March 07/ WM issue #1: Dublin Report: le Brocquy

March 07/ WM issue #1: Dublin Report: le Brocquy
Louis le Brocquy, Portrait Heads Series: Beckett, oil on canvas, 1980


by Paul Tuthill, whitehot magazine of contemporary art, Dublin

Some measure of the appeal and stature of le Brocquy's work is reflected in the rise and rise of the prices he achieves in the art market - the latest record being for a watercolor at the recent Sotheby's sale of Irish art in London, where three le Brocquy works featured in the top ten prices. He is one of a few Irish artists whose work is represented in the collections of the most prestigious international museums such as the Guggenheim in New York and the Tate in London.

Although probably best known and admired for his paintings, le Brocquy has never been afraid to venture beyond the canvas, The beauty of his vibrant tapestry designs and the intricately-detailed interpretations of the Tåin legend, which he created to accompany the poet Thomas Kinsella's translation of that Irish epic, as well as designs for the stage, have demonstrated his remarkable virtuosity as an artist.

More recently, it has been as the creator of the "portrait heads series" that le Brocquy has received most acclaim. The tangible yet ethereal renderings of the human head have become a central motif for the artist. Le Brocquy referred to them as depictions of the isolation of the individual - an exploration that he shares with Beckett. Many of these paintings capture people for whom the creative impulse has been at the centre of their lives.

The motivation came about through a commission by the Swedish gallery-owner Per-Olov Borjesson to assemble a portfolio of thirty three aquatints of Nobel prizewinners by international artists. This commission was the catalyst which inspired the artist to paint a long series of evocative heads of literary figures and fellow artists. Le Brocquy remarks: 'From among the several Irish Nobel prizewinners at that date - Beckett had not yet received his award - I chose Yeats as my subject, having known him when I was a boy and because of his vast and mysterious personality. I made a number of studies for my final aquatint, and was struck by their diversity. It was then I realized that a portrait can no longer be the stable, pillared entity of Renaissance vision - that the portrait in our time can have no visual finality'. The artist explains: 'In order to produce a human image which has some kind of contemporary relevance, you have to recognize that certain factors which have arisen in the last hundred years have revolutionized the way we look at things. Because of photography and the cinema on the one hand, and psychology on the other, we can no longer regard a human being as a static entity, subject to merely biological change ... Replacing the single definitive image by a series of inconclusive images has, therefore, perhaps something to do with contemporary vision, perceiving the image as a variable conception rather than a definitive manifestation in the Renaissance sense ... Repetition, on the other hand, implies not linear but circular thought, a merry-go-round interpretation of reality, another form of completion, another whole, which can be entered or left at any point. This latter counter-Renaissance tendency is, curiously enough, already evident here and there within our Irish tradition, from the Books of Kells and Lindisfarne to Finnegans Wake'.



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Paul Tuthill


Paul Tuthill is a freelance journalist in Dublin.


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