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1979-80. Portrait Heads: Samuel Beckett (1979-2005), Francis Bacon (1979-99) August Strindberg (1979-80), Anne (1979-05), Shakespeare (1980-83)
Meets Samuel Beckett through Con Leventhal the playwright's professor at Trinity College, forming a close friendship in Paris until his death in 1989. The journalist Anne Cremin reports: 'Louis le Brocquy has been attracted to Beckett's remarkable face and has created haunting images of Beckett. Unlike the Israeli artist, Avigdor Arikha, he does not aim to produce a portrait or likeness as such, but rather what he calls "studies towards an image." ... (Beckett) speaks with warmth and affection of Louis le Brocquy and his wife, the painter Anne Madden.'225 Asked whether the fact of knowing his subjects bears influence on his work, the artist responds: 'It's an advantage, but it's also an inhibiting thing. I mean, you may feel it to be an impertinence to be playing with their appearance in this way - and also adistortion to place them outside time, as it were, in the matrix I referred to. Particularly since people believe - it's a reaction I've often come across during exhibitions - that in some way you're making a "statement" about the person you've painted. I'm not making a statement at all, you know, I'm simply trying to discover, to uncover, aspects of the Beckettness of Beckett, the Baconness of Bacon.'226 Jean-François Jaeger, Director of the Gallerie Jeanne-Bucher, Paris remarks: 'A veritable adventure in itself is implied in the choice of the subject, in the nature of personality which the artist evokes - and in the wide-open risk of letting himself be invaded by that subject even to the point of abandoning all thought of an individual style. I myselffeel happier in contemplating the intense image of Joyce or those rather sharper images of Beckett than I am before the Fellini-like portraits of Bacon, even when the latter are utterly true and of such power and refinement in their sensuality as to create an impression of positively sharing in the discovery of Bacon by himself, in the act of becoming Bacon.'227 According to Anne Madden: 'Sam bore up nobly when confronted with the artist's reconstructions of his handsome creviced face, his pale piercing eyes. He chuckled as Louis told him of Francis Bacon's reservations when he viewed his own image in the gallery before the opening. Notwithstanding Bacon's declared admiration of Louis' images of Yeats, Joyce and Lorca and his initial enthusiasm in a letter to Louis: "I am very flattered you have included me amongst your portraits", he was silent before Louis' distortion of his appearance.'228 Turns once again to heads of Anne Madden, many of which will be completed twenty-five years later. Le Brocquy explains: 'For many years we worked together in the same studio where Anne, beyond her own painting became my third eye, my muse. These later heads I found somehow problematic, possibly because of my natural reluctance to distort the features of this beautiful woman.'229 Exhibition at the Galerie Jeanne-Bucher, Paris (November 1979): Images de W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Federico García Lorca, Auguste Strindberg, Francis Bacon, forty-one works. Gilles Plazy writes in Quotidien de Paris (trans.): 'What a joy it is to discover a work with an undeniable presence! How should we view the density of a work which will not allow itself to be polluted by the mass-media, a work with simple force that aims solely at ultimate truth! While the Dali hullabaloo is held at Beaubourg, the intervention of Louis le Brocquy's paintings in the rue de Seine impose an admirable comparison ... The painting itself appears at first sight featureless, small touches of vivid colour brushed on little by little in apparent confusion; when, from that very confusion, is born the dominant features of a face. Working in masses, in planes, building as did Cézanne before him. In his watercolours, in which he appears as an astonishing master, here his work recalls Redon: impossible to tell whether a face is emerging or disappearing ... The adventure in art, the interior adventure, this is where it takes place with Louis le Brocquy, under the aegis of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.'230 Jean-Francois Jaeger observes: 'In the timeless space devoted to the emergent image, and in the subtle arrangement of those structural forces which compose that image - palpitating lights, ever-widening voids punctuated by bursts of luminosity - how can one fail to be drawn into meditation on life and death? And how can one escape thinking of painting once again in the light of its original vocation as a great art - as a means ofknowing - when, as here, it can commit itself completely to the service of a revelation and be thus ennobled by it?'231 Turns to Shakespeare at Jean-François Jaeger's imaginative suggestion. The artist remarks: 'Initially I resisted, and then, on reflection, entered upon a series of oils and watercolours out of sheer curiosity to see what might emerge.'232 ... I could have gone on with Joyce alone, you're quite right. But I also welcome the challenge of a new personality, so to speak. I like to think that I might get a leg into another quite new country, and the change also makes one more aware of the sterile formulas one tends to fall into after a while. You know the way Yeats' nose is broad at the bridge, then suddenly tapers in such a remarkable fashion? Well, once you latch on to such formulas you begin to have a recognisable image of Yeats at your finger-tips - and it turns into a trap, an invitation to mere dexterity. The same thing happens with Francis Bacon if you fix on the unusual width of his jawline. Dexterity is not, as you can imagine, what I'm looking for.'233 ... To me, these Studies towards an Image of William Shakespeare were essentially a game of imagination. In point of fact, little could be derived from the only two authentic images of Shakespeare. The first is an extremely bad etching of him by some contemporary whose name I forget. The other, a posthumous wood carving, was originally painted, then whitewashed, repainted and superpainted as the years went by. Neither one has the slightest resemblence to the other, nor holds within it hints at the presence of this greatest of English writers who belongs to the world.'234 According to Dorothy Walker: 'There is in fact only one authenticated portrait of Shakespeare [Martin Droeshout (1601-1650)] - a poor engraving - and le Brocquy has had to work from a photographic reproduction of that and of the Stratford bust and from other uncertain images. With virtually no authentic visual material available, raising the ghost of Shakespeare has been all the more fascinating. The three initial images I have seen are in fact extraordinary because they appear to be the image of a man alive now. Somehow one is not taken aback by the live faces of Yeats and Joyce, for their presence,their language, their thought, are still so vividly among us that one does not consciously think of them as dead. Shakespeare, however, does seem well and truly dead, so that it is all the more startling to encounter suddenly his very live eye glinting through a mass of paint.'235 Exhibited for the first time at the Galerie Jeanne-Bucher, Paris (October 1982): Louis le Brocquy, études vers une image de William Shakespeare, sixty-one works, Jean-Marie Tasset writes in Le Figaro (trans.): 'After James Joyce, Beckett, García Lorca, Strindberg, Bacon, the painter Louis le Brocquy exhibits his extraordinary studies ofShakespeare ... The artist has given us a magnificent exhibition of such insight that one feels arrested by a distinct sense of intrusion ... Colours, violets, reds, blues, divided into planes, traces of the imagination, a touch of blood emerging from a bare face. Within a jumble of dissolution, sensitive marks in paint knot together and unwind in tireless progression. Close up, everything seems confused. Vision is lost in tormented paint. Take a step or two backward. Surprise! In the midst of this turbulence, very slowly one discovers a face, hidden within the visceral colour. Confused at first, then quietly asserting itself. As if in slow-motion a face is born. A face, escaping from those swarming touches of colour, from its mirage of light. ... This visage of Shakespeare remains before us, as beautiful as a definitive return to life.'236 In February 1979, le Brocquy is invited to lecture in the symposium Corps, Poésie, Peinture, beside Michel Butor and Galway Kinnell, Nice University. In the opening address the artist writes: 'For over fifteen years I have tried to draw from the depths of paper, or from the white canvas, a human face. As I have remarked, this quiet activity has little to do with communication, or with self-expression for that matter. It aims rather to make visible a lurking image, to identify, to name some trace or aspect of reality. Which means to me the giving of a possible form to that which is impalpable or interiorized. For I imagine that reality is that which is possible, conceivable and not merely what is actual, phenomenal.'237 Included in ROSC '80, University College, Dublin (July 1980). The exhibition includes 150 works created since 1976 by 50 international artists. Dorothy Walker writes: 'A majestic installing by the artist Cecil King showed six Beckett heads hung together as one composite work, suspended in mid-air in the centre of a large gallery which included several minimalist reductivist works on the surrounding walls ... The multiple images of Beckett's face, surrounded by these abstract works, somehow reaffirmed the importance of the artist as an individual creative force, both in literature and in the visual arts. This installation was one of the most telling recent presentations of contemporary art in a major exhibition.'238
225 Anne Cremin, 'Sam on Art', The Sunday Tribune (Dublin, September 22, 1985).
226 Michael Peppiatt, 'Interview with Louis le Brocquy', Art International, Lugano, Vol. XXIII/7, October 1979. Reproduced in Louis le Brocquy, The Head Image (Kinsale: Gandon Editions, 1996), p. 25.
227 Jean-Francois Jaeger, letter to the artist (le Brocquy Archive), December 1979.
228 Anne Madden le Brocquy, Louis le Brocquy: A Painter Seeing his Way (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1994), p. 215.
229 Louis le Brocquy, interview, Anne Madden. Painter and Muse, television documentary directed by Bill Hughes, Mind the Gap Productions, 2005.
230 Gilles Plazy, 'Tetes magiques', Quotidien de Paris (Janvier 1, 1980).
231 Jean-Francois Jaeger, Director of the Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris, letter to the artist, December 1979.
232 Louis le Brocquy, 'An Interview with Louis le Brocquy by George Morgan', Louis le Brocquy, The Head Image (Kinsale: Gandon Editions, 1996) p. 16.
233 Michael Peppiatt, 'Interview with Louis le Brocquy', Art International, Lugano, Vol. XXIII/7, October 1979. Reproduced in Louis le Brocquy, The Head Image (Kinsale: Gandon Editions, 1996), p. 24.
234 Louis le Brocquy, 'An Interview with Louis le Brocquy by George Morgan', Louis le Brocquy, The Head Image (Kinsale: Gandon Editions, 1996) p. 16.
235 Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982), p. 65-66.
236 Jean-Marie Tasset, 'Louis le Brocquy: la tete des autres', Le Figaro (Paris, October 13, 1983).
237 Louis le Brocquy, 'Painting and Awareness', Actes du Colloque 'Corps-Poésie-Peinture', Faculté des Lettres de Nice Métaphores, No. 5 (Nice, February 8, 1979). Reproduced in Louis le Brocquy, 'Notes on painting and awareness,' Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982) p. 146.
238 Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982), p. 62.
Image of Samuel Beckett, 1979
oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm, A.R.443
Image of Francis Bacon, 1979
oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm, A.R.438
Image of Francis Bacon, 1980
watercolour, 61 x 46 cm, A.R.W510