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Selection of reviews and interviews
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Le Brocquy at 90', Editorial, The Irish Times, November 4, 2006
Louis le Brocquy, the elder statesman of Irish art, is curently the subject of a number of celebratory exhibitions and events to mark his ninetieth birthday, not only in Ireland but also in Paris and London. The celebrations and accolades have been well-earned after more than seven decades during which this self-taught artist has come to be recognised both at home and internationally as the foremost Irish painter of the 20th century.
It is half a century since he represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale, where he won a major prize for one of his most familiar works, A Family, a key painting in le Brocquy's earlier Cubist style which now hangs in our National Gallery. It was not always so popular or acknowledged as an important work of art. The painter was accused of producing a "diabolical caricature" when it was first put on show in Dublin in the early 1950s; critics of the day found it repugnant and the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art turned it down. It was not the only time that the city disgraced itself in the rejection of significant work of art.
Some measure of the appeal and stature of le Brocquy's work is reflected in the rise and rise of the prices he achieves in the art market - the latest record being for a watercolour at the recent Sotheby's sale of Irish art in London, where three le Brocquy works featured in the top ten prices. He is one of a few Irish artists whose work is represented in the collections of the most prestigious international museums such as the Guggenheim in New York and the Tate in London.
Although probably best known and admired for his paintings, le Brocquy has never been afraid to venture beyond the canvas, The beauty of his vibrant tapestry designs and the intricately-detailed interpretations of the Tåin legend, which he created to accompany the poet Thomas Kinsella's translation of that Irish epic, as well as designs for the stage, have demonstrated his remarkable virtuosity as an artist.
In recent years it has been as the creator of the "heads series" that le Brocquy has received most attention. The pared-down spectral renderings of the human head have become a central motif for the artist. Le Brocquy himself has elequently referred to them as depictions of the isolation of the individual - an exploration that he shares with Beckett. For Many of these paintings he has been drawn to subjects for whom the creative impulse has been at the centre of their lives, fellow artists and writers. His own creative impulses have added uniquely and richly to Irish art. '
Playing with the Past by Tom Rosenthal, New Statesman
Louis le Brocquy: Homage to his Masters Gimpel Fils, Davies Street, W1, until 13 January 2007 (closed 22 December to 7 January) Louis le Brocquy is 90 this year and his new show at Gimpel's is merely one of four current celebratory exhibitions. (The others are at Tate Britain, The National Gallery of Ireland and Galerie JeanneBucher in Paris. ) He once wryly observed: 'I'm aware that my age and vulnerability could be mistaken for some kind of authority.' celebrates work old and new by Ireland's most versatile artist. Louis le Brocquy, at 85, is undoubtedly Ireland's most senior painter. ... December 2, 2006
Sue Hubbard, A fascination with imitation
Louis le Brocquy, Ireland's most celebrated living artist, is 90. Born in 1916, he became a dominant force in the evolution of 20th- century Irish art, which, compared to what was happening in the ... Independent, The (London), 12/6/06.
Robert Clark, The Guardian, May 6, 2006
To celebrate the 90th birthday of the acclaimed Irish painter, a special display selected from the artist's own collection of some of his most specially cherished works. There's something reveric and poetic about the entire body of work, as is evidenced by Brocquy's frequent portraits of fellow Irish greats such as Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats and Samuel Beckett. Yet Brocquy's poetry is always rigorously painterly and visual. He never falls off into literary illustration or compositional melodrama. As Francis Bacon once remarked, Brocquy continues to be "obsessed by figuration outside and on the other side of illustration". And there is certainly a thematic otherness haunting all of his painterly and graphic work, whether it be the psychologically incisive portraits, ritualised figure gatherings, lyrical still-lifes or the long series of mist-drenched watercolour landscapes.
'RICHARD CLAYTON previews a blockbusting autumn of visual arts, from Rodin's sexy bodies in London to the magnificent heads of Louis le Brocquy in Dublin.'
Art special. Autumn's best exhibitions. Legends of the fall', The Sunday Times, Culture, September 17, 2006'To mark the 90th birthday of Louis le Brocquy, the National Gallery of Ireland is stagging Portrait Heads, a show comprising many of the paintings that have brought him international prestige. Featuring work from public and private collections, it includes images of Picasso, Lorca, Seamus Heaney and WB Yeats, as well as those for which he is best best known, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. Faces seem to hang suspended, half-emerging, half withdrawing - much like le Brocquy himself, who maintains an air of seclusion while assiduously grooming his career. In 2003, the gallery commissioned a portrait of Bono now in the permanent collection. Le Brocquy admired the singer's "radiant energy", he said.'
Rattlebag Monday 28 August 2006, Louis le Brocquy Special
In 1956, Louis le Brocquy was chosen to represent Ireland at the prestigious Venice Biennale. Half a century later, with no less than seven exhibitions of his work opening this year, le Brocquy continues to challenge. His 70 years of creative practice have included collabourations with the likes of Thomas Kinsella, Seamus Heaney and Bono. Ahead of his 90th birthday in November, today's programme is dedicated to the man who has been called the greatest Irish artist of the 20th Century.
LISTEN TO PROGRAMME
Celia Wahlen, The Dubliner, Cover story, 'Ireland's Greatest Artist?',' The Gent Louis le Brocquy at 90'.
Published October 2006.
The Sunday Tribune, Cover story, Arts & Antiques, Dave Boland, 'Ninety years of an Irish West Belgian'.
Published 10 September 2006.
Cara, Medb Ruane, Feature interview, 'Louis le Brocquy. Portrait of the Artist'.
Published, September 2006.
The Irish Times, The Arts, Weekend Review, Aidan Dunne, 'Archaeologist of the Spirit'.
Published 9 September 2006).
The Sunday Times, Culture, Richard Clayton, 'Legends of the Fall'.
Published 17 September 2006).
Irish Arts Review - Cover Story. Le Brocquy's Bono.
Including: The Eternal Dance. Brian McAvera hunts for meaning and intention in Louis le Brocquy's series Processions and Children in a Wood, currently on show at the Taylor Galleries Dublin.
Published: Winter 2003.
The Irish Times - Children of the Evolution. Louis le Brocquy's new exhibition illustrates the way the renowned painters style has developed over five decades, writes Aidan Dunne. Published: 26/11/2003
Sunday Times - Culture. Face up to reality. Louis le Brocquy's search for the individual spirit behind the social mask will this week reach Bono, writes Cristin Leach.
While there are many measures of an artist's true worth, money is one language everyone talks. So when Louis le brocquy's Traveller Woman with Newspaper fetched £1.16m (E1.66m) at Sotheby's in London in May 2000, his worth translated into a reality everyone could understand...
Irish Arts Review - Cover Story. Le Brocquy's A Family. Le Brocquy's early masterpiece acquired by National Gallery by Medb Ruane.
The after shocks of World War Two were still sending tremors through culture and society when Louis le Brocquy made his historic painting, A Family...
Published: Summer 2002
The Sunday Times - Culture. The Stuff of Legend: the Tain tapestries by Louis Le Bropcquy on show at IMMA are a wonder to behold writes Medb Ruane.
Sometimes images travel to places where language cannot go. Louis le Brocquy's visual imagining of the Tain Bo Cuailnge, one of Irelands greatest sagas, looks classic now, as though the myth was always seen in his way...
The Irish Times - Le Brocquy painting given to National Gallery by businessman.
Businessman Mr Lochlann Quinn has given the National Gallery of Ireland a painting which made a record price for a work by a living Irish artist. ..
New Statesman. Louis le Brocquy, Headmaster.
Tom Rosnthal celebrates work old and flew by Ireland's most versatile artist. Louis le Brocquy, at 85, is undoubtedly Ireland's most senior painter...
Guardian. Remember me?
After 50 years, collectors have rediscovered the works of Louis le Brocquy.
The Sunday Times - Culture - Cover Story. One in a million. Le Brocquy joins art's elite.
Peerless: Why Louis le Brocquy's work has finally achieved the recognition it deserves.
The Sunday Times - Culture. A Life's rich tapestries unravelled.
Louis le Brocquy's tapestries draw on legend to explore Irish identity.
The Irish Times - Emotional colour weave.
You may find there is something strangely familiar about much of the work in Louis le Brocquy's exhibition of Aubusson Tapestries at the Taylor Galleries. While all of them have been woven within the last ...
Sunday Business Post - Agenda Interview. Looming large
After 60 years abroad, Louis le Brocquy has returned to enjoy his status as Ireland's greatest living artist.
The Irish Times - The travelling life that created Ireland's greatest living artist.
Few artists in this country have been as feted during their lifetimes as Louis Le Brocquy, and yet Thursday's news that one of his pictures - Travelling Woman with Newspaper, painted more than half a ...
The Irish Times - `Travelling Woman' behind Le Brocquy's rise.
Comparisons may be often odious but they can also be fascinating, and that is certainly the case when looking at the collection of pictures currently being shown by Sotheby's in Dublin a week after ...
The Irish Times - Le Brocquy painting sold for record £1.15m.
A painting by Louis Le Brocquy has fetched £1.15 million sterling, the highest price yet paid for any work by a living Irish artist. Dating from 1947-48, Travelling Woman with Newspaper was offered at ...
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SELECTED INTERVIEWS OF THE ARTIST PUBLISHED IN MONOGRAPHS
THE HEAD IMAGE
Introductory interview of the artist by George Morgan, 184 pages, portfolio of 80 full-page colour plates.Text in English,French and German. Published by Gandon Editions, Kinsale, 1996 on the occasion of the artist's eightieth birthday and the celebration of his life's work in a retrospective exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Oct. 1996 - Feb. 1997).
Introductory interview of the artist by George Morgan, 65 pages, porfolio of 28 full- page colour plates. Text in English, French and German. Published by Gandon Editions, Kinsale, 1994. Procession - is a companion volume to The Irish Landscape.
THE IRISH LANDSCAPE
Introductory interview of the artist by George Morgan, 40 colour plates (99 pages) .Text in English, French and German. Published by Gandon Editions, Dublin, 1992
INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTIST BY PERRY OGDEN, ITALIAN VOGUE, MARCH 2000.
PO. How did you begin as a painter? Who were your influences and what were you hoping for?
LleB. I suppose you could literally say I began painting at Kindergarten, when I was fortunate enough to have had as my teacher Elizabeth 'Lolly' Yeats, the sister of W.B. and Jack Yeats. She gave me a prize for a watercolour I made of a chamber pot. I remember being pleased but had no further interest in the matter. All through my youth, in point of fact, I regarded painting as nothing more or less than a diversion. Without protest I drifted through chemistry classes into my Grandfather's oil refinery in Dublin. But, while I was there, paintings I had known quite well in reproduction - paintings by Velasquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya and Manet among others - suddenly enthralled me. Indeed, overlaid by contemporary art forms, they have remained the deepest influence upon me to this day. During my spare time I developed an almost proprietary love of Dublins' Municipal and National Galleries. At work, guided by the fifteenth century artist, Cennino Cennini, I made illicit experiments with paints and media hidden in laboratory cupboards. One day these were discovered by my Grandfather with a silence I still remember. I believe he then knew that I had abandoned ship. At that time curiously enough, I never doubted that I could become an artist. My mother happened to hold the same wholly unfounded conviction even more strongly than I did. Anyway in 1938 she was responsible for helping me to leave Ireland to study painting directly in the museums of London, Paris, Venice and Geneva, where the great Prado Collection was then sheltered out of reach of Franco.
What was I then hoping to achieve? What am I still hoping for? A difficult question. I suppose initially I simply wanted to become a good painter, to join in the spiritual excitement of a great creative tradition. And now? Perhaps it is, through painting, to reach towards - to touch even - some glimmer of the meaning of life.
Tell me about the paintings you are working on now? They appear to be a series of canvases focusing on the body - the torso even. There is a sense of looking within, of something hidden being revealed; almost spiritual - if that is possible. "Chakra" is the word that comes to mind...
As a painter I'm never altogether clear as to what exactly I'm trying to get at. I am listening. To me painting is a dialogue between the artist and his painting, a dialogue in which the painting itself has a final say. The painting surprises, giving always unexpected form to the artist's initial idea. And the idea? Well, looking back I suppose I have always been concerned with the mysterious fact of being, with that interior being that lies beyond our external appearance, invisible but well known to us all... our consciousness, our feeling.
I am interested that you should think of the spiritual Chakra in relation to these paintings. I have no convictions at all about this, but I am drawn to the idea that conscious feeling may conceivably extend, beyond the brain, into the body itself. D.H. Lawrence referred to such imagined centres of conscious feeling as his thoracic and lumbar "ganglia". I greatly suspect such precision but it is perhaps significant that in our popular imagery the heart, the liver, the spleen and even the spine are so closely associated with our emotional lives and with our inner being. When I first knew Anne in 1957, she had to undergo a terribly serious spinal operation. I was in a state of irrational anger at the thought of this surgical violence when I painted Young Woman. In the painting, a torso, there inevitably appeared something indicative of a spine and a small vermilion wound...
Did you paint this while Anne was actually under the knife?
Yes, I painted Young Woman in my studio in Battersea at the time of Anne's operation.
Your meeting with Anne seems pivotal in that it coincided, or perhaps instigated, a break away from the Cubist inspired work of the forties and early fifties to the more minimal, more personal vision of the "Presence", and also a physical break in that you moved from London to France. Was Anne's operation the inspiration for the torso/Presence series?
Pivotal and inspirational as Anne's presence has been - and is - in my life, she was not the origin of the white Presence series of torsos. No, that's another story. It so happened that the Ambassador Magazine commissioned me to tour Spain in 1955 to create textile designs for British printed and woven fabrics. And once again I was impressed by what a deeply exciting, infinitely varied country Spain is, all the "Spains", from Andalucia to Catalonia, from la Mancha to Madrid and its fabulous Prado, the most dramatic collection of art in the world. But this particular visit gave me - what can I say - an entirely new perception of light, of objects in a sunlight so pervasive as to bleach solidity into evanescence, giving substance only to shadow. That year I painted Figures in Sunlight. Light had now become for me a matrix within which the human form might emerge from the depths of its own shadow. Emerge, become substance and disappear. Well, one way and another, this revelation has stayed with me, particularly in the head and torso images, from the mid-fifties up to the present day.
I should perhaps say that, after the operation, Anne spent some eight months immobile in a structured plaster cast. On her near-miraculous recovery, her surgeon suggested that we leave London for a warmer climate where she could happily continue painting. "In the south of France perhaps?" I well remember wishing to have a bronze made from the two -piece cast of her young body. Understandably, she wanted no part of it. I regret I did not insist.
You've been sharing a studio with Anne for thirty years or more. How does this work? Can you describe your "studio relationship" and the effect you have on each others work?
Yes, I've shared a studio with Anne almost since I've known her. It simply happened like that and very early we developed a working "modus vivendi" to our mutual benefit. Perhaps our difference in age, temperament and methods helped rather than hindered this. In the studio we never comment on one another's work until asked. Then it may be invaluable because of our understanding of each other's painting. Not that either of us necessarily accepts the view of the other. It is the critical insight at a critical moment that can be revelatory. Francis Bacon used to tell us he longed for someone near him who could do just that.
Did the head images simply develop from the torso series or was there some specific inspiration?
The torso or Presence series of paintings actually went on until the end of '62. At that point I was overtaken by the worst thing an artist can suffer. I completely lost my way. I lost my vision. I continued painting of course, but my efforts had no meaning. I was in despair and eventually destroyed some forty works, large and small. Naturally Anne was greatly concerned and suggested a visit to Paris, feeling somehow it might provide new meaning for me. Well, her instincts were correct, as indeed they usually are and there, in the Musée de L'Homme in 1964, I discovered the extraordinary "ancestral heads" of Polynesia. Essentially they were skulls over modelled with clay and ritually painted with formal patterns - magic boxes to contain the spirit. And then, almost immediately after our return to the French Midi, I came across yet another cult of the head in the broken remains of the Celto-Ligurian sculpture. This was an image much nearer home and, that same year, I was already launched on my own series of ancestral heads.
In the series of head paintings you concentrated on the heads of certain people and, in many cases including W.B. Yeats, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, painted them again and again. Why them and why so many?
From the beginning the early anonymous head images included, now and again, specific heads of Samuel Beckett and of James Joyce. But it was not until 1975 - eleven years later - that I made the first series devoted to one artist, a collection of 100 images in charcoal, watercolour and oils for my exhibition, A la Recherche de W.B. Yeats, at the Musés d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Why a hundred images? Well, it seemed to me that the single monolithic portrait image of a person by, say, Ingres no longer corresponded to our present day understanding of things. Photography, the cinema, not to speak of psychology perceive us rather as faceted, kinetic, changeable beings...
And why Yeats? Difficult to say. Was it because of his immense powers of perception? Or because of his ever-growing place in the history of Irish culture? Or because as a boy, I happened to know him? Or because I needed to play with the idea of decorating the memory of his head by a laying on of hands, seeking out his presence like the Polynesians or the Celts before me? I don't know. Samuel Beckett was a dear friend, of whom I was but one in a myriad of admirers. James Joyce I never knew other than through his writing and through others. Certainly I have been drawn to their images, as I was to Seamus Heaney's image, because they are Irish, because they are familiar. But I have also painted an extensive series of images of Federico Garcia Lorca and of others who have dared to push their boat out into uncharted seas from which Samuel Beckett, for one, could not see the return, could not "hear the frail keel grating on the shore..."
I'm interested in the relationship between your work and Beckett's. There seem to be certain similarities beyond both being Irish and working in exile. The minimalism, the solitude, the obsessive furrowing of the plot... When did you first become aware of Beckett's work? What influence has it had on you? When you started painting your Beckett "heads" did you already know him and what was his reaction to them?
Yes I believe you are right. I do feel in my own work certain affinity towards the "minimalism, the solitude, the obsessive furrowing" characteristic of Beckett - that unflinching scrutiny of the inner self. Unlike Anne, I am not a great reader, but I was already sufficiently drawn to Beckett's writing to paint a small number of "studies towards an image of Samuel Beckett" in the mid-sixties when Anne and I first met him casually in Montmartre. Some thirteen years later, when we had become close friends, I embarked on a long series of his remarkable head: "I would be happy to see you both again at that time and show you my old face again." Beckett was the first in the morning to visit my exhibitions in Paris, but would not comment on my images of himself. Neither would Francis Bacon, although he wrote to me on the Yeats and Joyce heads.
More recently, in the late 80s, you designed the sets and costumes for the acclaimed Gate Theatre production of "Waiting for Godot" which has just been revived as part of the Beckett festival at the Barbican Centre in London. How did this come about? Had you designed for the theatre before?
Well yes, long age in the early forties I designed sets and costumes for a Giraudoux pay, Amphitryon 38 - translated by my mother Sybil le Brocquy - as well as one or two other plays, and even reviews and pantomimes to earn my living in those days. So I knew the theatre quite well and loved its unique sense of comradeship. Curiously enough, it was Anne who spontaneously suggested to Samuel Beckett at one of our meetings in 1987 that "Godot" could be wonderful at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. At that time Sam had been quite distressed by a number of international productions of which he strongly disapproved. In any case he reacted to Anne's suggestion with what looked remarkably like enthusiasm, recommending the German, Walter Asmus, as the only director of whom he fully approved "who was not dead." "Godot", my "tree" being based on a careful scribble by Beckett himself, drawn on the back of a bill at the bar of the PLM on Boulevard St. Jacques, where we always met. I remember also his further comment: "The Irish voice is important."
One of your earliest series depicts Travellers - a group much maligned by Irish Society. Were you interested in them because they were "outsiders"? Was Jack Yeats an influence at the time?
Fifty years ago the Travellers Fascinated me. Here was a group of Irish people the same as the rest of us, but separate, for centuries living on the move and on their wits as tinsmiths and horse jobbers - a people with their own culture, their own morality and even the remains of their own scealta Irish language. Inevitably they were suspected and feared by the settled farming community and could only contact them at all on the basis of mutual individual curiosity. They were their own kind, their own community. When leaving a camp site they had a way of handing on information to those that following by secret "twig-sign", crossing twigs to indicate the way to water, or to a convenient henrun, or whatever. But also to leave behind traditional mystic "protection" against the forces of bad luck and malevolence. certainly I was influenced by Jack Yeats in the forties, whom I knew well, but not particularly by his interest in the travellers as such. On a personal level he never presumed to advise me as a painter other than what to avoid, telling me to pay no attention to adverse criticism. "The true artist has vision" he used to say, 'The critic has an opinion."
The walls of your studio are covered in photos of Beckett, Joyce, and Heaney among others. What part does photography play in your work?
Ever since I began working on head images of individuals I have surrounded myself with photographic records of their appearance. And, although appearance is directly related to identify, I try, rather like an archeologist to search beneath its surface in an effort to uncover deeper layers of being.
Finally, what aspect of your own work do you value most?
I think what I value in my work most is the element of surprise... the discovery of what is mysterious to me, that which I don't understand, what lies outside myself... The truth is, as a painter I really don't see myself as wholly responsible for my paintings. And by that I don't mean anything in the least esoteric. I simply feel that my own awareness is not entirely mine, that it is somehow wider or deeper than that. After all, like the rest of us I'm descended from pre-history. My legs are not altogether my legs. They are, so to speak, paleolithic legs on loan for a lifetime.
This sounds like Jung's concept of the "collective unconscious". Don't you think that creative work has its roots in ones childhood experience - childhood "trauma" even?
Yes, I do believe that Jung's "collective unconscious" colours our thought... I'm even drawn to Erwin Schrödinger's belief that the interior universe of consciousness is somehow shared; that it can be regarded as "a singular of which the plural is unknown". But, of course, childhood experience remains the underlying formative impulse within individual thought. Unfortunately I have never undergone analysis. Nevertheless I've gradually become vaguely aware of forgotten experience revealing to me the ultimate aloneness of the individual.