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Irish art is shining: 'Art Seisiun 2003' exhibit in Boston

By Chris Bergeron


BOSTON. Though St. Patrick's Day has come and gone, several gems of Irish art will be gracing the State House wall for a few more days. Described as an 'Art Seisiun 2003', a Gaelic term for gathering, the exhibit was organized for the fourth year by sculptor D.J. Garrity of Springfield.

The eclectic exhibit features an interesting variety of 55 works by 11 painters, sculptors, carvers and artists in mixed media of Irish and American ancestry.

The exhibit's high point is five pieces of bog art, a unique form of statuary carved by Irish artist Ronnie Graham from wood that has been submerged in peat bogs for thousands of years. He uses two kinds of bogwood, pine which is lighter and more malleable and oak which is dark, almost black, and hard as rock. Working from his studio in Kinvara, County Galway, Graham sculpts highly personalized images of birds or mythic faces from the bog wood to make graceful images in a totally unique style. His genius is his ability to carve images of birds and laughing mythic faces (reminiscent of Edward Munch's paintings) that follow the contours of the original bog wood.


Ireland's Vice-Consul encourages the cultural dialog

Wearing a bright green necktie, Seamus Hempenstall, Vice-Consul of Ireland, opened the exhibit Tuesday afternoon, saying, I think it's important these artists have captured the many faces of Ireland. He urged artists to portray not just the 'mythic' Ireland of legend and historical beauty but the modern Ireland, coming to grips with the troubles to emerge as a new and vital European nation. Hempenstall attributed the vitality and richness of Irish literature and other art to the development of a powerful tradition of oral culture that sprung up over centuries of colonization. We have a long and cultured past, he said. But it is important to reflect on both sides of our image.

While the 11 artists exhibited works in eclectic styles, Garrity suggested that a closer look would reveal a shared interest in their Irish heritage.

A native of County Galway born within the sound of the Atlantic Ocean, painter James Culligan exhibited 16 landscapes and portraits that displayed a refined sense of light and a deep appreciation for Ireland's rural beauty. Painting with oils on canvas, he said his landscapes accurately convey the social fabric of the times in the details of houses and manor. Outstanding among Culligan's paintings were a handful recalling My Granny's Kitchen, an unabashedly nostalgic look at the interior of a rural cottage bathed in the warm glow of the fire light. 'I'm generally very conscious of light but objective in my subject matter. 'My works reveal a knowledge of Ireland's history, including the early Christian era,' he said.

His son, Seamas Culligan, who was born in Navan, County Meath, contributed one of the exhibit's few overtly political works of art, a firey portrait of early 20th century labor leader James Larkin delivering a speech.

Originally from Ballina in County Mayo, Mark Lynott works in mixed media to create an interesting type of miniature portrait of historic buildings. Now living in Boston, Lynott has since earned degrees from the Massachusetts College of Art and Maine College of Art. Stretching canvas over a small oval frame, he has painted red, stylized reproductions of the White House and Leinster House which served as its architectural model. Both images bare the inscription, Courage and Determination, a testimony to both the fortitude of the Irish immigrant and the American spirit after the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks. 'My pictures are intimate and personal and might remind you of the intimate Victorian portraits from the past', he said.


Women-artists come from near and far

American born painter Mary McAndrew, of Clarence Center, New York, paints realistic oil portraits while plumbing her Irish ancestry in a variety of styles. Working in oils, she displayed several sharp, clear portraits, among them Dr. Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the pacemaker and of a young Indian dancer, rich in detail. McAndrew uses a carbon and conte pencil for fine-lined portraits of Salvador Dali, while using luminous oils for surreal treatments of mythological images.

Regional photographer Carol Shea of Westfield has pointed her lens at Cape Cod's ever-changing landscape and Ireland's seemingly timeless countryside. Her 12 color photographs lovingly capture close-ups and panoramas of Cape seascapes. But perhaps Shea's crowning achievement is a series of color photographs revealing the Irish countryside and farms in all its glory. Her large color portrait of 'The Man from Oughterbard' has captured a seemingly ageless image of an old man walking along a quiet lane next to a stonewall and beneath the drooping limbs of trees.

Garrity credited House Speaker Thomas Finneran for bringing the exhibit to the State House after three successful shows at Boston College. He is exhibiting just one bronze sculpture, a life-sized portrait of author Samuel Beckett that uses jagged bronze shapes to capture the existential angst of the writer.

The exhibit will remain on display in the Doric Hall in the second floor of the State House through Friday, March 21, 2003.



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Copyright 2002 West-Art

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.

Nr. 86, Spring 2003