in Ireland, leading to the establishment of the Arts Council in 1951.

Fianna Fáil replaced Cumann na nGaedheal in 1932. Department of Finance officials in the 1950s considered that the Arts Council provided ‘a non-essential service’ and were initially reluctant to fund it, even to the low level of £20,000 a year, demanding a reduction in some subsequent years. However, in 2023, the Arts Council grant stands at the substantial figure of €130 million.

Seán Lemass, Garret Fitzgerald and Jack Lynch left no particular imprint on the development of the arts in Ireland. That role would fall on the shoulders of the dynamic, ambitious Charles J Haughey, who became the outstanding Fianna Fáil patron of the arts, even before he became taoiseach. With his arts advisor, the writer Anthony Cronin, he introduced a valuable income-tax exemption scheme for creative artists and later brought into being the visionary Aosdána academy, which honours distinguished artists and pays modest stipends from public funds to artists in need. He also helped bring about the Rosc international art exhibitions and turned the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham into the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1990.

The cover of this excellent book features Charles J Haughey viewing a portrait of himself as ‘a noble Irish wolfhound’ by the American artist group Tim Rollins and KOS (Kids of Survival) from the Rosc ’88 exhibition. It was intended to be a tribute to the taoiseach for his contribution to the arts in Ireland. However, it did not please him as much as earlier portraits by Robert Ballagh and Edward McGuire, where the sitter could specify in advance the image he desired.

Patrick J Murphy is an art collector, author and former Chairman of the Arts Council of Ireland.

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Centre stage

Edmond T Quinn in his studio with Vicente Blasco Ibáñez (1867–1928) Beinecke library collection

 

Paula Murphy considers the work of Irish American Edmond T Quinn, one of the leading sculptors of his generation

When John Butler Yeats died in New York in February 1922, it was local sculptor Edmond T Quinn who was called upon to make his death mask. Quinn, who had known Yeats, subsequently informed the painter’s friend, renowned American lawyer and art collector John Quinn (no relation), that a replica of the mask in bronze was to be sent to the Yeats sisters. The lawyer considered this to be inappropriate, asserting that ‘a death mask is a very valuable thing for a sculptor in making a bust or a portrait of a man’, not something for the family. The death mask did cross the Atlantic, however, and is today in the Yeats Memorial Building in Sligo.

This is not the only work by the Irish American sculptor Quinn in Ireland. Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane has in its collection a bronze bust of writer Padraic Colum (Fig 1). Papers in the gallery’s archive reveal that the bust was donated to the Hugh Lane in 1947 by Emily Shepherd Stevens of New Haven, Connecticut. Stevens was at the time married to American architect Shepherd Stevens. Born Emily Bradley, she married Quinn in 1917. She was, in fact, donating a work by her late husband to the gallery. The bust, a replica of Quinn’s bust of Colum then in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC, was cast shortly before being dispatched to the Hugh Lane. (The original sitting must surely have fed into Colum’s research for his would-be magnum opus, never completed, on the life of a fictional sculptor.)

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Wandering star

Hilary Pyle looks at the life and work of artist Estella Solomons, whose exhibition is on view at the National Gallery of Ireland

Estella Solomons, born during a renaissance of the creative arts in Ireland, was one of a group of especially gifted women artists in Dublin, most of whom trained with men at art school and went on to practise professionally. Only Frances (Cissie) Beckett, aunt of Samuel Beckett, who painted a portrait of Solomons resting at a student ball (Fig 7), did not. But their contemporaries at college, Beatrice Elvery (later Glenavy), Grace Gifford (the cartoonist), Eva Hamilton, Mary Swanzy, Clare Marsh and others, all enhanced this new era of Irish art at the beginning of the 20th century with their distinctive ways of working.

The ultimate aim was to be accepted by the Academy. They exhibited regularly in small solo or shared exhibitions in studios or hired halls, or contributed work to group shows such as the Irish Art Companions and the Gaelic League’s Oireachtas art exhibitions. The founding of the United Arts Club in 1907 was a major boon, bringing both artists and writers together for inspiration or collaboration.

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Enigma

Dominic Turner Lake Dwelling 2015 archival pigment prints into Japanese washi

Stephanie McBride meets Dominic Turner whose art photography is created with a finesse reminiscent of a bygone age

‘I don’t think a photograph on a phone or computer screen has ever taken my breath away,’ says Dominic Turner, ‘but an original Ansel Adams print I saw up close a few years back was mind-blowingly good, even after all the hype.’

While Turner acknowledges influences from 19th-century Pictorialism, he steadfastly retains his own style and vision and is passionate about the materiality of film and printing. ‘The digital age of photography has paradoxically engendered an even narrower view of what a photograph should be,’ he says, for all the apparently limitless post-production possibilities and digital sheen of the pixel universe.

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The Follies Trust

Lord Limerick’s follies, Tollymore, Co Down; pyramidal mausoleums, Naas, Co Dublin

 

After decades of neglect, the final quarter of the 20th century saw a rise of public interest in the Irish country house, together with its demesnes and designed landscapes. Its demesnes are now widely recognised as an important part of our cultural heritage. Today, many country houses are owned by the state or by local authorities and visiting country-house gardens is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.

The Follies Trust, founded by Primrose Wilson, champions and repairs neglected or threatened follies, mausoleums and other ornamental garden structures throughout the country. Since it was established in 2006, the trust has repaired some thirty follies across sixteen counties in Ireland, publishing seven beautifully illustrated books to publicise the restorations. Their latest publication is a summary of the successful conservation work they completed during their first fifteen years. The variety of projects completed, the strength of ambition and the high quality of craftsmanship in these intriguing and often quirky little structures is impressive and has secured their long-term future.

The Lawrencetown Eyecatcher in Co Galway is, in many ways, the archetypal folly. It takes the form of a simple Gothic screen, complete with ogival arches, pinnacles and flying buttresses. Lord Limerick’s follies at Tollymore in Co Down provide us with a similar combination of rustic simplicity and architectural sensibility. More sophisticated structures restored include monumental columns and obelisks, mausoleums and the splendid Gloster Arch, Co Offaly, attributed to our greatest Palladian architect, Edward Lovett Pearce. The structures included range from forts to fountains and bath-houses to watch-houses, the latter built beside bleaching greens to oversee the outstretched linen. A site of particular note is the pair of pyramidal mausoleums dating from the 1830s that stand in the Maudlins burial ground in Naas, Co Kildare. These beautiful structures have been carefully repaired and repointed, highlighting the remarkable bedding and jointing pattern of the stonework.

The trust’s philosophy, Primrose Wilson states in this latest publication, ‘is and always has been to conserve and raise awareness of these glorious structures’.

James Howley

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Regency masterpiece

Terence Reeves-Smyth recounts the history of Killymoon Castle, Co Tyrone, the first Irish commission of architect John Nash

Standing on an eminence above the confluence of the Ballinderry and Killymoon rivers, with commanding views over idyllic parkland, Killymoon Castle in Cookstown was built in 1801–7 for local MP Col James Stewart (1742–1812) by John Nash, already the foremost architect of the age and later architect for the Prince Regent. Acknowledged as a radically inventive and exciting experiment in picturesque architecture, Killymoon was Nash’s first Irish commission. Built in cut stone, this two-storeyed embattled house with machicolated towers and turrets is particularly noteworthy for its innovative use of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The building’s skilfully designed compact massing of elliptical, octagonal and square shapes, and its pioneering asymmetrical layout of a three-room garden frontage set at right angles to the entrance – the latter through a porte-cochère, perhaps the first to be built in Ireland. Most satisfying for modern visitors is Killymoon’s remarkable survival, almost unaltered since it was built, unlike the majority of the rest of Nash’s once-notable Irish oeuvre, which has long since vanished.

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Mythmaker

John Currie The Lament of Aicell (detail) 1912 oil on canvas 71 x 91cm Edmund L. and Faye Davison Collection, Wichita Art Museum

 

Philip McEvansoneya explores the work of John Currie, an artist not well known in Ireland, even though he visited the country, painted Irish subjects and exhibited in Dublin

John Currie was the son of Irish emigrants to England. The story of his life has been told in various ways, usually in the context of his connection with eminent contemporaries such as Mark Gertler and CRW Nevinson. Misinformation and invention surround him, which is hardly surprising, given that his tendency to embroider the truth, or even lie, was tolerated by his friends.

Currie was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire. He received his artistic education at the schools of art in Newcastle and nearby Hanley and continued at the Royal College of Art in London. From mid-1908 to mid-1909, Currie made the first of his visits to Ireland. This may have been done in an effort to reconnect with his family roots, and perhaps also to stimulate his work, but his arrival in Ireland came within a year of his marriage and it meant that he left behind his pregnant wife, Jessie Brandon.

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