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1981-83. Portrait Heads: Self (1981-2005), Delacroix (1981-82), Mandela (1982-83)


Turns to self-portraits. Le Brocquy remarks: 'An artist tends to paint his self-portrait all the time, since - even with a subject before him - what he tries to draw up from the depths of the paper or the canvas, lies really somewhere in his own head. Such intimate knowledge as one has of another human being through his work - yes, all that one knows of him - passes behind this billowing curtain, the face. And if this curtain be carefully drawn aside, one is liable sometimes to find only poor traces of oneself. I imagine that Rembrandt displayed the highest intelligence in projecting conscious ideas of himself into his self-portraits. In this sense they are not really self-portraits, but rather portraits of a man he saw in his mirror, whose sufferings he well knew. Perhaps that is the reason for the objective humility of these self-portraits.'239 Inspired by Eugene Delacroix' Autoportrait. dit au gilet vert (1840; Louvre), and the sensuous emergence of the artist's whites in The Death of Sardanapalus (1827; Louvre), le Brocquy remarks: 'When I was involved with images of Joyce, Beckett, Bacon, etc., it was often suggested to me that I should paint some kind of self-portrait, encouraged in particular by Anne. I resisted this because my interest was always in painting the Other, delving, learning. Well, I had made images of my father and mother, Anne, my sons Pierre and Alexis and others. But my immediate stimulus happened to be a couple of studies in watercolour I made from Delacroix' curiously moving self-portrait in the Louvre. Finally I began to see such a venture as a challenge in itself.'240 Retrospective exhibition at the New York State Museum, Albany (September 1981), Boston College Gallery (January 1982): Louis le Brocquy and the Celtic Head Image , one hundred and fifteen paintings and tapestries, including Head of a Child (1945), Study of a Girl's Head (1960; A.R. 62), Image of James Joyce (1977; A.R. 404, Ulster Museum). John Russell writes in The New York Times: 'By general consent the most distinguished of living Irish painters, Louis le Brocquy, has for years been meditating on the variability of the human head as it is found in people of genius. W. B. Yeats, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett are the most often studied, with García Lorca, Strindberg and Francis Bacon to vary the plot. Where most painters resent or gloss over the hit-or-miss element in portraiture, le Brocquy welcomes it into the studio as an indispensable familiar. No one image can be definitive, in his view, and the act ofportraiture should be a long and patient siege, as distinct from a headlong assault.'241 Kevin M. Cahill, President General of the American Irish Historical Society, is invited to present his own portrait of the artist in the exhibition catalogue: 'For the task at hand I have the good fortune to know Louis le Brocquy as a friend, to have talked nights away with him in Dublin, New York and the South of France, to have discussed, over meals in each other's homes, life and art, truth and freedom, love and deceit, success and failure - and many dreams. We have written hundreds of letters to one another, sharing descriptions of the joys of nature, exchanging ideas and pooling our meagre efforts to stem the tide of suffering in areas ranging from Northern Ireland to a remote African prison where a human being would lie forgotten if it were not for the interest of Louis' beloved Amnesty International. Having had the privilege of close observation, of probing the man behind the artist, what have I found? ... He is a modest man genuinely interested in the tale of almost anyone he meets, as respectful of the traditions of the barman in his tiny village as he is of the needs of his fellow artists. His generosity is almost legendary to a generation of young Irish writers whom he has helped by contributing his drawings and etchings to illuminate their work and, most importantly, by his advice, support, exquisit taste and continuous emphasis on quality. He is a man of obvious integrity and rare humility ... His Irishness has also been the source of some of our correspondence. Born in Dublin of Breton stock he has lived outside Ireland for much of his adult life. His departure, however, was neither like the bitter exit of Joyce or the almost permanent exile of Beckett, but a Yeats-like search for a universal basis for his own unique Irish expression.'242 Publication of Eight Irish Writers, Andrew Carpenter ed., Dublin, 1981. Eight original black and white collotype lithographs reproduced from charcoal drawings of W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, James Joyce, Francis Stuart, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Kinsella, John Montague, Seamus Heaney. Publication of Dorothy Walker's monograph Louis le Brocquy, Ward River Press, Dublin (1981); Hodder & Stoughton, London (1982). Turns to studies of Nelson Mandela commissioned in 1982 by the Association 'Artists of the World against Apartheid', formed by Antonio Saura and Ernest Pignon-Ernest. The collection Art contre/against Apartheid brought together 150 paintings and sculptures from 30 countries, shown for the first time at the Fondation Nationale des Arts Graphiques et Plastiques, Paris,1983, with accompanying texts by Michel Leiris and Jacques Derrida, two admirers of the artist's work. The same year a set of posters and lithographs with designs from 15 artists selected from the collection including Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg were published in co-operation with the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid. A poster of le Brocquy's Image of Nelson Mandela (1982; A.R. 657) was printed with the artist's inscription 'FREE NELSON MANDELA BRAVE ADVOCATE OF THE RIGHTS OF MAN'. In 1984, the collection began a world-wide tour, including Sweden, Finland, Spain, Greece, Germany, United States, Japan, Korea, Netherlands and Zimbabwe. In 1995, a year after the first democratic elections in South Africa,the collection Art against Apartheid was presented to South Africa and displayed in Parliament. The artist and his wife Anne Madden co-ordinate Artists For Amnesty Art Auction, works of art, literature and music by international artists, writers and composers, sold in aid of the Irish section of Amnesty International (May 1982). Participating artists include Francis Bacon, Joseph Beuys, Joan Miro, Valerio Adami, Eduardo Chilida, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Henry Moore, Antonio Saura, and Henri Matisse - through their friend Pierre Matisse. The auction is the first of its kind in Ireland to benefit an NGO. Retrospective exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Art, Charleroi, Belgium, (October 1982): Louis le Brocquy, one hundred and five works, including Tinker Woman with Newspaper (1947-48), Man Creating Bird (1948), Image of F.G. Lorca (1977-78; A.R. 419, Fondation Maeght, St. paul), Studies of Francis Bacon (1979; A.R. w474-75-76, Etat Français). Serge Fauchereau writes in the catalogue: 'The paintings of Louis le Brocquy look out at us. In the first place because he is constantly preoccupied with the human being: the human body, heads, faces, endless faces, one after the other turned towards us. In his own words: "As a painter. I've always been preoccupied by some aspect of the body as an image of the human being. Latterly I have turned more specifically to heads of poets as images of human consciousness." Up to the nineteen fifties the body and the head remained together, unseparated, disposed within pictorial compositions: travelling people beside their caravans, children playing in a wood, family scenes... Until one day human bodies assumed autonomy; no longer did we regard them, they regarded us. These were the torsos, bodies with neither heads nor feet emerging from whiteness ... Later we know that a period of crisis followed, ultimately broken by the first "ancestral heads" of 1964 - following his discovery at the Musée de l'Homme of the Polynesian head cult (admittedly acting as a catalyst towards something deeper in him, deeper than himself indeed - the Celtic sculpture at Entremont and its cult of the Head). And since that moment; heads, a succession of heads. And now and again, however, there were minor asides, studies of fruit, apples, lemons, isolated ovoid forms like the heads themselves, or, then, the splashed black calligraphy of the Tåin illustrations with its battles, its wild heroines, its warriors, its head-hunters (if the French don't have an epic head-image, the Irish do to the highest degree).'243 According to Jean Pigeon in La Libre Begique (trans.): 'This is the itinerary followed by le Brocquy before embarking on the specificity that has brought him international recognition, with his works entering collections and museums throughout the world. In Dublin as in Charleroi, in New York as in Paris, he remains true to himself, concerned with both modernity and tradition.'244


239 Bernard Noël, 'Interviews Louis le Brocquy', Introspect (Dublin, December 1977).
240 Statement made to the editor, September 2004.
241 John Russell, 'Louis le Brocquy and the Celtic Head', The New York Times (November 6, 1981).
242 Kevin M Cahill, M. D., President General, American Irish Historical Society, New York, Louis le Brocquy and the Celtic Head Image (New York: State Museum September 26 - 29 November 1981; Boston College; Massachusetts, 1981), p. 38-39.
243 Serge Fauchereau, 'La peinture de Louis le Brocquy', exhibition catalogue Louis le Brocquy (Charleroi: Palais des Beaux-Arts, October 23 - 28 November 1982). First published in Diagraph (Paris: Éditions "Temps Actuels", No 27, June 1982), p. 111-113.
244 Jean Pigeon, 'Un géant du portrait: l'Irlandais Louis le Brocquy a Charleroi', La Libre Begique (November 5, 1982).




Image of Self, 1987
watercolour, 61 x 46 cm, A.R.W680






Image of Self, 1981
watercolour, 61 x 46 cm, A.R.W580








Image of Nelson Mandela, 1982
watercolour, 61 x 46 cm, A.R.W657