Liam O’Rourke

 

 

Liam O'Rourke's art. Pic: Jim Campbell

 

Liam O’Rourke’s studio is a relatively small shed where the garden of his family home in Killurin ends and a field which seems to rise inevitably toward the sky begins. I have seen it in most seasons, and naturally the view is subject to flux. There is a temptation to describe the field as exceptionally idyllic, but it isn’t. In fact, from Liam’s perspective looking out the window, there is nothing atypical about it. It does, however, have character: there is a vigorous verdancy to the swath of grass, whose purpose is to feed cows, and if it is breezy or a sudden shower falls like a shoal of silver fish, you can spot the unlimited variegation of the green striation at play. At sun up or sun down, I can imagine a field of fire.

And the sky. From Liam’s studio, it looks like a Montana sky, or a Suffolk sky. Whole. Big. I haven’t stood in his field at night, though I plan to: I can only imagine, with zero light pollution, the sensation of experiencing the immeasurable portal to another existence, absolutely beyond our ken, no matter how many probes NASA send to far off planets.

Liam’s field and Liam’s sky are fluctuating continuities in his life: they are embedded in both his memory and his imagination, an enmeshment of unseen tremors, an aquifer through which sensations go back and forth. What you see in Liam’s work is a distillation of what he encounters every day.

He is not shy in his deployment of paint, nor always restrained in his choice of canvas, but see the end product as an invitation to share his world, but anew. An engagement with a Liam O’Rourke painting, no matter how many times, is never quite the same, and so your experience is mimetic of Liam’s when the canvas is blank. Try picture Liam immersed in the tactility of his field, the tactility of the onset of autumn, the tactility of the wan light of a soft morning, the tactility of cold fingers on an unforgiving dawn transforming a brush into a wand, and releasing from the stationary custody of a day struggling from its caul, a bold and warm flowering.

The artist’s obsession with a patch of turf is not new: Monet’s garden at Giverney and Cezanne’s Mont St. Victoire were stimuli to a closer study of nature. Peter Lanyon’s landscapes from a glider over the Devon countryside allowed him to construct multiple viewpoints in parallel with layers of meaning. John Hoyland chose the circle as the defining form in nature. Closer to home, Mary Lohan’s studies of Ballyconnigar and Blackwater revisit what Elizabeth Bishop would have described as low light floating and gliding.

Liam is probably closer to the Colour Field school of painting, characterised by the deployment of solid colour, removed from an objective context, and becoming the subject itself. But who knows? He can use geometric patterns to reference nature, but when you characterise an artist, he or she will turn around and do something profoundly different. What is certain is that the studio of Liam O’Rourke is in a field in rural Co. Wexford, and that field tethers the artist. He continues to scrutinize that field with its quivering trees and their jesses of branches and the sky which rises from the field and segues what is grounded and what isn’t. Colour as subject? Why not? Look closely and you will find the complex expression of a simple thought, the impalpable dissolved by Liam’s harmony with bold colours, and rendered diaphanous. But always with vitality. The imagery, if not recognizable to you, is still recognizably there for the artist, for modern art as we know it has ceased to sustain the illusion of an illusionistic function, and the artist is liberated to negotiate on his own terms

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Equus Caballus at the Tate Guerin Gallery

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The control of her subject matter might suggest the influence of Paddy Lennon, but Alison Tubritt, who grew up in an environment of farms and animals, is operating on a smaller scale.

In Equus Caballus, the labouring movement of Lennon’s horses is not repeated: instead, Tubritt is about suggestion, the delineation of form – the curvature of a back emerging from the black void like a half-moon – achieved painstakingly through the most precise of detail.

The core strength of the small pictures is the magnetic effect of the Durer-like control of the most delicate strokes: you are pulled in to marvel as the mechanics and aesthetics of Tubritt’s finesse.

She was first spotted by Guerin as a 17 year old novice exhibiting at a Christmas craft fair at Loftus Hall, and promised a solo show once she completed her BA Hons in Visual Art.

Perhaps what was spotted was the variety of realism, and it has evolved.

The trajectory of Tubritt has been well worth the wait, and the gallery space is ideal. Oceans of white walls for 17 pieces, white pencil on black paper and mounted on black foam board.

Tubritt’s eye is challenged by what she can’t see, but feels: the subcutaneous force from which the horse in all its majesty and silent appeal appears to metamorphose. The effect, for the keen eye, is mesmeric, and you forget that you are in a gallery, which ought to be the way of all good art.

 

Phronesis

 

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Phronesis is the closest you will get to a co-operative in contemporary jazz in terms of the equal division of labour: Jasper Hoiby (bass), Ivo Neame (Piano) and Anton Eger (drums), on this their sixth album, Parallax, their fourth for Edition Redcords, and recorded in a single day at Abbey Studios (U2’s last album took four years, and was crap), each contribute three of the nine titles.

Life to Everything, their 2014 release, opened up the Phronesis experience to new audiences, and it too offered nine compositions, with not a note out of place and never a second too short or too long.

And like the best of artists, Phronesis know how to start with panache and when to close. What is distinctly evident here, and probably less so throughout the live recorded Life to Everything, is an earnest playfulness.

Some of the titles are onomatopoeic, and this sound symbolism in words among musicians who don’t use any, is a licence for light and dark tones to approximate suggestions. Manioc Maniac has a wonderful vaudevillian opening by Neame: it starts fast, is halted by Hoiby’s bass, until Neame and Eger put a force ten back into the sails.

If I was to pick a single track to send to the future inhabitants of Mars for their elucidation of where jazz is at in 2016, Dr Black ticks all boxes, a reminder that we are drawn to the form because the synchrony jazz offers is not duplicated elsewhere, and there is no trio on the planet, at present, capable of the togetherness of Phronesis.

Almost un-Phronesis like is Neame’s gorgeous Kite For Seamus, reflective and piercing, a tribute perhaps to the late Seamus Heaney and a nod to his A Kite for Aibhin; played here, music has a memory from another place, and the composition has a spiritual depth.

The Phronesis trademark of constant shifts in mood and texture, is there from the off with 67000 MPH, with an Anton Eger homage to Joe Morello’s famous intro on the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five. There is no diminution in energy listening to Phronesis, and six albums later, their joie de vivre is as infectious as ever.

My Real Life

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My Real Life was conceived by Eoin Colfer originally as a short play for the WexFour series at Wexford Arts Centre two years ago: the idea sprung from a conversation in a pub, a guy in a chair, staring into the abyss, baring his soul.

At Wexford, in the company of plays by Billy Roche, John Banville and Colm Toibin, My Real Life adhered to the original brief from director Ben Barnes: eschew complex staging or technical requirements and keep the vignette to 20 minutes.

Colfer, whose writing for the stage began with a Wexford Festival one act for Wexford Drama Group in the Talbot Hotel, was initially stumped, but once he turned the tap there was no stopping the monologue from MS sufferer Noel. Of the four short works, My Real Life was leavened by Colfer’s natural humour and the astute decision to have Noel seemingly record his valediction on his iPhone.

Noel, however, is neither good with technology nor his choice of drugs: the original My Real Life concludes with Noel confronting the side effects of Viagra. ‘Oh Christ. I have a raging horn. Hard as a diamond. They could put me to work in Waterford Glass. What am I going to do with this?’

It would be a mistake to view the mature version of this play in the Theatre Royal (which faces Waterford Glass) as My Real Life revisited: Barnes and Colfer have stripped the engine and created something much longer, more powerful: a genuine theatrical tour-de-force.

It was a brave move, yet it works: the dialogue in the WexFour production is on occasion recycled – reminisces about ‘the Light Mime Society’, the producer in the taxi who hates opera, the confrontation with the yahoos on the Main Street – but the flow of witticisms doesn’t need to be as urgent in a two hour production.

And so Colfer the novelist steps in and does what he does best: he fleshes out Noel, adds a third dimension which time didn’t allow in the WexFour version, colours in his background from garsun to man, and instead of laughing with or at Noel as we did at the Arts Centre, we empathise, because he is seriously ill.

Brilliantly, Colfer and Barnes gradually spiral the narrative arc of Noel’s dialogue into a controlled descent, so that after the interval we are immediately in darker terrain, and those expecting the light denouement at Wexford are in for a surprise.

In conclusion, My Real Life is an original play of substance and emotional heft, a superb piece of writing on the page and direction on the stage which teases out what it means to confront the nadir of your existence.

The marrow is in the performance of Don Wycherley: the props and affects are limited to chiaroscuro, to a chair, a table, several bottles of pills, a glass of water and a tape recorder, but Wycherley needs only a movement of the hand, or a grimace, the shuffling of a foot, to segue Colfer’s exquisitely teased light and shade.

Colfer was in attendance when Wycherley brought his one man show After Sarah Miles to Wexford Arts Centre years before My Real Life, and would have known how Wycherley makes the connection between performer and audience seamless.

This transparency, allied to his stamina and his breathtaking depiction of Noel in the final 20 minutes, ensures that My Real Life is one of the finest new Irish plays in recent times, and a must-see during its current run.

Mike Hobart Quintet

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It’s not uncommon reviewing new CDs weekly to lose sight of why you chose to listen to music in the first place.

Three tracks into Evidential, the debut release of The Mike Hobart Quintet, and I rediscovered what has been absent from so many jazz recordings, a natural and spontaneous joie de vivre. There is not a single fake moment or an over produced note on Evidential:

I assume that the recording of the seven tracks, bookended by the Hobart-penned Evidential and Bass to Base, must have been a blast for the musicians, as the diversity of the arrangements and the encompassing of many styles – I counted bepop, fusion, funk, soul – opens up a template for pushing the envelope.

Intentionally, which makes sense with musicians like pianist Adrian Reid, double bassist Greg Gottlieb, drummer Eric Ford and trumpeter Chris Lee, evidential is a cross pollination of ideas and perspectives which, when delineated by Hobart’s tenor saxophone, or fueled by the bass-drums-keyboard power trio, is a reminder that the litmus test when musicians exchange styles is always how well they play.

Hobart is in stellar company but he remains the quintet’s catalyst, choreographing the juxtaposition and recontextualising of jazz from a myriad of sources, which makes – naturally – for repeat listening.

Evidential navigates the undercurrents of modern jazz and its traditions but in a white water rafting kind of a way. It’s never dull.

My late uncle loved the Dave Ballou quintet session On This Day for all the reasons which make Evidential so appealing, striking timbres for adventurous ears: the Mike Hobart Quintet trades and freshens up rhythms and phrases to a common end- joy.

Sainsbury heaven

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A pleasant surprise during a casual visit to Norwich recently (for the first time) was the immensity of the permanent collection as the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.

The presentation of art from across time and place continues to inspire and surprise and uniquely presents art as a universal global phenomenon. For example, on view in the Living Area Gallery, the collection includes major holdings of art from Oceania, Africa, the Americas, Asia, the ancient Mediterranean cultures of Egypt, Greece and Rome, Medieval Europe, and including a significant number of works acknowledged as seminal examples of European modern art, like  Picasso,  Degas,  Bacon,  Epstein,  Moore,  Giacometti and superb  Modigliani nudes.

Michael A. Tony Vaccaro

 

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Tony Vaccaro, orphaned early, was shuffled between America and Italy, but in those early years he was determined  to capture beauty with his camera, and from the off his early contact sheets demonstrate impeccable balance, innovation and, rare for the age we live in, journalistic integrity. He didn’t stage it or make it up. His best decade was the 1950’s, his best stage was Europe emerging from the ruination of war, and his best subjects were formidable personalities like Picasso, Stirling Moss and Jackson Pollock, always using natural light. A retrospective is taking place in the Town Hall in Caen, France.

Brick Lane Bookshop

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If you happen to be in London’s East End anytime soon, I’d highly recommend the quite wonderful Brick Lane Bookshop, one of the few independents left, so well worth supporting: it first appeared in Watney Market and, until a few years ago, was known as Eastside Books. Particularly strong on poetry, philosophy and politics. Best day to go? Probably Sunday, market day and an absolute hive of activity.

 

 

 

 

 

Books and Borris

 

Borris in Co. Carlow

Borris in Co. Carlow

 

The Festival of Writing & Ideas, spread over four venues on the grounds of Borris House, was bookended this summer by the sold out performances of two stellar actors.

Orson Welles biographer and star of A Room With a View and Four Weddings and a Funeral, Simon Callow, read from Seamus Heaney’s posthumous Aeneid Book VI, after he was introduced by the late poet’s daughter, Catherine.

And  Dominic West, better known for his gritty role in iconic television series The Wire, interviewed the writer of The Killing Fields and Whitnail and I, Bruce Robinson.

The Festival of Writing & Ideas came to the attention of the world’s media last year when regular attendee David Gilmour of Pink Floyd gave a preview of his forthcoming solo album.

What attracts luminaries like West, Gilmour, Callow, legendary war photographer Don McCullin, Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, novelists Martin Amis and William Dalrymple from near and far to this discreet gathering of primarily journalists, novelists and thinkers, is the complete absence of pretension and intrusion. They sign books gracefully and mingle at ease with their readers.

Borris is exceptionally low key: the ambience of this small and beautiful Carlow village, encircled by the Blackstairs mountains, permeates a young festival whose readings take place in a ballroom, a former granary, a chapel, a marque and, for the first time, the village’s only hotel.

Borris also seems to bring out the best among its celebrated guests, of whom there were over 50 either reading or being interviewed: Don McCullin revealed to Mariella Frostrup that the soldier throwing the grenade and who was shot in his famous photograph of the Tet offensive, contacted him for the first time last week; Seamus Heaney’s response when Simon Callow requested him to read a poem at a memorial for the actor, Sir Paul Scofield, was “delira and excira”; Chrissie Hynde explained why guys prefer to work with women in the studio: “it’s one less male ego in the way.”; Bruce Robinson said the worst moment of his life was when his stepfather told his 13-year-old self that he was “just a loud mouthed little c***. ‘It shocked me to the marrow of my bone.’”

Booker prize winner John Banville, never short of a good quote when he turns up at Borris, opined “Life is incoherent, we don’t remember our births, we don’t experience our deaths and all we have is this mess in the middle.”

The performance of South London’s Kate Tempest was a first for the occasionally high brow Borris: Tempest has been a rapper since she was 15, and her performance of her poem Your Daddy Is A Soldier from heart resulted in the longest and loudest ovation of the three day event.

At the 5×15 session (five writers speaking for 15 mins each) Hyeonseo Lee gave a simple and heart-felt account of her decision to defect from North Korea and the challenges she faced along the way.