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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 26, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

    Louis le Brocquy: Fragments from an extraordinary life

    Laurence Mackin

    Yesterday, while putting together our arts coverage of Louis le Brocquy’s life and work, there were a number of elements we couldn’t fit on the page, purely for space reasons.

    The items that made it into print were: a tribute on today’s news pages; an appreciation of his life and work by our art critic Aidan Dunne, which also features a slideshow of le Brocquy’s work; and, if you scroll down through Aidan’s piece, there is a lovely snapshot of the man himself, written by the poet John Montague.

    We had a wealth of material to choose from, some of which I’ve reproduced here. Below are a selection of quotes by the artist on his work gathered from various sources. You can read plenty more over on anne-madden.com.

    “I’m fascinated by appearances and what they reveal, the way expressions change from instant to instant in some people because of the vitality rising within them and transforming them the whole time. So the head, for me at least, is a paradox, both hiding or masking the spirit and revealing or incarnating it.”
    – Interview in `Art International’, 1979

    “People believe – it’s a reaction I’ve often come across during exhibitions – that in some way you’re making a ‘statement’ about the person you’ve painted. I’m not making a statement at all, you know, I’m simply trying to discover, to uncover, aspects of the Beckettness of Beckett, the Baconness of Bacon.”
    – `Art International’

    “To attempt today a portrait, a single static image of a great artist such as Joyce, appears to me to be futile as well as impertinent. Long conditioned by photographs, the cinema and psychology, we now perceive the human individual as facetted, kinetic. And so I have tried as objectively as possible to draw from the depths of paper or canvas these changing and even contradictory traces of the man. In this fragmentary search I have seemed at times to encroach on archaeological ground. Is there an archaeology of the spirit? Certainly neither my will nor my skill has played any essential part in these studies. For the fact is that many of them emerged entirely under my ignorant left hand – my right hand being for some months immobilised in plaster. So it would appear that no dexterity whatever was involved in forming these images, which tended to emerge automatically, so to speak, jerked into coherence by a series of scrutinised accidents, impelled by my curiosity to discover something of the man and, within him, the inverted mirror-room of my own experience.”
    - From the 1977 catalogue for `Louis le Brocquy: Studies towards an Image of James Joyce’

    “What was I then hoping to achieve? What am I still hoping for? A difficult question. I suppose initially I simply wanted to become a good painter, to join in the spiritual excitement of a great creative tradition. And now? Perhaps it is, through painting, to reach towards – to touch even – some glimmer of the meaning of life.”
    – Interview with Perry Ogden, `Italian Vogue’, 2000

    “I’ve shared a studio with Anne almost since I’ve known her. It simply happened like that and very early we developed a working ‘modus vivendi’ to our mutual benefit. Perhaps our difference in age, temperament and methods helped rather than hindered this. In the studio we never comment on one another’s work until asked. Then it may be invaluable because of our understanding of each other’s painting. Not that either of us necessarily accepts the view of the other. It is the critical insight at a critical moment that can be revelatory. Francis Bacon used to tell us he longed for someone near him who could do just that.”
    - On sharing a studio with his wife, artist Anne Madden

    “Clearly, it is not possible to paint the spirit. You cannot paint consciousness. You start with the knowledge we all have that the most significant human reality lies beneath material appearance. So, in order to recognise this, to touch this as a painter, I try to paint the head image from the inside out.”
    - Interview in `The Irish Landscape’, 1992

    This is the first mention we can find of Le Brocquy’s work in The Irish Times – a review of an exhibition from Monday, April 23rd, 1945.

    This is a terrific portrait of the artist and dates from Saturday, August 21st, 1954, by which point the artist was on the cusp of moving into his use of stark white grounds.

    • JOD says:

      I love his illustrations for Kinsella’s Tain. I’ve ”The Massing of the Army” as my desktop background at the moment. From ten feet away looks like a load of dots and blodges from a foot away it resolves into hundreds of tiny figures each completely unique in itself, some equipped with shields and spears some with horses some with chariots all facing in different directions even in some cases slightly distorted or forehortened to show the topography of the unpainted land they stand on. My other favourite from that series is his portrait of the Badb (or Morrigan) as a crow. They remind me of Japanese rice-paper and ink painting, say like Mushashi’s ”Shrike on a reed”. So great is the mastery of the medium and the subject that the latter is stripped down and reduced to its essential fragmentary outline, almost as if he were painting the ka of the being rather than the being itself.


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