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1971-72. Northern troubles


Paints Occluded Image (1971; A.R. 264), Northern Image (1971; A.R. 297). Dorothy Walker observes: 'Since the outbreak of civil warfare in the North of Ireland in 1969, and in the context of that war, le Brocquy's painting of the anguished individual reached an intensity of expression that carried his work onto an even more powerful level of art ... Le Brocquy's terrified heads of the early seventies, with their hand turned palm outwards as if to ward of horror, freeze the moment of terror in unbearable endurance. Here one actually feels in the shoes of the door-step confrontation, stricken by the vileness and absurdity of the person-to-person war. From the political point of view, the paintings appear on the side of the dead, of the losers of both sides, universal in their concern for the suffering. The method is gentle, the colours pale, the mode of expression is played down to pure grief, as moving as Beckett's simple phrase, "Great trouble... great trouble..." ... A French critic has written of le Brocquy's "sobriety and control in handling the terrible".'187 According to the poet and critic Jacques Dupin: 'The apparent expressionism of these paintings signifies nothing more than their lack, or their refusal, of expression. They reveal an unworldly vertigo, a muffled spasm, an anguish of the unnamed presence which is diametrically opposed to the expressionism of cries, of strident colour and tortured shapes. Expressionism, if you will, but of silence and whiteness, of calm.'188 The artist begins to use the primed canvas as a background from which the heads emerge. Paints Head with open mouth (1971; A.R. 288) seen by the artist 'not as a sort of silent scream, but rather as an opening into the dark space of the interior being.'189 Commenting on the new-found whiteness, Jacques Dupin writes: 'It does not seem as though a painter had shaped this head; at most, he helped it to be born, forced it to disengage itself from the white shadow in which it lay buried ... Visionary mist, complex of memory and legend, this white expanse which covers the canvas is itself the core or matrix that engenders the human head. No one could have invented it; one could only await or desire its coming or its return. Waiting is exacting work, the incessant work to which this painter had to submit himself during long years in order to draw, out of the depths, the flowering of a head (or a torso), the reality of its presence, its ascent to the light of day.'190 Paints Study of Self (1972; A.R. 302), Image of my Father as a young Man (a.k.a. Distant Head, 1972; A.R. 301). The artist Brian O'Doherty notes: 'Through le Brocquy's heads, which sometimes appear frighteningly hollow, theissue of identity and self, the doubling of artist and subject who return to us their joint gaze, received oneof the most profound examinations in contemporary painting.'191 Paints Image of my Father as a young Man (1971; A.R. 270), the hand now seen by the artist as intervening between himself and the years of his father's youth. According to John Montague: 'Perhaps the most personal of the series of named portraits are those hovering around the idea of le Brocquy's own father ... Disconcertingly oblique in their tenderness, they evoke the mystery of parenthood, a succession which haunts us with its suggestions of difference as well as likeness, and exposes us to the life process.'192 Exhibition at Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer, New York (April 1971), Gimpel Fils, London (October 1971): Louis le Brocquy, thirty-two paintings, including Head (a.k.a. Image of an elderly man speaking, 1971; A.R. 273), Head with Handprint (1971; A.R. 272). William Packer writes in Art and Artists: 'Centrally in the pale ground a face is suggested; it has the hazy tones of someone seen through frosted glass. On top of it are what seem like handprints. This surreal content is painted in coolly transparent pigment within a border brushed on the canvas. One senses the evanescent substance of a shadow expressed without comment in an eloquent economy of means to the end of mystery, the suspense that continues even when you walk away from the pictures.'193 Exhibition at the Dawson Gallery, Dublin (October 1971): Louis le Brocquy, fourteen paintings, including Head (1971; A.R. 294) and Northern Image, 1971; A.R. 297). Bruce Arnold writes in the Irish Indepenent: 'It is appropriate that the principal one-man show by an Irish artist during the opening of Rosc '71 should be the Louis le Brocquy exhibition at the Dawson Gallery. Louis le Brocquy is our most considerable living painter. He suffers from being something of an establishment figure in Ireland, the darling of the Arts Council, a good "investment" for the speculative collector, and an Irish artist with the great advantage of regular New York and London shows, and the backing of one of the most respectable London galleries, Gimpel Fils. In these uncertain times, where art is concerned, this kind of silver-spoon treatment could spell disaster to a painter. With le Brocquy it does not ... What is at first a startling and muddled conjunction of paint and subject, with handprints smudging out facial features and expression, becomes, with work, an absorbing and satisfyimg experience. These are not easy paintings, nor are they very pleasant ones. The beautifully wrought canvases (le Brocquy is a superbly accomplished technician) suspend, in the middle of their cool grey-white surfaces, faces that scream out with injustice, anguish and pain. There is no pleasure to be got from the expressions of trouble and torment; but there is a great deal of reality. And that is what art is about.'194


187 Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982), p. 53.
188 Jacques Dupin (trans. John Ashbery), 'The paintings of 1964-1966', Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982), p. 105.
189 Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, 'Interview with Louis le Brocquy', Louis le Brocquy, The Human Image , le Brocquy Archive, 2002.
190 Jacques Dupin (trans. John Ashbery), 'The paintings of 1964-1966', Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982), p. 104.
191 Brian O'Doherty, 'Three Notes on Louis le Brocquy's Paintings', exhibition catalogue, Louis le Brocquy, Human Images. Early and recent works on paper (Dublin: Taylor Galleries, 10 December 1998 - 16 January 1999), p. 7.
192 John Montague, 'Primal Scream, The Later le Brocquy', The Arts in Ireland, Vol. 2. No I (Dublin, 1973), p. 10.
193 William Packer, 'London', Art and Artists (London, October 1971), p.50.
194 Bruce Arnold, 'Louis le Brocquy' (London, October 25 1971).





Head with Open Mouth, 1974
oil on canvas, 46 x 38 cm, AR351









Image of my Father as a young Man, 1971
oil on canvas, 146 x 114 cm, AR270