INTRODUCTION TO ÚNA’S AND DANIEL’S EXHIBITION “DAYDREAMS AND THE PILGRIM” by Poet Noel Ó Briain
Artists are sometimes asked how long it takes them to produce a particular work of art, be it a painting, a piece of sculpture, a poem, a musical composition or whatever. The person asking the question usually means how long did the actual physical activity of producing the work take. Vermeer could take a year to paint a picture; Van Gogh, in a state of manic depression might produce a painting a day for a month and then collapse. But this is not really relevant here. The American abstract artist, Rothko, when asked this question, replied 57 years’, his age at the time.
In other words it takes a lifetime to produce a work of art. Why?
After all most artist have acquired their skills and techniques when they are quite young, after a few years in art college, perhaps. It takes a lifetime because the artist is trying to say something beyond and beneath the surface of the art. And this is just not a modern phenomenon. Even in the past, in times of super realism or representation (often referred to as mere representation) artist were trying to say something through their art. After all one would never confuse a Caravaggio with a Rembrandt or a Rembrandt with a Caravaggio. Art historians or critics may point to some technical differences. But that is only a very small part of it. The real difference lies in the fact that both artists were saying something completely different by their art and through art itself; even about life as they knew it and experienced it.
So what are Daniel and Úna saying?
Not for them the art piece, or so called art piece with a long screed of several words beside it explaining the piece. This allows for only one interpretation, what’s written and leaves no room for the viewer’s own response. There is a line in an old pop song, ‘love is a many splendoured thing’. Daniel’s and Úna’s work is also a many splendoured thing but also a many layered thing. It has multiple levels.
The title of the exhibition, Daydreams and The Pilgrim, and the titles of the individual works give us some clue. Dreams come from the subconscious, from many layers and levels of the subconscious and the pilgrim is on a journey, a journey through life or through art. Una’s paintings have wonderful titles, apt, cryptic, ironic, playful. I won’t go through them all but for instance what I say about Red Dress is true of all Úna’s painting though each one is different in itself and saying something different. Though the painting is called Red Dress, the red dress itself is not at the centre of the painting – there is another shape at the centre - and yet it is the red dress that first catches our eye. Úna does not employ such conventions as chiaroscuro or perspective to lead our eye into a painting. (Imagine, here’s a woman with a Master’s Degree in Arts Education who can’t get two lines to meet at a vanishing point!! What do they teach in Art College these days?!!)
No. Colour, shape and tone is what Úna is about and it is her manipulation of these and their juxtaposition within the frame that defines these paintings, gives them their meaning and makes each one different.
But these are not abstract shapes. We recognise the shapes as everyday objects;
close pegs or bicycles and kites in Free, a child’s toy horse or a drawing of a castle, the shape of the child itself as in Young Dream and, as always, her favourite shapes, the organic shapes of leaves or feathers or shoots bursting through the ground as in Dawn Dance or Sisters.
Starting with a black surface, layers of paint, shapes, colours and tones are built up to reveal multiple levels of meaning. Tied Up at a Meeting, a playful title. Layers of lies!!
( ‘Your wife is on the phone for you’……’Tell her I’m tied up at a meeting’) Sometimes she allows the black to come through softly beneath a shape almost like a drop shadow. The effect of this is to bring the painting towards us rather than the convention of leading us into the painting as perspective does. Some titles you may have to work out yourself. ‘Why did she call it that!?’ Precipice I and Precipice II, for instance.
Why is Precipice I called Precipice I, and Precipice II called Precipice II? Here’s a hint:
Precipice I was painted before Precipice II. So, if you are buying both these paintings, be sure you don’t get the tags mixed up on the way home!
The Pilgrim. The Pilgrim is on a journey. Through Art and through life.
The first word that comes to mind when one sees Daniel’s sculptures is Iconic.
Here we have a wonderful fusion of the spiritual, the sacred and the secular.
Behold Man. Note that it is not Behold The Man. Yes, it is a male figure and represents the figure of Christ but it is not just confined to the male of the species. It represents all man, all mankind. Look a little closer, at the detail. The hands are bound (or are they?) with the cord or girdle that monks wear around their habits. Are we bound by religion?
Does it limit our freedom? Look at the companion piece, Ecce Homo. The hands are bound again. But this time the cords are neat and almost look like a beautiful bracelet.
Is it that we are bound by our possessions? Tied to or by material things? There was a surprise for me in seeing two of the pieces. I know Daniel as a mild and gentle man. Yet two pieces display symbols of violence, But this should not be a surprise. Does violence not pervade and permeate our world? And should Art not reflect that? To the Sword. Is this in praise of the sword as we might say ‘To Daniel and Úna!’ Yet if we put the word ‘put’ before ‘To the Sword’ it becomes ‘Put to the Sword”, in other words put to death.
Mike stands in the full regalia of the contemporary soldier. Gun and grenades. He stands with the world at his feet. Is this how the world is conquered? But Art also works on our subconscious; layers are revealed. Mike brought up from my subconscious a newspaper article and accompanying photograph of an Irish soldier ready to leave for duty in some African state. The article was euphoric with the fact that the soldier was equipped with state of the art weaponry. (State of the art!!) The weapon he carried looked like something out of Terminator Six. And this was great! Nobody thought that this was sad!
That the world feels that it has to arm young men and, sometimes now, young women too with state of the art weaponry. Yes, Daniel’s Pilgrim is on some journey!
When the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, was asked for advice by a friend as to what road he should take the poet replied:
Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more,
wanderer, there is no road’
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
And upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road.
And this is what we are experiencing here at this exhibition. Daniel and Úna have taken us on this road. And it is a road that never will be trod again, This is a unique moment in time which shall not occur again. That is what I meant and what Rothko meant when he said that it takes 57 years or a lifetime to produce a work of art. This exhibition has taken two lifetimes.
Noel Ó Briain