Michael Farrell: an international artist who never forgot his roots
Micheal Farrell, one of the greatest Irish artists of his generation, is well served by a new show
While he is clearly equating Ireland with the courtesan, he’s also implying that she is exploited and abused. In a pun on the name Boucher he labels the woman’s body as though it is meat. More than once he includes himself, gazing voyeuristically from the upper right-hand corner. And, in a parodic rendering of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, he suggests a crisis of masculinity, something that became a significant preoccupation in a succession of self-portraits that manage to tread a fine line between self-pity and ruthless self-examination.
Unfortunately, the best painting in the series, in the Hugh Lane’s collection, wasn’t available for exhibition, but with luck it will be seen at subsequent locations. Although it may not quite live up to Farrell’s ironic subtitle for it – The Very First Real Irish Political Picture – it is fiercely political and a landmark work.
Other intriguing variations from the series are included as, happily, is the even better drawing Miss O’Murphy d’après Boucher, from the National Gallery of Ireland.
Later attempts to deal with the Annie Murphy/Eamon Casey scandal, Bloody Sunday and the Great Famine were sporadically though not entirely successful, but Farrell’s sure instinct for the immediate came to the fore in his response to the Omagh bombing, in 1998. With his second wife, Meg Early, he’d moved south from Paris to Provence, and some of his finest work reflects his immediate surroundings there, including an expansive portrait of the woman who ran the local cafe, and a winter landscape of vines under snow, recalling Van Gogh.
One of his long-term preoccupations was the evocation of an ideal community of artists. In a series titled the Rencontres he visualised variations on a rumoured though probably apocryphal meeting between Pablo Picasso, Marcel Proust and James Joyce. From the early 1970s onwards, especially, there’s something heroic about his commitment to engaging directly with the world around him on every level. He did so with raw honesty and great resourcefulness in terms of formulating a visual language.
Looking at the work in Solstice prompts the thought that he would have been a great artistic voice to have around during the Celtic Tiger years and their catastrophic aftermath.
[CF413-407]The Work of Micheal Farrell is at Solstice Arts Centre, in Navan, Co Meath, until October 19th[/CF413-407]