By DESMOND MacAVOCK
IN the fever of nationalism that preceded and followed the foundation of a separate Irish nation, the artistic renaissance under W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory was, of course, mainly literary in character. But the other arts were also eager to nourish the artistic consciousness of the newborn
Caught up in this resurgence the painters and sculptors endeavoured to make their art as "Irish" as possible. This usually took the form of introducing Irish subject matter, landscape etc., but the manner remained that of the National College of Art which still retains the influence of the tradition once known as "South Kensington" and derived ultimately from Tonks and Orpen.
Thus while Jack B. Yeats. always consciously an "Irish" painter, forged a personal style of wonderful subtility and range to express his memory-drunk imagination. Irish art in general has not achieved the power or influence of our literary expression. With the exception of Jack Yeats there is no painter or sculptor to correspond to the stature of W. B. Yeats, Joyce, Synge, 011aherty, Sam Beckett. Edna O'Brien, etc.
It would be difficult for a school of painting which might hope to rival our literary artists in influence to flourish, given the present conditionfor the visual arts in Dublin. White we have a National Gallery, at present revivified under its new Director Mr. James White, containing wonderful masterpieces from Era Angelico to Gris, there is no comparable museum of Modern Art,
The Dublin Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, starved of funds, has been quite unable to keep its collection representative of modern trends so that there is nothing in Dublin to correspond to the Tate or the Whitechapel in London or, better still, the Stedelijk in Amsterdam.
A museum in which all the strands which combine to form contemporary art are presented in a manner characteristic of our times, is of inestimable benefit, not only in allowing the student artist to study, so that he can choose the master likely to suit his temperament but, even more trnportant. in educating the public so that they will be receptive to new forms of expression.
These, together with the large peripatetic loan exhibitions that regularly traverse the European mainland and Britain. have elsewhere been powerful factors in gaining a public acceptance for the 20th Century idiom unthought of only a short time ago. Since Dublin has no gallery capable of showing them without great inconvenience these exhibitions rarely visit Ireland.
Lacking these two factors, taste in Ireland cannot be said to have reached the ready acceptance of the art of our time that one finds for instance in Paris, London, or even Copenhagen. Then, with the exception Sir Basil Goulding there are few private patrons intent on adding to the cornprehensiveness of their collection,
So it is that the life of an artist who wishes to live by his work is very difficult and, to keep the pot on the boil, many of them must practice a second metier. Thus we have architectpainters and advertiser-painters. This can never be a satisfactory solution for a creative artist who needs to devote all his energies to the nurture of his sensibilities, to endeavour to live . . as Cyril Connolly once said . in an aesthetic State of Grace.
Commerce has recently come to the rescue and many of the larger businesses have bought and commissioned original works to decorate their offices. In order to increase this patronage the Arts Council under its perceptive and energetic director, Fr. Donal O'Sullivan SI. has initiated a scheme by which the Council buys works at the various exhibitions, These it then offers to public bodies and hotels at half the purchase price.
While many hotels have availed themselves of this offer, the local authorities have been rather less co-operative. The Church also is a considerable patron and recently, largely due to the influential Mavnooth magazine The Furrow. it has shown itself increasingly receptive of 20th Century expression in the work it commissions. From this one must except the Archdiocese of Dublin where the bedizened Byzantine remains the favoured style.
Of the presumable Irish artists much the most outstanding is Louis le firocquy and he is. the only one since the death of Jack B. Yeats, to have attained international recognition. Born in Dublin into a commercial family of Belgian origin he now lives in the South of France for most of the year.
Deeply intellectual, profoundly conscious of the moral problems of our time. he has not allowed these preoccupations to dominate in his work. Rather has he evolved a style of almost extreme refinement that is impenetrable to the usual literary interpretations. His subtle, potent images as they glimmer in the meticulously controlled pigment add an extra dimension to our visual awareness of the almost metaphysical worlds where matter, thought, and feeling fuse.
Of the younger painters Noel Sheridan is one of the most promising. While still in his early twenties he had very successful exhibitions. However he has not allowed this early suc cess to deflect him from the stony path of the development of his talent and he is at present living in New York which has replaced Paris as the Mecca of so many painters. His pictures
are se . abstract: swathes of sombre colour juxtapositionedoverlaid scumbled interacting, suggest now, the sudden lights and darks of streets at night, now the glow of a sky lit by the city's lights.
Sean McSweeney is a young painter who has just started to exhibit single works. But his vibrant, freely-brushed evocations of landscape show a true feeling for the potential of oilpaint and he has very obvious talent. Camille Souter is a young painter with a delicate, wholly feminine sensitivity which she does not allow to deteriorate into mawkishness in the gentle landscapes she has lately exhibited.
Recently many painters from abroad have visited Ireland and some have settled here, and of these the best known has been the American Morris Graves. who lived here for a number of years. Very much a recluse he had little contact and no influence on Irish artists.
Another American who has settled here is Charles Brady who was born in New York where he was one of the group around Franz Kline and the Abstract Expressionists. He has now made a personal style which, while preserving the spontaneity and immediacy of recent American painting, also expresses Irish landscape in a very original manner.
There are also some Dutch painters who in the intervals of their work for advertising manage to produce some creative work.
The Church is the principal patron of our sculptors who without her commissions would find it impossible to survive, since private patrons are reluctant to buy sculpture.
Ian Stuart, who commenced his career by learning the craft of woodcarving in Germany in which he executed many statues for churches and religious houses, has now developed a more personal idiom using the detritus of our civilisation—old tins and waste metal.
While the beauty he discovers in juxtaposing this unlikely material can often be diluted by Lou obvious taste he can also construct from it images as disturbing and powerful as an African mask.
Another sculptor, Patrick McElroy ,who teaches at the National College of Art, has also produced some religious sculpture in which the Celtic influence is restated in wholly modern terms. While he sometimes allows applied decoration to dominate his expression. he has nevertheless produced some work of glowing power. Recently he has co-operated with the architect in the decoration of a new church in Co. Tyrone in which as in medic val times, the work of the sculptor has been integrated with the building from the start.
While art today is inclined to wear the same face whether it comes from Brazil or Japan, and the age of the common man is also the age of the lonely artist, it is still possible for many countries to make a distinctive contribution to the art of our time,
For Ireland to do this we shall need to have a public and its institutions more receptive to the need for our century and time to be expressed in forms that can contain the new feelings. ideas, visions, hopes that arc the fruit of our era alone, and that are so vastly different to those of other centuries.
The principal institution in this looked for transformation is of course the National College of Art, our principal training school. We are now promised a reorganisation of this to bring it more into keeping with the needs of the age, so that our young artists, industrial designers etc., can receive a training that will better fit them to express their vision of Ireland in the 20th century in the new forms the age demands.