The Scourge, Wexford Arts Centre

A michelle



Have words, will travel.

Before the premiere of Under Milk Wood in New York, Dylan Thomas chided his fraught cast. ‘Love the words.’ Michelle Dooley Mahon loves words. Her eponymous book, from which The Scourge is adapted, is a paean to language.

Given free rein, her verbosity has the cyclic rate of fire of a Kalashnikov. The Scourge that we know is an unbridled pyrotechnic flow of metaphor and onomatopoeia, bookended by covers.

But she had to up her game remoulding The Scourge for the stage, because this is not a play. This is real life. The quotidian morsels of everyday living laid bare.

The curtains pulled back.

Hesitancy occurs in the writer’s performance at Wexford Arts Centre, but that’s natural. She can’t help but smile at her own humour, and then remembers she’s on stage. Playing a part. Or is she?

Ben Barnes’ biggest challenge as director must have been curbing that infectious enthusiasm, like lunging a horse before hacking out.

The wardrobe is Narnia’s portal, from which the paraphernalia associated with the theme of The Scourge, a long day’s journey into death, emerge.

They are Dooley Mahon’s Songlines, a personal braille to maintain the confluence of her story, and time.

And yet I could picture her sitting on a stool, like Dave Allen, alone under a light, glass of whiskey in hand, but without the props and the Desert Island discs, and being demonstrably as effective.

Because Dooley Mahon, in a hugely courageous performance, reminds us that art and life co-exist and emerge from a single source to assemble coherence. To stand guard against chaos, said Kenneth Tynan.

This is flesh and blood writing, sentient and animate, rooted in grief. And as Dooley Mahon knows only two well, grief has two acts: loss, followed by the remaking of a life.

‘What good amid these?’ asked Whitman. Dooley Mahon provides an answer, ensuring that the powerful play goes on.

Walton at Greenacres

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Walton at Greenacres Art Gallery


 ‘I wanted to learn the skills that I felt I needed to learn and the avant garde simply were not offering it,’ reflects Conor Walton on his time at the National College of Art and Design, from which he emerged, defiantly, with a Joint Honours Degree in History of Art and Fine Art, in 1993. ‘So I thought, give me the skills and I will decide what to do with them.’

Between graduating from NCAD, gaining an MA in Art History and Theory from the University of Essex in 1995 and his first solo exhibition at Jorgensen Fine Art in 1999, Walton received a rigorous training in the practice and tradition of drawing and painting from life at the Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence: sight-size as a portrait technique has its origins in the practice of Titian, Van Dyck and Velazquez.

In the celebrated Las Meninas, Velazquez documents himself at his canvas, the orchestrator of a conceptual profundity of mise-en-scene and several people – the artist, the subject, the viewer – and in doing so initiated a multiplicity of relationships which will be emulated by artists through the ages. Walton’s self-portraits similarly invite you to draw your own conclusions regarding substance and intention. ‘There is a concern for me to get, at some level, significance or meaning,’ he explains. Velazquez broke with the traditions of his time to allow the outside world in, to give a ‘behind the scenes’ view of the painter at work.

This light-heartedness and openness is often replicated by Walton: you can watch a time-lapse video on Facebook of the evolution of his self-portrait, Push Over, which will be on show at his solo exhibition at The Greenacres Gallery. Equally compelling is the footage of Rest, in which the artist’s handling is direct and fresh, and the viewer is privy to a private symbiosis in which artist and subject are fused.

Walton – born in 1970 – is a figurative painter in the European tradition, pursuing his craft at the highest level, pushing the envelope in his desire to answer the three questions in Gauguin’s famous painting: ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?’ Walton concedes that some of his work is ‘very big and complicated’ – An Ape’s Limbs Compared to Man’s – with a mesh of narrative, philosophy and references to current affairs. This in turn is balanced by a need to ‘be simple and matter of fact, if I can be. It has developed into a yin yang thing, my work as a whole. The complicated pictures to some extent leave me very dissatisfied and it is hard to make them work. On the other side I will try to do something as simple and as basic as I can, which allows for a small achievement.’

His oeuvre, therefore, is breath-taking in its reach: portrait, self-portrait, landscape, still life and allegory, a fluid accentuation of the questions posed by Gaugin. ‘A work of art should tell something of who we are,’ adds Walton. ‘The function of art should give us some insight into what we are.’ It has been said of him that he can be politically conscious without being sanctimonious, but beneath the surface of the larger work is a confrontation of the human and the mythical: The Barbarians At the Gates is a wry multi-layered observation of a mistrustful Europe under siege. But this is Walton standing on his own two feet, creating a world as distinctly his at those of his contemporaries.

His attention to detail has a clinical purity, and in his epic allegories you will encounter the consistencies and discontinuities of life, because each single painting, irrespective of size or ambition, is the spawn of a multitude of perceptions. The exhibition at Greenacres is the work of an artist determined to be faithful to his vision, pursued in the secluded independence of his studio overlooking Wicklow town, where he lives with his wife, Jane, a mountaineering instructor, and three children.

Sean Hillen exhibition, Kamera 8, Wexford


There hasn’t been a photography exhibition of the ilk of Sean Hillen at Kamera 8 in Wexford before, for one reason. Nobody captures his sense of history in reverse, or the cultural filter he deploys to segue pictorial elements from diametrically opposed sources, and deliver a composition.

Consider The Great Pyramids of Carlingford Lough: pure montage, but with a distinctive Hillen trope. I use ‘trope’ deliberately, because the metaphor is more figurative than narrative. So Hillen requires you to look beyond or, better still, look beneath.

Light is a keyhole rusting gently after rain, wrote Derek Mahon in A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford, and time is the undiscovered country in this work. Elsewhere, peruse Trouble With Glacier in Henry Street, Dublin, or The Lia Fail of Wexford, and perhaps Hillen is suggesting that photographic clichés exist to enable us to reconsider reality.

The news photographs rooted in Northern Ireland should have one function: arouse conflicting emotions, and they do, but our empathy is framed by detachment, and perhaps war fatigue. This is no fault of Hillen. With Ecstatic Nuns Outside the Casino at Powerscourt, the montage has the joie de vivre of collage, as if Truffaut is directing from the wings.

Jason Yeager/Randal Despommier


When New Orleans-born jazz alto saxophonist and classical composer Randal Despommier moved to New York City in the summer of 2013, he teamed up an with award-winning jazz pianist/composer from Boston, Jason Yeager, to explore improvisational arrangements of classical repertoire.

During the jam sessions, they would mess around with jazz standards, preludes by Scriabin, and folk songs and arrange, rearrange, and sometimes ‘de-range’ pieces, like two Rimbaud hipsters.

Some of these “derangements” include Despommier’s Cherokee-meets-Le Sacre du printemps (entitled “Rite of Cherokee”), described by the saxophonist as something of a primal Bop dance.

Yeager’s version of Danse de la fureur is a fiery, adventurous atonal saxophone and piano/rhodes duet that draws from the sixth movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. These high-octane fusion works on All At Onceness are counterbalanced by two original compositions: Despommier’s The First Flowers, an ethereal, lyrical setting of a poem by Hermann Hesse, and Yeager’s Telekinesis, a playful, Kafkaesque jazz vocalise interpolated with collective improvisation from the ensemble.

Critical to the standout originals are the contributions of vocalist Aubrey Johnson, whose exquisite tone and deep improvisational prowess are particularly strong on the closing track, Despommier’s arrangement of Bartók’s Bagatelle Op. 10 No. 4.

In this work, following a scintillating solo by Johnson, Despommier joins the fray as a vocalist, in the majestic choral section that closes out the album. Lighting a creative fire under the front line is the top-notch rhythm team of drummer Jay Sawyer (Freddy Cole, Itamar Borochov) and bassist Danny Weller (Jason Palmer, Radio City Music Hall Christmas Orchestra), who contribute imaginative musical commentary to Telekinesis, Bagatelle and Rite of Cherokee.

Martin Wind


Martin Wind’s Light Blue features old friends: Anat Cohen (clarinet), Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Matt Wilson (drums), Scott Robinson (multi-reeds), Bill Cunliffe (piano), Gary Versace (piano, organ), Duduka DaFonseca (drums) and Maucha Adnet (vocals).

There are milestones in a musician’s career, and life for that matter, which pass without acknowledgement. What with rehearsals, travel, and recording sessions, a busy professional rarely has the opportunity to note a watershed moment.

With Light Blue, Wind registers the significance of this moment in time. This recording comes some 25 years after recording his first release as a leader, Gone With The Wind, and Light Blue is being released shortly before he turns fifty. Since that initial outing, Wind has released another 18 albums as a leader or co-leader and he has become one of New York’s most in-demand bassists.

Wind recorded Light Blue with engineer Matt Balitsaris at Maggie’s Farm in April 2017 in between a myriad of gigs including backing singers Dena DeRose and Ann Hampton Callaway, Ted Rosenthal’s Monk Project, showcasing his quartet in Los Angeles, and performing with Pat Metheny and Matt Wilson at the Wichita Jazz Festival.

The remainder of the year found him touring with Matt Wilson’s Big Happy Family (performing Honey And Salt, the poetry of Carl Sandburg), presenting Schubert’s Trout Quintet and the premiere of his composition Looking Back with the American Chamber Ensemble, and performing George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with Ted Rosenthal and Phoenix Symphony.

Besides being a master musician, Wind penned the ten compositions heard on Light Blue. There are seven new pieces and three that are new versions of some of his classic compositions, such as 10 Minute Song and Cruise Blues, both from his quartet recording Salt ‘N Pepper (2008), and A Sad Story from Gone With the Wind (1993). His skills as an arranger are evident here, as they were on the critically acclaimed Turn Out The Stars, on which Wind performed music written or inspired by pianist Bill Evans with his quartet, plus the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana