This month sees the latest instalment of the acclaimed Important Irish Art series of exhibitions at Clandeboye’s Ava Gallery. Open for public viewing before the pieces go to auction in Dublin at the end of May, this is an excellent chance to view a huge variety of work by the crème de la crème of Irish artists.
The featured attraction this time around is 'Indoors, Outdoors' by the recently deceased Louis le Brocquy, considered by many to be Ireland’s premier artist of the 20th century. An abstract piece with plenty of kinetic energy, 'Indoors, Outdoors' is one of a series of seminal works leading up to le Brocquy’s iconic modernist masterpiece, 'The Family'.
The oil on canvas piece depicts an isolated family in the unsure aftermath of World War II, and it shocked Dublin audiences upon its completion in 1951. Rendered in bold angular black lines, this work (valued at up to £800,000) conveys Atomic Age unease. The austere surroundings, the pained expression of the woman and the defeated posture of the man add to the tension.
It is possible that the painting also refers to the artist’s relationship to his family. le Brocquy separated from his wife Jean in 1941. The girl in the piece could easily be le Brocquy’s daughter Seyre, shown exiting the frame. The light and dark areas of the woman’s face reflect the two aspects of a relationship in decline.
Regardless of its many readings, 'Indoors, Outdoors' is a striking image. The artist also features elsewhere in the exhibition, as the creator of a Biblically inspired tapestry, 'Eden', and the subject of a fantastic mixed media Pop Art piece by Robert Ballagh, entitled 'Homage to le Brocquy'.
The rest of the exhibition features a variety of markedly dissimilar works, many of which focus on aspects of nauticalia. Detailed yet conventional paintings by Joseph William Carey depict coal company Kelly’s boats (later reproduced as promotional calendars by the company).
An early Jack B Yeats piece, 'A Hooker And A Nobbie', uses thick, oily brush strokes, a figurative representation of traditional vessels. This piece is particularly interesting when compared to Yeats’ later works (two of which are also on display), that were characterised by the meeting of land, sea and sky.
The west Ireland island of Achill features prominently in many pieces, including 'Fishing Boats, Dugort' by Paul Henry (pictured above) and 'Achill Geese' by Percy French. Both these pieces capture the tranquillity of the island perfectly, with impressive cloudscapes and reflective waters. Having spent many happy childhood summers in Achill, these paintings evoke a personal emotional response from this reviewer.
Indeed this is the key attraction of many works on display here. Plenty of the landscapes are instantly recognisable, locations dotted around Northern Ireland and the Republic. They will mean something different to each viewer.
Perhaps the most interesting piece in the exhibition comes in the somewhat unlikely form of James Stinton Sleator’s self portrait. A diminutive piece in a rustic frame, this work depicts the county Armagh painter in a confident, possibly self-mocking pose, while a female model cowers in the background.
Strikingly different to any other piece on display, this work is highly imaginative and beautifully painted, whilst raising interesting gender issues. With an estimated value of £3000 - £5000, this is also one of the more affordable artworks.
Overall, this exhibition is a great display of the variety and skill that the best Irish and Northern Irish artists epitomise.
Important Irish Art is in the Ava Gallery, Clandeboye, from May 10 - 18, with an auction in Adam’s Salerooms, Dublin, on May 30.