Captivating Brightness



So we stopped and parked in the spring-cleaning light

Of Connemara on a Sunday morning

As a captivating brightness held and opened

And the utter mountain mirrored in the lake

Entered us like a wedge knocked sweetly home

Into core timber.



taken from Ballinahinch Lake a poem from the collection entitled Electric Light by Seamus Heaney



The 35th Clifden Arts week  festival is upon us and there is a rich and varied programme that encompasses the visual arts, poetry, music, dance and performance. It is one of the very best times to be in Clifden and because it is a community arts week no section of our population is excluded as the artists visit and perform in our schools and throughout the community. The ten day festival concludes on Saturday night next with a lantern-lit costume parade and aerial dance performance. This is always a spectacle and involves local national and secondary school children under the guidance of the multi disciplinary ‘Fidget Feet’. This year we are honoured to welcome President Michael D. Higgins who officially opened the celebrations last night.

‘Captivating Brightness’ is the title of an exhibition that was specially curated by IMMA ( The Irish Museum of Modern Art ) to celebrate the festival and to pay homage to Irish artists in the last century who have drawn on the West of Ireland for their inspiration. The title for the show was taken by kind permission from Seamus Heaney’s poem ‘Ballinahinch Lake’ (above). This impressive exhibition includes paintings by Jack Yeats, Paul Henry and Mainie Jellett alongside contemporary works by artists such as Dorothy Cross, Barrie Cooke and Sean McSweeney.  I went along to the show which was launched by Mary Banotti. Speakers also present were Christina Kennedy – Senior curator and Head of Collections IMMA, Desmond Lally – Arts Committee, Clifden Community Arts festival, our very own Brendan Flynn who is founder and leading light of Arts week and Eamonn McLoughlin.

Mary Banotti spoke about the ghosts in the room – a century of artists brought together and bound together directly or indirectly by the landscape of the West. Paul Henry’s ‘Lake and Blue Mountain’s of Connemara’ (above) depicts the landscape sensitively and just as it is. Other artists such as Louis le Brocquy and and Mainie Jellet spent time here while others such as Gerard Dillon made Connemara their home.

Christina Kennedy talked about this exhibition as part of IMMA’s wish to bring art back to the people. There is an enormous sense of this and I had to remind myself that I was standing in the old Supervalu in Market Street ( now a transformed space ) and not in a gallery in our capital city. It’s proper place you might say, where it all began and now returns. Yet it is still a remarkable thing and a credit to the Arts week committee and the high esteem with which this Clifden festival is held Nationally and Internationally. Enjoy it while it’s here.


Megaceros Hibernicus by Barry Cooke


Megaceros Hibernicus by Barrie Cooke




Saddle by Dorothy Cross


Saddle by Dorothy Cross


Paul Henry

I’ve been looking at some of Paul Henry’s landscapes recently and thought I might write about them here.

Henry was an Irish artist who was known especially for his West of Ireland landscapes. He was born in Belfast in 1887 and he studied art in Paris before his return to Ireland where he lived and worked on Achill Island (1910-1919) off the Mayo coast for many years. While in Paris, Henry was greatly impressed by the modern avant-garde movement of the time and the bold colourful works of Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gaugain. Landscape painting was no longer just about realism but about colour and energy and the individual mark of the artist’s hand. I love this quote by S.B. Kennedy in his book on Paul Henry where he describes these new ideas of the time:

“Cezanne and Van Gogh saw clearly because they had cast aside all the theories and prejudices of the Schools and were looking at nature as if for the first time, and above all seeing it with emotion.”

This notion of seeing landscape with emotion really resonates with me because it seems to me that this is what painting is all about. I imagine then how Henry must have taken these new ideals and applied them to our own peculiar landscape and weather conditions, without the heat and intensity of the mediterranean sun. He recognised the singular beauty of the landscape and the light in the West of Ireland and he learned to articulate this using his own palette of muted colours. The painting above is called ‘Errigal County Donegal’ (c.1930 Image taken from ) and it demonstrates this very well. The setting seems to shimmer in a kaleidoscope of greys tinged with blue and pink against the golds and browns at the base of the painting.

This next image below is an earlier work (c.1922-23) called “The Bog at Evening’. I love the simplicity of this composition –  mountain, horizon line, turf and water. I admire the contrast that he has set up between the shadowy dark browns of the turf and purple mountain and the delicate pinks and pastels in the billowing cloud shapes. The reflections of the clouds in the bog water and the low evening light give the painting a perfect stillness where only the evidence of human activity now remains.


Image taken from D7ET website 




This next painting is called ‘West of Ireland Cottages’. Once more, the atmosphere dominates this piece, the vastness of the sky and mountains over the small settlement of cottages. The strong blues of the mountains sing against the yellow of the thatch and gold of the bog, a perfect example of how complementary colours can be used together with great effect.


Painting by Paul Henry

 Image taken from




This last painting (below) is called Bog Road. It uses similar colours but the tones are more subdued in the top two thirds of the canvas. The lightness of the sky contrasts strongly with the dark stacks of turf. The middle ground is highlighted with a streak of gold where the sun drops down between the clouds and sits beautifully against these ribbons of blue that he uses to describe the receding hills.


Bog Road by Paul Henry

 Image taken from 



Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Paul Henry’s work for me is it’s apparent simplicity. Many of his greatest paintings seem at first glance to be composed of a simple arrangement of shapes and colours. It is the degree of complexity and subtlety within these seemingly simple choices of colour, tone, shape and gesture that make them so exceptional in my opinion. As a painter, I have so much to learn from these paintings!

What do you think about them? Do you think that they are relevant to day or have anything to do with modern Ireland?