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1996.  Human Image paintings: Early phase (1996)


Embarks on the Human Images in an attempt to delve further into the earlier Presence series (c.1956-66). Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith observes: 'There are very few artists who have maintained as steadfast a commitment as Louis le Brocquy has over the past half a century to envisioning what it is to be an embodied human being adrift in an alienating world the true reality of which is likely to lie forever beyond our comprehension ... The principal similarity between the early 'Presences' and the torsos produced since 1996, according to the artist, is one of content in that the attempt is still to discover some kind of image of "our inner human reality - that impalpable thing we call in turn the spirit, the psyche, consciousness." The most obvious difference, on the other hand, between these two bodies of work is one of form, in that the 'phenomenon of whiteness', to use Richard Kearney's phrase, no longer exerts the same fascination. In the recent paintings the intense white grounds have been replaced by what le Brocquy characterises as 'grayish backgrounds or 'environments', initially composed of minute particles and later by a fractured texture from which the central figure is derived and into which it in turn diffuses in "a substantial identity of surface and image''.'289 Paints Human Image - Mouth (1996; 668), Human Image - Eye (1996; 670), Human Image - Navel (1996; 672), Human Image - Ear (1996; 674). According to Alistair smith: 'The artist recognises the origins of these paintings in a work of 1971, Head with Open Mouth, but they also resemble, in their taut blend of abstraction and palpability, in their tender and fragile sense of being, the pictures of fruit which he made about the same time. One might think of them as still-life paintings of body parts; and as the still-life artist invests his flowers and fruit with a symbolism of growth and decay, we might expect le Brocquy's Human Images to carry the same meaning. What they seek to express, however, is something quite different ... Now he is attempting to convey the sensitivity of the mouth as a site where - like the other body parts - experience, life, enters the body, and he also shows us life emerging from the body.'290 The artist explains: '[The] first so-called 'orifice' paintings took place in the ancestral head series from 1970 to '72. In those earlier images the head image itself was reduced almost to the isolated image of an open mouth ­ and this I saw not as a sort of silent scream, but rather as an opening into the dark space of the interior being. At the same time I saw it ambivalently as an illusory black hole in the canvas with spatial implications not altogether unlike those of a physically slashed or punctured work by Lucio Fontana in his Concetto Spatiale series ... About six years ago [in 1996] I felt that I might further develop the idea of the 'holed' canvas, forming the image of an open mouth, to include other points of 'entrance' such as the eye, the ear and the navel.  And, finally, the navel in particular ­ being literally central to the 'Presence' torsos ­ may well have been a factor in returning me to the earlier 'Presence' paintings.'291 Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith remarks: 'John Montague has described the open mouth in images as Human Image (1996; AR665) as both "an orifice into and a passageway for the human spirit". While acknowledging the violence implicit in the notion of the slashed or punctured canvas/body, which echoes obliquely the intimations of surgical invasiveness in certain earlier work such as Young Woman (Anne) 1957, le Brocquy is more interested in the notion of thebodily orifice as what Seamus Heaney might call a "door into the dark" ... In Human Image (1996; AR673), which was painted in the same year as Human Image (1996; AR665), the open mouth is replaced by a recessive human navel, which floats above the faint bulge of a belly and the indentation of a pubic area below. As such, this painting heralds a return to the human torso as an area of painterly inquiry for le Brocquy after an absence of almost thirty years.'292 In returning to the corporeal Presences the artist notes: 'my aim was to reach into their inner being, something merely suggested in the earlier works. From the start these later works appear to have developed a certain granular surface structure covering the entire canvas. This surface suggested particles, which I tended to see as another kind of matrix from which the image might materialise, both in the depths of its shadow and in its emergence to the light. Then, gradually it seems, this granular structure becomes more structured and pervasive, at once composing and disseminating the image within it.'293 Exhibition at the Galerie Maeght, Paris (May 1996): Louis le Brocquy, Images Humaines, twenty-one works, Ciaran Carty writes in The Tribune Magazine: 'No celebration of Irish art would be complete without Louis le Brocquy's extraordinary heads of WB Yeats, James Joyce, Francis Bacon, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. The French have made a selection of them for l'Imaginaire Irlandais, which is now in full flow in Paris. But the surprise of le Brocquy's exhibition, which was opened at the Espace Paul Ricard by the Irish Ambassador Patrick O'Connor, are three strange canvases in which empty bluish spaces are punctured by human orifices. It turns out that these images are the prelude to a new departure in le Brocquy's work which will be shown at the Maeght Gallery in Paris in May as part of  the climax to L'Imaginaire. "In a way they're almost looking backwards," he tells me. "I'd done a number of paintings which I showed in Milan some time ago where there is a vague anonymous head, with an open mouth which couldbe interpreted as a scream or a cry or simply, as I regard it, as being an entrance beyond the palpable physical appearance of man into man's invisible reality, which is perhaps more real than what is visible. Certainly no less so...'294 Awarded Officier des Arts et des Lettres, by the French Government. Exhibition marking the artist's eighteth birthday at the Irish Museum of modern Art, Dublin (October 1996), Louis le Brocquy, Paintings 1939 - 1996, one hundred works. Medb Ruane writes in The Sunday Times: 'They call it a retrospective, but there is more than one sense in which the current Louis le Brocquy exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin reads likes a chapter of 20th-century Irish art ... Now almost as familiar to Irish audiences as the Heinz symbol, it's easy to underestimate the power of le Brocquy's head series, precisely because they slipped so easily into mainstream culture. This is a study of outsiders, more powerful than the earlier Tinkers. One of the best is one of the earliest, the tiny image called Caroline, in which a child's face pushes its way through a white space as if seeking some kind of understanding. Le Brocquy then pursues the head images for all it - and he - is worth, testing the notion of ancestral heads, interrogating subjects to wrest their essence, lancing faces of all but the most esential detail. Joyce, Beckett, Lorca, Bacon, W B Yeats and a probable Wolfe Tone are scrutinised to varying effect. As his technique develops, le Brocquy almost finds it too easy, confining the struggle only to his subject but revealing none of his own ... It dosen't always work as you sense he intended it to, but a charcoal Becckett, floated over staccato vertebrae, or a 1971 mouth, reach into the picture planes and leave you stirred by something more than what is immediately given. The spectre of Francis Bacon hovers over le Brocquy's later works, raising issues of human relationship and communication in the way that space is separated and defined. This exhibition has little of that dreadful anguish that makes the current Bacon show shocking to the marrow, but a first-rate curatorial job throws you a line so far hidden in other surveys of le Brocquy's work. His ability to make attractive images is kept in check, revealing an artistic quest at once moretender and more moving than you might have expected. There are no tapestries, no book illustrations, none of the exemplary cul de sacs where le Brocquy's sheer facility to please won him popular acclaim - and thus made his other achievements sometimes suspect. Instead, a clear historical line makes visible an intense painterly investigation, asking big questions with maximum restraint, showing the development of what le Brocquy himself has called "the logic of the imagination".'295 Exhibition at Taylor Galleries (October 19916), Louis le Brocquy, Human Images, Brian Lynch writes in the Sunday Independent: 'Even at this late stage in his evocation and reconstruction of the self, he has suddenly found in the last year new ways, technically and spiritually, of flying spans across the void. Some of these are in the IMMA show but to appreciate their variety and profoundity one should visit the Taylor Galleries. The important technical advance is in the way he handles the backgrounds to the images: the surface, no longer a tensioned blankness, shimmers with what looks like sub-atomic particles. And the central image, head or body, has diminished to a mouth, ear - or sex hole, a single nipple or a navel, and receded almost to vanishing-point, reduced to a final outwardness of expression before being sucked away by the vast enery of ... [sic] Well, one would say death ...'296 Included in Art Contre Apartheide, ‘2nd Edition’, Nelson Mandela, Jacques Chirac, Organisation des Nations Unies, Paris, world tour (1996).


289 Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, 'The Human Image Paintings of Louis le Brocquy', le Brocquy Archive, 2002
290 Alistair Smith, 'Louis le Brocquy: On the Spiritual in Art', Louis le Brocquy, Paintings 1939 - 1996, (Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, October 1996 - February 1997), p. 51.
291 Louis le Brocquy quoted by Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, 'The Human Image Paintings of Louis le Brocquy', Notes, le Brocquy Archive, 2002. .
292 Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, 'The Human Image Paintings of Louis le Brocquy', Notes, le Brocquy Archive, 2002.
293 Louis le Brocquy quoted by Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, 'The Human Image Paintings of Louis le Brocquy', Notes, le Brocquy Archive, 2002.
294 Ciaran Carty, 'French See new le Brocquy', The Tribune Magazine (Dublin,  March 31, 1996).
295 Medb Ruane. 'Facing up to the big questions',  The Sunday Times (Dublin, 20 October 1996).
296 Brian Lynch, 'Filling the void with life', Sunday Independent (Dublin, 27 October 1996).






Human Image, 1996
oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm, A.R.674









Human Image, 1996
oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm, A.R.673









Human Image, 1996
oil on canvas, 116 x 89 cm, A.R.686