Is there a School of Limerick? Niamh NicGhabhann considers the question on the eve of Charles Harper’s retrospective at the RHA
Limerick is a complicated place – a city of fine-boned fanlights set in red brick frames, angular spires outlined against grey skies, and overgrown bow lanes; a city that sounds like hooves hammering on tarmac, and oars cutting through water. Whittled down to two images, the city could be represented by the river and the grid, a constantly overlapping set of relationships between nature and structure. For anyone growing up among the visual art landscape of Limerick, these two images will also bring to mind the work of Charles Harper RHA – long oars crossing in an intricate pattern on a plane of rich colour, or a strange and intriguing series of near identical heads, formed from quick, economical paint strokes, arranged in a grid pattern. Born on Valentia Island in 1943, Harper’s body of work reflects both his individual negotiation of colour, structure and form in paint, as well as broader regional, national and international artistic developments. Throughout the profiles of Harper published during his career, his personal commitment to honing an aesthetic of ‘honesty’ in his work is repeated. In an interview with John Hutchinson published in The Irish Times in 1983, he stated that ‘good art is responding clearly, with vision, to your own self and environment’. In an earlier interview with Harriet Cooke in the same newspaper, published in 1972, Harper is quoted as saying that ‘I’m not someone who’s going to break any barriers, I simply want to be accurate – in painting and in relation to myself’.
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