Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks: 1972 –Structure, by Michael Kane

This journal of ‘art and thought’ provided a ‘rampageous anti-establishment voice’

Stuck in the past: for Michael Kane the Irish obsession with the rural prevented engagement with modern life

Stuck in the past: for Michael Kane the Irish obsession with the rural prevented engagement with modern life

 

Of the many short-lived guerrilla publications that emerged in the early 1970s Structure was, for the visual arts, the most important.

Structure was tied to the personality and vision of its editor, Michael Kane, who published 10 issues between 1972 and 1978 from his home on Waterloo Road in Dublin. Kane called it a magazine of art and thought, having “found that most art magazines were pretentious rubbish and most literary magazines were written by people who were blind”. For Anthony Cronin, a guiding light in its pages, the magazine provided a “rampageous anti-establishment voice”.

Structure’s interrogation of cultural politics continued the rhetoric of the Independent Artists in the late 1960s. Kane was a leading figure in this group, and his fellow members John Behan and James McKenna were contributors to Structure.

Left wing, and educated at the National College of Art, the Independent Artists cared deeply about craftsmanship, personal expression and Dublin. They felt excluded from an elite art world typified by the Arts Council under Donal O’Sullivan (the subject of a satirical poem by Kane, Boglandia).

Printed in black and white on cheap paper, Structure had a distinctly Bohemian identity. The characteristic card covers featured etchings by Kane and Alice Hanratty, and Kane’s intense linocut of a flower-headed woman became the dominant motif in later issues. A regular poetry section featured work by Cronin, Macdara Woods, Paul Durcan and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, among others. Illustrations by Ruth Brandt, Brian Bourke, Mary Farl Powers, Gerard Dillon, Paul Funge and Paddy Graham placed visual art at its centre.

Kane’s inaugural editorial, A Light at the End of the Bog Road, was a manifesto for the expression of modernity in Irish art. Quoting Charles Baudelaire and citing Paul Cézanne as a paradigm of the modern artist, Kane rang an anachronistic note. But for Kane the Irish obsession with the rural continued to prevent a genuine engagement with modern life. A hangover from the Celtic Revival and the vestiges of colonialism, this love of the rural was exemplified in the cult of Jack B Yeats. The latter’s “spectral horses and sequestered squires”, Kane wrote, were evoked “at times when jet planes had begun to roar across the sky and Joyce and Freud had long departed”.

Ulysses, Kane proclaimed, was the “most complete articulation of the modern sensibility”, and Structure carried several essays on James Joyce. On a more pragmatic level, the architect Francis Hall wrote about his own projects for urban spaces, including a cultural centre for Dar es Salaam, adding to the journal’s global outlook.

A major undercurrent of the early issues was Northern Ireland. Oliver Snoddy’s book reviews focused on the North as well as the wider international discussion of nationalism. A dubious understanding of sexual politics emerged in the proliferation of female nudes and an extensive review of Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial film Last Tango in Paris.

The essays, which varied greatly in quality and coherence, questioned the purpose of art and the role of the artist. In the 1970s, events in Northern Ireland, membership of the European Economic Community and the neocolonialism of the corporate world made these questions crucial.

Structure was a product of its time. Its eclecticism, unique aesthetic and unintentional political incorrectness make it a fascinating read and a refreshing alternative to the heavily theorised or conversely unquestioning consumption of culture that prevails in the discussion of art today.

You can read more about this week’s artwork in the Royal Irish Academy’s Art and Architecture of Ireland; ria.ie

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