I painted these trees on a windy mountainside in northwest Donegal – probably not Christmas trees, just the regular forestry trees. I had often tramped those lonely mountain tracks, wandering and wondering.
Now? No, I’m not a big fan of Christmas anymore. Maybe it’s just for kids. But I find the parties, the ridiculous jumpers, the presents, the shopping to be like a foreign world where other people participate in strangely meaningless excesses.
When did it change for me? I can’t say… I saw a documentary on telly last night, ‘Toughest Place to be’, the tale of a street cleaner from Dublin who travelled to the Philippines to work with a street cleaner over there. The poverty in Manilla was utterly shocking.
Shocking, and yet, they were waiting in joyful hope…
But now, thanks to my faraway friend in Los Angeles, here’s something nice to change the mood – Christmas songs in Manx Gaelic. My favourite one has to be: “Bee dty Host” performed by Caarjyn Cooidjagh. (presumably translated as: ‘Bí i do thost’ or: ‘Be silent’) See the link just below:
Well, you have to start somewhere. I started with a lump of clay, lovely mucky pliable stuff, and I created the shape you see above. In reality it was only the size of your fist. But I liked it so I photographed it.
And then I squashed it and made another shape, and then another…
That’s what I was doing for a while, to try to get some new ideas or to create something new. But what I was missing was colour, the joy of colour. Clay is a wonderfully expressive material but… well it’s just grey, isn’t it. So I added the colours into it with Photoshop. (Yes, I used Photoshop again – but no, I couldn’t say if it was a sculpture, a photograph or… a piece of fine art, even?)
Of course, it’s just a lump of clay again now, but actually, it started with the idea of hands covering a face. And then I gave it a title: ‘Brón’ (Sorrow).
I was reminded of those muddy endeavours recently when I came across the work of the American artist Stuart Shils. He’s a great painter and printmaker but he also experiments with bits of paper stuck on a window, with shadows on the floor and indeed, with anything that catches his fancy. Nach fánach an áit a bhfaighfeá gliomach! (meaning: you can find real treasure in the strangest of places)
And I think that’s the answer. If it helps in the creative process, shur why not give it a go. How do you like his images above? The first one is his studio floor, with the light streaming in and the second, a building site, perhaps. But they both look like abstract paintings to me. Loads more good ones on his website at:
So I was caught cheating! Or so I’m told – but I beg to differ. Let me explain. Last week, I put up an image of Pearse’s Cottage in Ros Muc, a painting that I did over 20 years ago. But strangely enough, the painting that you saw never really existed. (you can see the image here)
And this one above – that one never existed either. But do you like it? I remember a scene just like that in January this year. I was staying in Ros Muc on an artist’s residency and it was a cold, frosty morning. As the mist gradually lifted, I could just make out the cottage across the lake, such a peaceful, homely scene.
So here I was, at my computer, searching for an image that would tell my story. I suppose you heard about Photoshop? Well, down below is the original painting but I thought that I could improve it. (you probably know that artists are never really happy with their work, they think that it could always be improved). So now, which version do you prefer?
And anyway, what could be wrong with using computers to make art? Isn’t it just another tool, like a pencil or a paintbrush? I wasn’t happy with the way I’d painted the water in the original. That’s why the original had to be changed. And it was quite exciting to work on it afresh. I might even paint a new version, a misty one, now that I see the result.
But the thing is – you’ll never see the original, hanging on the wall. You won’t be able to see the mark of the artist’s hand. That’s the difference really, between a painting and a photograph. But I like taking photographs too. It’s not a case of one or the other. See the photograph below – this is one I took back in January, with two swanny-swans gliding across the lake…
So let me know what you think. And which of the three images do you prefer?
Do you ever feel like you are a minority within a minority? Scroll down to read the English language version.
Bhuel, bhí comhdháil mór ar siúl in Ollscoil na Gaillimhe ag an deireadh seachtaine, comhdháil leis an téama: 1916-2016: Dóchas agus Dúshlán na Ceannasachta Náisiúnta. Ó bhí gach sórt daoine támhachta ann – Enda Kenny T.D., an Dochtúir Maurice Manning, an t-iriseoir Fintan O’Toole, agus an tAire Seo, Siúd agus na Gaeltachta ina measc – ach cén mhaith dhom é, ní raibh mé ann…
Ach bhí mé ag ceann des na h-ócáidí imeallacha a bhain leis. ’Sé sin: Parlaimint na nDán a bhí á reachtáil ag Oireachtas na Gaeilge, le maoiniú ó Ealaín na Gaeltachta, agus bhí mé an-shásta a bheith ag glacadh páirt ansin. Thaispeáin mé mo ghearrscánnán “Ar theacht an tSamhraidh” ann agus labhair mé faoin tionchar a bhí ag comóradh 1916 ar mo chuid oibre. (Is féidir an scannán a fheiscint anseo )
Bhí Diarmuid de Faoite (drámadóir), Ríonach Ní Néill (Cóiréagrafaí) agus Nuala Ní Fhlathúin (físealaíontóir) ag glacadh páirt ann freisin agus Páraic Breathnach ina Cheann Comhairle. Bhí roinnt cainte againn ansin faoin maoiniú a bhí ar fáil do chomóradh 1916 agus faoi na coinníollacha a bhí ag baint leis.
Ar aghaidh liom ansin, siar go dtí Ros Muc leis an t-ionad nua ag Teach an Phiarsaigh a fheiscint. Bhuel, nach mór an feall. Nach raibh an chruatain riamh i ndán dosna Gaeil. Tar éis a bheith ag fanacht le 30 blian le go dtógfaí ionad ceart leis an chaidreamh idir muintir Ros Muc agus an bPiarsach a chomóradh agus a cheiliúradh, céard a fuair siad sa deireadh ach ‘stopadh bus’ ar an Wild Atlantic Way.
Ní dóigh liom go mbeidh mórán de mhuintir na h-áite sásta leis. (ní dóigh liom gur iarr éinne orthu faoi, ar aon chaoi).
Céard faoin sliocht seo a leanas ón mbileog ioldaite faoi Ros Muc: From turf-cutting to boat trips, historic houses to hill walks, rural landscapes to magical sunsets, Ros Muc is the perfect place to experience special family moments and create memories to share with your friends. ’nfheadar an raibh an té a scríobh an sliocht sin riamh i Ros Muc? An bhfaca sé nó sí rásaí na gcurrachaí riamh nó damhsa ar an seanós, nó… Nó ar léigh sé nó sí gearrscéalta an Phiarsaigh?
Ach ansin, lean mé orm isteach go dtí reilg Chill Bhriocáin. Bhí duine eicint tar éis slacht a chur ar an tobar naofa. Bhí an áit deas néata agus bhí leacht nua curtha acu ann. Thug an leacht simplí sin ardú meanman dom…
Yes, well somebody was saying that those who took part in the Easter Rising were a minority within a minority. This was intended to cast aspersions, perhaps, on the men and women who took a stand against the British Empire in 1916. That same somebody might also have asked: ‘But did they have a mandate to embark on such drastic action?’ To that person I would say: Did the British Empire ever seek a mandate to collonise or to plunder the resources of Ireland, or indeed, of half the world?
Anyway, I was thinking about minorities because, as part of the National Centenary Conference at NUI Galway at the weekend, I took part in a panel discussion entitled: Parlaimint na nDán, about the arts and commemoration. I showed my short film “Ar theacht an tSamhraidh” (you can view it again by clicking here) and I heard about productions that had received huge state grants and other projects that had struggled to subsist.
In the area around Ros Muc, where Patrick Pearse found his inspiration, they managed with very little state funding this year, despite the fact that a new “interpretive centre” was being built there for the tourists. They organised simple but meaningful commemorations, dignified solemn ceremonies and uplifting musical gatherings with readings from the short stories of Pearse. We felt very privileged to be able to attend these ceremonies at the Easter weekend.
So yes, it was a minority within a minority, as it always will be. There are precious few out there who are willing to stand out from the crowd and do what is right. But so be it. We must not lose heart. Níor chaill fear an mhisnigh ariamh é. (Fortune favours the brave, they say). What do you think?
You know of course that Irish apples are the nicest, sweetest, juiciest apples in the world. I did a series of apple paintings a while ago. I was working on a project about Moore Street at the time. But wait’ll I tell you what’s been happening on Moore Street since then.
You know that Moore Street is inextricably linked with the Easter Rising of 1916. This is where the last stand of the revolutionaries took place. Five of the signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic spent their last hours of freedom here. But would you believe that there are plans now to turn this historic area into a gigantic shopping mall?
Of course there was protests. There was even a case against it in the High Court. The court ruled that the entire Moore Street battlefield site constituted a National Monument, to be protected and preserved by the state but still, believe it or not, the Irish government is challenging that decision!
Anyway, in the meantime, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs set up a “consultative group” to consider views on the best way forward for Moore Street and, as it happens, I was there in City Hall last Friday to have my say. Now we only got the invitation on Thursday so we really didn’t get enough time to prepare but Donna Cooney, a relation of Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell and a true stalwart of the 1916 Relatives’ Association, had a great presentation ready.
Carla Cowley, great great granddaughter of Molly O’Reilly, spoke first and then it was my turn. You can read the text of my speech below – it starts in Irish but the second half is in English.
Otherwise, just have a quick look at the black and white photo further down. This photo has had a lot of airbrushing over the years. First of all, some newspaper editor got rid of Nurse O’Farrell’s skirts and boots, airbrushed out of history, to simplify the story, I suppose. But I have a different memory of this photo. I remember my father sending it away somewhere – to get it ‘fixed’ – not to get rid of O’Farrell but to emphasise the fact the Pearse was in full military uniform (as Commander-in-chief of the rebel forces). He didn’t want people to think that Pearse was wearing a big winter overcoat. Funny what one remembers – I was only six years old at the time…
The text of my speech:
A dhaoine uaisle agus a chairde, tá cúpla nóiméad agam inniu le h-impí oraibh gan Sráid Uí Mhórdha a scriosadh. Tá sé náireach, amach is amach, go bhfuil muid fiú ag caint faoi seo inniu.
Fuair go leor daoine bás ar an sráid seo – laochra, a sheas in aghaidh Impireacht na Breataine; Laochra, a throid ar son ár saoirse; Laochra, mo mhuintir ina measc – ach i 1916, chaith muintir na cathrach seile orthu. They spat on them. Agus fós, 100 bhlian níos déanaí, tá roinnt daoine fós ag iarraidh seile a chaitheamh orthu.
Cén fáth? Sin í an cheist. Cén fáth go bhfuil drogall orainn comóradh ceart a dhéanamh ar na laochra seo? Na mná agus na fir ar sheas an fhóid agus a throid ar son a gcearta, agus cearta muintir na hÉireann ar fad. Cén fáth nach bhfuil muid lán de Bhróid? Cén fáth go bhfuil muidne, gaolta 1916, fós ag troid le go n-athnófar an fís a bhí acu, agus an misneach a bhí acu.
“I thank the goodness and the grace that on my birth has smiled, and made me in this Christian age, a happy English child”. A chairde Gael, this was the prayer on the first page of a reader that was used in every National School in Ireland, before 1916.
This was the ideology, the ideology that was rejected by the men and women of 1916. We had our own Gaelic culture, our own language, our customs and our history but this was not what the British Empire wanted to hear. Indeed, they were intent on suppressing it.
I’m not going to give you a lecture on history here but I will say this. That our language and our customs and our history is still under threat, right now in 2016. But we have a chance here to take steps to protect it. I think that the Moore Street Battlefield plan has some great ideas in it and I congratulate all those who were involved with it.
And I’ll say one more thing. My father, Piaras Mac Lochlainn was on the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration committee in the sixties. That place was derelict when they decided to restore it. They were all voluntary workers. They decided to restore it, as someone said: “to honour our glorious dead”. And that jail is now one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country. And the government at the time wanted to demolish it! Have we learned nothing?
A shopping centre is no different to shopping centres the world over. But Moore Street is the heart of Dublin. Such a special place of culture and history and I’m asking you now: Don’t delete it from the pages of history.
Shame on anyone who would even consider destroying it. Go raibh maith agaibh.
So now, it’s back to the studio for me… really, I’d prefer to stay away from these political shenanigans, and simply to paint my penny apples. But unfortunately, we just can’t leave it up to the politicians and their cronies. What do you think?
Ah yes, me too. And skylarks – I love hearing their never-ending song of joy somewhere, high in the sky above Kippure. So, when Olivier Cornet asked us to respond to the poem Élévation by Charles Baudelaire, for his themed exhibition at VUE, I think I knew immediately what I wanted to do.
VUE is Ireland’s annual Contemporary Art Fair and it opens tonight, the 3rd of November at the RHA Gallery in Dublin. It’s not only the Dublin galleries, of course – there’ll be eighteen of Ireland’s top contemporary art galleries there, all vying for your attention and promoting their own particular strands of contemporary art.
But I think that the Olivier Cornet Gallery’s show will be special this year, the exhibition inspired by Baudelaire’s poem, looks really enthralling. The poem is about aspirations and ideals, and the notion of rising above the trials and tribulations of this troubled world… Goodness knows we could do with some of that these days, wouldn’t you say?
I include an English translation of the poem below, by William Aggeler. As you can see above, I’ve been working on a pair of paintings for the show, the smaller one is entitled: “Vale of Tears”. You might’ve seen the sky one before… I’m not sure if it’s going to be a vertical diptych or just two separate pieces… any thoughts?
Above the lakes, above the vales,
The mountains and the woods, the clouds, the seas,
Beyond the sun, beyond the ether,
Beyond the confines of the starry spheres,
My soul, you move with ease,
And like a strong swimmer in rapture in the wave
You wing your way blithely through boundless space
With virile joy unspeakable.
Fly far, far away from this baneful miasma
And purify yourself in the celestial air,
Drink the ethereal fire of those limpid regions
As you would the purest of heavenly nectars.
Beyond the vast sorrows and all the vexations
That weigh upon our lives and obscure our vision,
Happy is he who can with his vigorous wing
Soar up towards those fields luminous and serene,
He whose thoughts, like skylarks,
Toward the morning sky take flight
Who hovers over life and understands with ease
The language of flowers and silent things!
From The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
The official opening of VUE is tonight, from 6 – 8pm and it continues until Sunday, the 6th of November. Entry is free. More details at the links below.
From earliest time, trees have been respected and revered. They were our lofty guardians. As a single tree provides shade to the traveller, collectively trees protect all life on this planet. They provide a habitat for a wide variety of smaller plants, animals, birds, insects, spiders (ugh) and micro-organisms. But trees as a work of art – that’s extra special, I think.
And there’s a wonderful example of this to be seen in a forest near Grianán an Aileach in Co. Donegal. It’s a Celtic cross, one hundred metres long, comprised of thousands of deciduous trees. At this time of year, it can be seen in all its autumnal glory, as you fly into the City of Derry Airport.
It was on television the other night, a report by UTV’s Gareth Wilkinson (and I have a link to that report below). This beautiful project was the brainchild of forester Liam Emmery. The poor man died a few years ago, aged just 51, but his creation will live on for fifty or sixty 60 years more. I think perhaps he’s up there now, watching over his forest and grinning in delight at all the attention it is receiving.
In Celtic folklore, Hallowe’en or Samhain marked the end of one year and the passing into the next and it was believed that at this time, a window into the ‘otherworld’ was temporarily opened so that mortals and spirits could communicate. The souls of the dead were thought to return home for this one night and therefore candles were lit, prayers were offered and then, there was great feasting and fun.
But the walking zombies, the vampires and ghouls, the crazy artificial cobwebs… Where did this amaidí come from, I wonder. For me, as a reminder of our ancestors, I think I’d prefer the cross in the woods.