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1977-78. Portrait Heads: James Joyce (1977-95), Federico Garcia Lorca (1977-78)
Turns to heads of James Joyce. Prompted on his choice of subjects the artist explains: 'I'm drawn to their work, yes, certainly, and in each case, before beginning to paint, I have tried to steep myself as deeply as possible in it. On the other hand, I don't think of them so much as famous or brilliant men but as vulnerable, especially poignant human beings who have gone further than the rest of us and for that reason are more isolated and moving. Above all, I was drawn to the journey they had made through life and the wide world of their vision.'215 According to John Montague: 'Le Brocquy's fascinationwith Joyce does not follow from his manystudies of Yeats; it precedes them. For how could a Dublin painter who lives abroad avoid contemplating our greatest exile? Having floated onto his canvas somethirteen years ago, the head of Dublin's mighty artificer now reappears in a luminous succession of aspects ...These 'left-handed' manscapes, le Brocquy's re-invention of the portrait,link Joyce with the visual art of the race from which he sprang; link him to the strange beautiful heads, grim or grinning, of some early Celtic sanctuary or ruined Romanesque church..'216 Le Brocquy explains: 'Ever since I rediscovered for myself the image of the head, I have painted studies of James Joyce. I have never known Joyce, but am bound to him as a Dubliner. For it is said that no-one from that city can quite escape its microcosmic world, and I am no exception. Joyce is the apotheosis, the archetype of our kind and it seems to me that in him - behind the volatile arrangement of his features - lies his unique evocation of that small city, large as life and therefore poignant everywhere. But to a Dublin man, peering at Joyce, a particular nostalgia is added to the universal 'epiphany', and this perhaps enables me to grope for something of my own experience within the ever changinglandscape of his face, within the various and contradictory photographs of his head which surround me, within my bronze death-mask of him and, I suppose, within the recesses of my own mind ... They have been for me an adventure - an adventure of discovery - and not without its perils and its fears. We are told that the great naif painter, Le Douanier Rousseau, stood terror-struck outside the door of his studio, summoning up his courage to re-enter and confront the marvellous lion which broods over his sleeping gypsy. I confess I felt something of the same fearful hesitation on returning to the door of my studio in France and to the multiple photographic and other images of Joyce which filled it ... a fear perhaps of re-entering into certain painful aspects of his temperament, of his unending difficulties. In painting Yeats or Lorca, I never experienced this recoil, this passing shudder. But once back in the studio and facing those images again, my fear gave way to those larger feelings of reverence, compassion and wonder we all share in face of that unique boat-shaped head - the raised poop of the forehead, the jutting bow of the jaw - within which he made his heroic voyage, his navigatio.'217 Seamus Heaney remarks: 'Le Brocquy has written sympathetically about James Joyces "unique boatshaped head - the raised poop of the forehead the jutting bow of the Jaw - within which he made his heroic voyage, his navigatio". The metaphor calls up an answering one, of le Brocquy's own spirit "unappeased and peregrine" making its navigatio in the light currach of his hand dipping and swirling on the horizonless paper. "There is a brain in the hand," he says. "A handprint is a personality". Yet that hand does not seek to express its own personality. It is obedient rather than dominant, subdued into process as it awaits a discovery. What it comes up with will sometimes feel like something come upon, a recognition. Like a turfcuttor's spade coming upon the body in the bog, the head of the Tollund Man, ghostly yet palpable, familiar and other, a historical creature grown ahistorical, an image that has seized hold of the eye and will not let it go.'218 Exhibition at the Galleria d'Arte San Marco dei Giustiniani, Genoa (November 1977), Gimpel & Hanover Galerie, Zürich (January 1978), Gimpel Fils, London (March 1978), Arts Council, Belfast (May 1978), Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin (June 1978), Gimpel Weitzenhoffer, New York (September 1978), Waddington Galleries, Montreal (November 1978), Waddington Galleries, Toronto (December 1978): Louis le Brocquy, Studies Towards an Image of James Joyce, sixty-nine works. John Russell writes in The New York Daily Metro: 'This is a series that may one day be setaside but will never be finished. All known modes of portraiture are somehow subsumed in it, together with ones for which we have yet to find a name. Joyce himself never looks the same twice, any more than the last sentence of "Dubliners" reads like the last sentence of "Ulysses." Sometimes he glares out at us as if he had come back from the grave and was just about to bite us; sometimes there is hardly anything on the paper but the wraith of his half-blind but all-seeing eye. This exhibition is the record of an intense and valuable human experience.'219 The artist is invited to talk alongside Marshall McLuhan in The Cult of the Head. James Joyce and the Celtic Consciousness, St. Michael's College, University of Toronto (December 1978). Turns to heads of Federico García Lorca. Anne Crookshank observes: 'Although le Brocquy studies intensively the background of the figures he paints, reads what they have written, and much of what has been written about them, his works are not didactic. They seem so authoritative that they can be awe-inspiring. But, in fact, they require the viewer's cooperation for real understanding. They do not aim at instantaneous revelation. Sometimes the veils are lifted and a vivacious, flickering reality seems to pour out of the canvas, but this is rare. They are themes with infinite variations, meditations of quiet, still beauty.'220 Le Brocquy remarks: 'In the case of Lorca, I have even been moved to add to the series of paintings several further studies in bronze of his forehead, os frontis [Michaelucci Foundry, Montecatini, ed. 6, 1977] in an attempt to touch that broad tabernacle of his vision: Oh, city of Gypsies!... ? / Who could see you and forget? / Let them seek you on my brow / The play of moon and sand. I am aware that that vision lies far from my own country which gave birth to Yeats and Joyce. Lorca, far away, lending his Iberian temperament and his voice to the cries of his own people, echoing within his "astonished flesh". For me, an Irishman, it was curiously enough the plays of Synge which provided the key to an understanding of Lorca's fierce, lyrical world. Synge, with his ear pressed against the floorboards, passionately noting the marvellous vernacular of the Wicklow people in the room below. It was only quite recently that I was told by Mark Mortimer in Paris that Lorca knew and admired the works of John Millington Synge.'221 According to Alistair Smith: 'The fact is that Lorca shared many of the qualities of le Brocquy's other subjects. He is, for example, a byword for genius, being recognised as the most important Spanish dramatist and poet since his forerunners in the sixteenth century. Thereby he has come to represent the creative imagination of his country, as have le Brocquy's Irish subjects. Second, he was the true nationalist, not perhaps in the sense the word is used in the tabloids today, but, more genuinely, through his campaign to revitalise Spanish theatre byexample, and to create a theatre of the people in a language they could understand. His early Gypsy Ballads were the product of his admiration for an untutored and spontaneous way of life which persisted in the periphery of his home town Granada. (Lorca experienced in the gypsies a sensation equivalent to le Brocquy's wonder of the travellers he met in Tullamore.) Unexpectedly, Lorca also admired the work of Synge, whoseresearch into the dialects and customs of old Ireland was to surface in the plays which came to have influence for the Spaniard. Lorca also shared with others of le Brocquy's chosen few the sense of being an outsider. Some were geographical and cultural 'exiles'. Others, as homosexuals (like Lorca), were socially exiled. Some felt that their work had been ignored or reviled; all of them, as artists, existed on the fringe of society. Not difficult men for most of us to identify with; nor did a sense of their 'alienation' go unappreciated in the era of existentialism. Le Brocquy's work is enough to demonstrate the bond he felt with them.'222 Exhibition (simultaneously with Bram van Velde) at the Galerie Maeght, Barcelona (October 1978): 88 Studies Towards an Image of Federico Garcia Lorca. The exhibition travels to Galerie Kreisler Dos, Madrid (December 1978), and Fundacion Rodriguez-Acosta, Granada, Lorca's birthplace (May 1979). Displaying numerous studies in watercolour, the event attracts critical acclaim.1223 According to Anne Crookshank: 'The feature of his recent work that stands out as a major development is not subject matter, but technique. Le Brocquy has always been a great practitioner of watercolour and the thin washes of his early oils have much in common with this method. But, in the last few years, his watercolours have taken on a new value. The irregular dabs of brilliant colour, purple, blue, and green, as non-descriptive as the tesserae of a Byzantine mosaic, build up the form of his heads with a tense, nervous immediacy which oil with its overlapping layers and opaque thickness never can achieve. The traces of paper left between each stroke, which enhance the brilliancy of the colours, and the gleam of whiteness, which glows through the paint, all help to create the truly magical effect of images coagulating in front of your eyes, coming alive, mediating, speaking, and ultimately returning to their own imaginative genius. He sometimes uses tissue paper to paint from, using it in such a way that the creases make caesuras in the strokes of paint. The results are deliberately induced accidents which help to keep the images at a distance from us, to give them reality only as paintings, not as descriptive portraits ... The magic of the quietness of le Brocquy's oils is surpassed only by the excitement of his watercolors. They may be as still as the oils. But the sheer joy of their running, smudged, fragmented, clear colors brings vital reality to the spirit of his rediscovered genius. In this aspect of his work, le Brocquy has added a new dimension to his art. He has become a great colourist.'224
215 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. 23.
216 John Montague, 'Jawseyes', exhibition catalogue Louis le Brocquy, Studies towards an image of James Joyce (London: Gimpel Fils touring exhibition, Europe, United States, Canada, November 1977 - December 1978).
217 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. 151-52.
218 Seamus Heaney, from Eight Irish Writers, a portfolio of collotype lithographs published by Andrew Carpenter (Dublin 1981).
219 John Russell, 'Dublin's Own Image In le Brocquy's Joyce', The New York Daily Metro (September 22, 1978).
220 Anne Crookshank, introduction, exhibition catalogue, Louis le Brocquy and the Celtic Head Image (New York: State Museum September 26 - 29 November 1981; Boston College; Massachusetts, 1981), p. 28-30.
221 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. 151.
222 Alistair Smith, 'Louis le Brocquy: On the Spiritual in Art', exhibition catalogue Louis le Brocquy, Paintings 1939 - 1996, (Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, October 1996 - February 1997), p. 48.
223 Destino, 'Le Brocquy y Van Velde en Maeght' (Barcelona, 26 September 1978).
Diario de Barcelona, 'Le Brocquy, analista de un solo nostro' (Barcelona, 28 September 1978).
Vanguardia, 'Louis le Brocquy en Maeght' (Barcelona, 3 November 1978).
Hoja del Lunes, 'Estudios para una figura de Federico, (Granada, 17 November 1978).
Montero, Gomez, 'Ochenia y ocho estudios para una figura de Garcia Lorca', Ideal (Granada, 21 November, 1978).
Imparcial, 'Los blancos laberintos: le Brocquy vea Lorca' (Madrid, 30 December 1978). Montero, Gomez, 'La Obra de Louis le Brocquy', Calle Elvira (Granada, June 1979).
224 Anne Crookshank, introduction, exhibition catalogue, Louis le Brocquy and the Celtic Head Image (New York: State Museum September 26 - 29 November 1981; Boston College; Massachusetts, 1981), p. 38-39.
Image of James Joyce, 1978
oil on canvas, 70 x 70 cm, AR410
Image of James Joyce, 1977
oil on canvas, 70 x 70 cm, AR395.
Tate Gallery, London
Image of Federico Garcia Lorca, 1977
oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm, A.R.410
Image of Federico Garcia Lorca, 1977
oil on canvas, 146 x 114 cm, A.R.420