Helen Simmonds

We are given to believe that the Dutch excelled in still life painting at a time when permanence of beauty brought pleasure to the eye starved of light during a long winter.

Perhaps. Art to salve the dispirited spirit?

Surviving winter gawking at a depiction of luscious fruit by Frans Snyders or Adrien Van Utrecht may have helped pass the time, but a still life in a dark corner also helped prolong the sensation of remembrance: that of taste, or of smell.

At Beaux Arts in Bath, there is a very fine still life artist: Helen Simmonds. Her works sells very well. I am not surprised. Winters today are not remotely like what the Dutch endured during their Golden Age in the 17th century, but the eye will always find solace in frozen movement.

There is much to admire in Simmonds’ Standing Still: her technical achievement with the shadow cast by the jug is clinical. A ten minute walk from Beaux Art will deliver you to the Holburne Museum, wherein is contained two of the best still life works to be found anywhere: Still Life With Game in a Garden by Jan Weenix and Still Life With Fruit by Cornelis de Bryer.

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Liam O’Rourke

 

At the core of art that is destined to endure is the artist’s orientation with their world. Before the blank canvas is not a time for doubt, though unquestionably it exists, and the artist is thrown headlong repeatedly into the mystery of why they do what they do in the first place.

When he was younger, Co. Wexford artist Liam O’Rourke’s landscapes were knowledgeably  representational: the subject was before him, and he painted it accordingly. He was fresh out of college – Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Dublin Institute of Technology – and the lure of the traditional Irish landscape was intoxicating.

For 42-year-old O’Rourke, it still is. He does not see it any differently, but his concept of it has altered, and altered radically. His subjects are the fields and skies of Glynn, the seasonal metamorphosis, the tonal adjustment of light which is plentiful in the summer and scarce in the winter.

From a studio on the cusp of a gorgeous vista at the rear of the family home, O’Rourke has been busy over the years capturing the essence of the moveable feast laid out before him, and the result of his labours will finally be seen in Wexford.

Though his paintings have won prizes in group shows at the Greenacres Art Gallery, and his name is a whisper on the lips of artists in the county, not too much is known about the breadth of his work.

Spectrum in Selskar in Wexford will address this deficit by hosting only his second solo show at its Pigyard Gallery, with an official opening on Friday, September 19th.

O’Rourke’s colours take the natural world as a primer: once unfolded in broad sweeps, they reflect how he utilises his sub conscious like a prism: the response, particularly on the large canvases, is of an epic scale on a par with Sidney Nolan, though O’Rourke’s influences are late William Crozier, to whom he is compared, and one or two German expressionists.

Look deeper and beneath the veneer of the less accessible paintings and O’Rourke reminds you that irrespective of abstraction, shapes must have a likeness: there is too the small matter of spirit, which flows from O’Rourke’s brush in abundance. He gives nature’s harmony a visual alphabet.

O’Rourke’s oeuvre is a celebration of his enduring source – nature – a gift which keeps giving. We may ask why Cezanne so often depicted Mont Sainte-Victoire, and the only answer is George Mallory’s : because it’s there. So it is with Liam O’Rourke and the undulating fields of his native Glynn.

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Patrick Kehoe

 

 

The Cask of Moonlight

Whether The Cask of Moonlight is exclusively a homage to Barcelona or a homage to love is debatable, but it is also neither here nor there because Wexford poet Patrick Kehoe, in his second collection, doesn’t disassociate the conjugality between both, and what is primarily of importance to the reader is what the poet achieves with the tools laid in front of him.

A city can inspire a version of love, but Kehoe’s love is akin to Neruda’s, sourced in the memory, which is not still born in a freeze-frame, but tidal in its harmony, a sort of attic without a roof, where the poet feels comfort revisiting, where ‘to search is to restore the dulled print of an old film.’

In The Cask of Moonlight, the beginning is not marked by a word, but by light: Kehoe’s world is framed by a celluloid border. Repeatedly he invokes the smithy of light to smooth the passage from the nebulous mise en scene.

Consider the shadows in Walking Near La Floresta, which are ‘alive as light in a clearing,’ consider the people walking to stations in Imagine the Rooms at the end of a day, ‘starved dusk’, consider in Swim Without Thinking, ‘the alien sun in its vacant lot,’ or in Canaletas, the Fountain, which opens with the Hemingwayesque ‘once there was light slipping.’

The poet’s light, like memory, is free from injury, which is why a key adjective, from the outset, is inviolate.

The absence of the life force of light is also instrumental: in Violent for Your Furs, ‘tidal dark wonders where to beach us,’ the domain of light in Hands is transient and in The Plaza at Vic, the square ‘is bathed in the blue milk of dusk.’

But memory and light are segued umbilically.

From Gold Leaf City:

Through the open shutters comes

Memory’s sandy slattern breeze.

We emerged into the yellow light

Of evening and stood transfixed.

 

For the poet, light is chiaroscuro, the gradation of contrasting tones, but his light is never as harsh or as dramatic as deployed by an artist. It has none of the aggressive voltage of Caravaggio’s light, a tenebrism of tension. On the contrary, the poet in the Barcelona section of The Cask of Moonlight, a collection made up of four distinct parts, with their own individual tone and bite, where the poet’s eye is alert to the epiphanic minutiae which leaves no shadow, no scar of dew or rain and yet, like Rilke, he pursues an unselfconscious train of thought.

And so, tenderly and beautifully, Persianas closes with a drifting note of a scene, made cinematically epic by the poet’s sweep:

What used to be my room;

A few leaves on its branches

As if to say ‘not ready yet’

Or ‘that was a long time ago.

The poet in The Cask of Moonlight, in compressed narratives of predominantly short poems, is never less than in tune with the moment, never less than intuitive to the significance of motif and metaphor, not in a strictly literal sense, (The jade sea before us, our days/Are beads of ice in the sun/Greek dance under milk dust of stars, from Jade Sea), but in an evocation of the lives of others – lover, father, mother – distilled from a highly skilled tapestry of memory and muse, but always lovingly, always with the pulse of a drifting leaf.

‘The motorist was the father, the passengers

Were wife, or mother and their son:

The young blade and his cool haircut

The drool-light of dawn departing.’

These are poems incandescent with love, a love made indissoluble by the poet’s commitment to story-fragments of verse, pared down to the bare essentials, a reminder to us why poetry is in its element with the affairs of the heart; Kehoe makes the emotional resonance of his memory, of his observations, freighted with relevance, and potent. Always potent.

 

The Cask of Moonlight is one of two memorable collections this year (Sebastian Barker’s The Land of Gold) which richly weave magical verse from the epic themes at the core of a life’s journey. Kehoe’s world is a ‘Persian blue sky breathless with falling stars.’ There is ecstasy and there is loss. I hope that when the poet next reads these poems, he refrains from explaining them. They require neither justification nor elucidation: silver tributaries from a concealed oasis.

 

 

 

Ian Fraser

Shredded, Inside RBS, the Bank that Broke Britain

In the chequered history of world banking, Fred Goodwin, or Sir Fred as he was once known in his native Scotland, is a rarity.

Under his tenure, the Royal Bank of Scotland became the world’s biggest bank but, when the fair economic wind changed dramatically, its stock lost 91% of its value in a matter of months.
<I>Shredded, Inside RBS, the Bank that Broke Britain<$>, is the story of how a financial institution with a buffoon at the helm managed to fool the world that its growing portfolio of acquisitions – 27 in Goodwin’s time – was the same as growth.
It wasn’t, which is why the British Government, in a day, was forced to bail out its bigger banks, after the Lehman Brothers failure, with £50 billion of equity capital support, £250 billion credit guarantee scheme and £200 billion special liquidity scheme.
There are many parallels between the running of the RBS and Anglo Irish Bank, and in Fraser’s brilliant and 435 page account, to date the most definitive guide to the biggest global financial catastrophe of our time, the alarm bells are ringing long before someone sits up and takes notice.
There are many culprits – lazy boards of management, weak regulators, unconscionable bankers – but the net effect of suicidal risk management and irresponsible growth fuelled by fear and paranoia is a tax payer burdened with debt for decades to come.
“With their usual sense of entitlement,” Fraser concludes, “the bankers were looking to the state to save them and, in this instance, the UK state could hardly have been more obliging.”
Goodwin, the rear half of a pantomime horse, constructed an empire and a reputation on the strength of the RBS’s celebrated acquisition of NatWest, and surrounded himself, as megalomaniacs do, with obsequious arse lickers.
Known as Fred the Shred because he mimicked fellow Scot Alex Ferguson’s hairdryer treatment of underlings who messed up, though Ferguson was usually justified, Goodwin had more style than substance, instanced by displaying a fake sword from the film Braveheart in his office.
Even when RBS was staring into the abyss, that is to say its customers, not Goodwin or his hapless Chairman Tom Mc Killop, busy feathering their nests with massive financial pay offs , the culture, from Goodwin down, was one of abject denial.
Goodwin continued to jet off to the Formula One Grand Prix, with the bank paying its global ambassadors like Jackie Stewart £3 million a year, whilst the RBS share price continued to plunge.
Goodwin and McKillop were like the young men in the iconic 1914 photograph, Young Farmers, by August Sander, strolling to a dance on the eve of their obliteration.<I> Shredded, Inside RBS, the Bank that Broke Britain<$>, is an exhaustive, no holds barred account of a seismic implosion by a writer with a forensic understanding of his metier.