Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mary Lohan at the Taylor Galleries (22nd May 2008)

This is a major return to form – in fact more, it’s a creative leap onto a new level by an artist that I’ve long admired for her lonely, moody, atmospheric work. Her paintings suggest a watcher looking out to sea, taking in the intersections of shoreline, sea and sky. And never a building or person in sight. There's a cold elemental feeling to the work - suggesting the benign indifference of the elements (or that could just be me).

Her last couple of shows had suggested that she was stuck in a rut and her subtle variations on West Coast seascapes were beginning to look laboured and repetitive. Also, in those shows the paintings were subdivided to the point of fussiness into diptychs, triptychs and heaven forfend polyptychs. Apart from any aesthetic reservations, they were a pain in the ass to hang.

But this show is a revelation. There is a freshness of image and a variety of style and there’s not even a diptych in sight. The work is inspired by the East Coast this time, specifically the Blackwater, Tuskar and Ballyconnigar areas. The catalogue essay by Colm Toibin suggests that Lohan painted a lot of the work in a house he lent her in that area. It was obviously a source of inspiration to her.

There has been some changes to her palette as well. There’s a new grassy green that would not be out of place in a Sean McSweeney piece. Also in a few of the pieces she loads on the paint in a manner that suggests Paul Doran – but achieves a more resonant image. I liked most of the show a lot and was particularly impressed by the still, almost austere, works on paper – the Cush Strand series.

There wasn’t a huge turn out which surprised me – Lohan is a very popular artist. I keep thinking that Thursday’s in town are very difficult these days with late closing and horrendous traffic.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Of Junk Yard Dogs: Heineken Cup Final May 24th

I have attended many great sporting occasions: Ireland beating England in Stuttgart in the Eighties; Ireland beating Italy in the Giants Stadium; Tipp beating Galway in the 2001 All-Ireland Hurling final amongst them, but nothing compared to the experience of seeing Munster beat Toulouse in Cardiff last Saturday. The absolute intensity of the match and the amazing and moving spectacle of the Munster fans doing what they do made it a memorable occasion. Despite the closeness of the score (16-13), Munster were comfortable winners and controlled most of the match apart from the first 20 minutes and one aberration in the second half. They controlled it through the ferocity of their tackling (often double tackling to prevent the release of the ball), their superiority in the lineout and control in the scrum, and primarily their mastery of the dark arts of the ruck and maul where they regularly won turnover ball. Their junk yard dogs Quinlan and Leamy were central to all this while the thoroughbred Wallace was also outstanding. But aside from all these technical matters Munster won because they wanted it more and their passion and commitment was reinforced by the incredible volume of their support – both in terms of numbers and of noise.

A few images and observations:

• The ferry from Rosslare to Pembroke jammed with Munster jerseys - a spectacle spoiled for me by the intrusive Toyota logo. Let the drinking commence. The most common accent was the Cork one.
• The road from Pembroke to Cardiff full of Irish registered cars (from all counties) flying the Munster flag.
• Camper vans sporting Munster flags lining the paths on the way to the stadium.
• The centre of Cardiff a sea of red – everyone with pint in hand.
• O’Leary practicing his kicking and passing for about 20 intense minutes before the match started.
• Hurley putting Munster in trouble from the start by conceding an early 5 metre scrum and was never commanding under the high ball. Shaun Payne must have been feeling pretty hard done by as he watched from the stand. This was a mistake in selection that could have cost Munster.
• The small but animated Toulouse group near us chanting “too loose Anne” (Toulousain) – including a nut brown beauty with a wonderfully expressive face – especially evident when the first chorus of The Fields of Athenry rolled around the stadium.
• The stadium going from riotous singing to eerie silence in a fraction of a second as Elissalde ran up to take a penalty.
• Quinlan collapsing dramatically (a fraction of a second later than was convincing) after being kicked by Pelous. And then the entire Munster medical team rushing from the bench as if his leg had been snapped off.
• Cedric Heymans left boot hoofing the ball miles and his flash of genius for the French try - coming from nowhere as Munster were in seeming control.
• The whole stadium singing "Stand up and Fight" - a welcome relief from the "Fields of Athenry" - moving and all as that was in the context.
• Pelous and Heymans staying on for the post-match celebrations and gazing around the stadium in wonder as they soaked up the atmosphere. Respectful and classy.
• Quinlan presenting a boot each to the Tipp hurlers Nicky English and Donie O’Connell for their sons – a smelly souvenir.
• Quinlan seeking out Declan Kidney at the end of the celebrations for a prolonged embrace – Kidney had faith in him when O’Sullivan didn’t.
• O’Gara and Howlett going off together arms around each other as the rest of the team formed a circle around Kidney.
• The disgraceful state of the pitch made slippery from condendsation due to the closed roof.
• Encountering Mick Galway, Nicky English, and a bunch of old Tipp hurlers in the Yard Bar – a splendid spot in the old brewery quarter.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

I’m not a great fan of historical novels generally, although I remember being much entertained on a tedious return journey from Greece by a Mary Renault novel about Knossos. This book takes us into the world of the British navy in the late 18th Century and does so convincingly – but am I bothered? Well I suppose I’m mildly entertained although the accumulation of arcane detail can occasionally clog the narrative flow. The descriptions of setting up ships for naval warfare and the various stratagems employed to fool the enemy are entertaining, in a Boy’s Own sort of way. Less convincing is the psychological landscape depicted. Why was Maturin dreading Dillon’s arrival? What did Aubrey do to Dillon that made him sulk so? The explanations hardly seemed to justify the inordinate fuss. I did however discover what “loblolly” meant (it also crops up in Larkin's poetry). It is used to describe a boy or man who helps out the ship’s doctor by feeding the sick crew. But I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the rest of O’Brian’s work.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Bye Bye Bertie

So Bertie’s gone. Yesterday was his final day as Taoiseach. He was last seen in Fagan’s pub in Drumcondra singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with a gang of his cronies. What a class act eh. Doesn't it make you feel proud to be Irish.

The Court of King Ronnie

Ronnie O’Sullivan eh, World Champion for the third time. Where would the world of snooker be without him? Snookered I’d say. Apart from his undoubted genius at the table, he brings a seedy charisma and a whiff of danger to a generally dull arena. Mostly I find the commentators and analysts more interesting than the players. Both Steve Davis and John Perrott are generous, articulate and perceptive analysts but most of the players are ciphers – joyless potting machines. Are Mark Selby and Stephen Maguire the same person? Is Shaun Murphy Stephen Lee’s younger brother? Is Peter Ebdon related to John Malkovich? Did Stan Laurel ever visit Scotland? It’s clear to me that John Higgins is a twig from the Laurel tree.

But it’s the neurotic unpredictability of O’Sullivan that keeps your interest. Will he score 147 or walk from the arena. Will he get bored and lose willfully. What proportion of his shots will he play with his left hand. What a three-ring circus he is.

He is in trouble for his schoolboy outburst in China but I suspect that the snooker authorities will go lightly on him. They need him more than he needs them.

Due Considerations by John Updike

I’ve always been an admirer of John Updike: an elegant writer and a perceptive and generous critic. This is his latest collection of essays and reviews and it’s a treasure trove. How does he do it? Such quantity and such quality. While you may encounter the arcane and the obscure you will never be bored – an amazing feat when you consider that a lot of these pieces were written to order. There is hardly a false note throughout, although I found the tribute to Tina Bown a bit mawkish – can she really be described as “personally unassuming”?

His subtle dissection of Colm Tobin’s The Master is a fine example of his skills. He gives Tobin credit for his fluent writing and for his research but asserts that the portrait painted is a blurred one – culled from the biographies. He takes Tobin to task for assuming that Henry James was a closet homsexual – there is a tendency for homosexuals in general to assume there’s more of it about than there actually is. Updike reckons that James was more asexual than homosexual – not uncommon amongst writers in those times (George Bernard Shaw springs to mind). He describes Tobin’s portrait of James as carved in soapstone – a less than oblique putdown.

In an essay entitled The Future of Faith he nails the vacuity of the Venice Biennalle in a couple of pithy paragraphs. He lists some of the ludicrous exhibits and decries its “abrasive irony and nihilism”. He bemoans a world where art is no longer “a physical work amenable to being housed and contemplated”.

His analysis of the poetry of Larkin is the best piece in the book for me. It’s a sympathetic and perceptive account that must send you back to the bitter sweet poetry. It’s also a swingeing rebuttal of the politically correct attacks on Larkin’s reputation by right on feminist critics such as the egregious Bonnie Greer.

He quotes a couple of contrasting (or complementary) bits of Larkin:

“the total emptiness forever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.” (Aubade)


“We should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time” (The Mower)

But the book is full of little treasures – ruminations on literature, sex (still a key Updike concern), art, sport and even a piece on poker.