Irish Artists Wanted for French Exhibition

The French countryside and culture have long inspired Irish artists - Galerie Tremel seeks new perspectives

It’s a connection which dates back to the late 1800s, when artists from Ireland, north and south, left the grey skies and chilly climate of home for the clear light and beguiling, sun-drenched landscapes of France. Now, that same connection is about to be resurrected, in the very place that those early artists loved so well.

In a few months time, Galerie Tremel, a visual arts gallery situated smack in the centre of Brittany, will be resurrecting cultural links within the Celtic world by way of a major exhibition. Celtic Connections is scheduled to take place from July 15 to August 11, with the aim of showcasing the work of young and up-and-coming artists from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany.

Of all France’s varied and magnificent scenery and architectural wonders, it was the rugged, unsung splendour of the far-flung western region of Brittany that stole the hearts of some of our finest painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

When Adam’s, the Dublin fine art dealers and auctioneers, opened their Northern Ireland office at the Ava Gallery in the Clandeboye Estate in County Down in summer 2010, they celebrated their arrival with a landmark exhibition entitled The French Connection. It featured an impressive collection of important and rarely seen works by Irish painters, including William Scott, Charles Lamb, William Crampton Gore, Georgina Moutray Kyle, Sir John Lavery, William Leech and Samuel Taylor.

They had found inspiration amongst the simple daily lives of peasants and fisherfolk, handsome stone-built churches and convents, the markets, harbours and traditional festivals of a region, which bore - and still bears - striking physical, geographical and spiritual resemblances to the green fields and craggy shorelines of the country they had left behind.

Many found new friendships in the burgeoning artists’ colony of Concarneau on the south coast of Finisterre, and a great many memorable paintings emerged, some inspired by the vision of people like Paul Gauguin, who had been there before them.

Among the abiding images from that exhibition are Lamb’s innocent 'Breton Fish Boy' and his luminous 'Market Scene in Audierne'; the superb draughtsmanship of Kyle’s 'Breton Village Scene'; and Taylor’s 'Girls at the Water’s Edge', the central figures so ladylike in their lace-collared black dresses and snowy white coiffes.

The pretty village of Gouarec is the home of Galerie Tremel. Nearby is the much-visited Cistercian abbey, l’Abbaye de Bon Repos, which hosts a year-round programme of contemporary art projects, one of which, by Polish video artist Antek Grzybek, continues until the end of October. Abandoned during the French revolution and restored over the past 25 years, its majestic proportions and bare stone walls make it the ideal venue for large-scale art installations.

And while the bustling coastal town of Lorient is well known by Irish musicians for the great annual gathering that is the Festival Interceltique, this sparsely-populated corner of rural Brittany, less than an hour inland, is acquiring a reputation as a centre for the visual arts, with artists from a number of countries now resident in the area.

Opening nights at Galerie Tremel tend to be crowded, jolly affairs, frequented by regional cultural dignitaries, members of the media, artists and art lovers from near and far. The picturesque stone building in which the gallery is situated holds an important place in the heritage of the village.

Marilyn Le Moign, the dynamic Yorkshire-born president of both AIKB (the Association for Integration in Central Brittany) and the Compagnons de Bon Repos, has lived and worked in France for over 40 years. A former interior designer and passionate devotee of international contemporary art, the gallery is, for a variety of reasons, very much her baby.

'Like several of Gouarec’s notable buildings, this one has been in the Le Moign family since the beginning of the 19th century,' she explains. 'The gallery takes its name from its last occupant of 30-odd years ago, Monsieur Trémel

'It used to be a humble dwelling in what was one of the main village streets, Rue au Lin. Lin means linen and weaving was one of the principal activities in central Brittany in the 17th and 18th centuries - so there’s another link with Northern Ireland.

'The house came to fame locally by being lent to the Augustine nuns, who, when they first founded a convent in 1830, had nowhere to live. A nursing and teaching order, their first task was to nurture the work force engaged on building the nearby Nantes-Brest canal.

'The Compagnons de Bon Repos is an association, which has been active in organising visual art installations for the last ten years. Through it, I have developed my own passion for the arts. The transformation of this modest cottage was a personal project and an opportunity to give young and less experienced artists the chance to exhibit in an intimate setting.'

Graham Ritchie, an Australian, who lived in Ireland and the UK before moving to Gouarec, runs Galerie Tremel. He outlines the thinking behind the Celtic Connections exhibition:

'We are trying to create an exhibition that emphasises the connections between Brittany and other Celtic regions. These traditions are highly valued in this region of France and many people from Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall and Wales have settled here in recent years.

'The gallery is not publicly funded and our exhibitions are developed on a shoestring, with the help of dedicated volunteers - myself among them - who are keen to improve the cultural diversity of our region. The artist usually provides a caretaker role, interacting with the public during agreed opening hours. In turn, artists are rewarded for their dedication by receiving 100% of receipts from sales.

'In the case of Celtic Connections, we are looking to attract young artists seeking their first or early exhibition in residence. We have self-catering accommodation available nearby, free of charge, and a number of volunteers will assist in the caretaking of the gallery during the exhibition.

'The submitted subject matter should in some way make reference to Celtic culture, folklore, tradition, history, values,' continues Ritchie. 'Beyond that, we are not prescribing any particular theme as we would prefer to see works unfettered by the whim of a gallery owner. All visual art and craft forms will be considered.

'That said, AV media is difficult to exhibit in the gallery alongside other works, so that needs to be taken into consideration. Above all, what we are looking for is exceptional talent, in the hope that we can launch a worthy artist along a successful career path.'

The closing date for submissions is April 30, or as soon as possible thereafter. If an artist sends in a brief expression of interest before that date, the selection panel will gauge the initial application and plan accordingly.

An application form and instructions are on the website: www.galerietremel.com under Submissions. Requests for further information should be directed to Graham Ritchie on galerietremel@gmail.com.