British and Irish art 1945–51
By Adrian Clark
Hogarth Arts ISBN 978 0 9554063 4 8

This is an expensively produced and very beautiful academic book looking at the position of British and Irish artists in that period after the Second World War and up to the Great Exhibition of 1951.

It is a comprehensive analysis of regional and metropolitan British and Irish art of the period, but when we look at the artists whose careers and floreats are analysed in this book, significantly, it is those on the “London Scene” (big fish in a big pool) which come to the fore; artists such as Augustus John, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland, Lucien Freud. The big fish in “littler pools”; from Scotland principally Colquhoun and MacBryde; in Belfast, John Luke, Gerard Dillon, Colin Middleton, George Campbell and Arthur Armstrong; in Dublin, centrally, Jack Yeats, the only “outside London” figure to enjoy international reputation.

Of course all the artists mentioned drifted in and out of the London of the day or lived there; the boozing scene must have been terrific with poets George Barker, Dylan Thomas, Louis MacNeice down for the first knockings or afternoon pint ...but Clark makes the more serious and very interesting point that those Irish artists (principally Gerard Dillon and Louis le Brocquy) living away from “the oul country” painted romantically about an Ireland left behind, whilst their counterparts in Ireland, painted in a French or Italian way often about Irish subjects. Poets in my time (with the exception of Seamus Heaney) have done very much the same.

The book is a thrilling read as Clark explains very deliberately, how the power “to make an artist famous” was won (more often by birth and/or Oxbridge) and then that power exercised to establish reputations. It was (and is) a very expensive and fabulous gamble.

Nor is poetry free of what could be called now, “The Satchi Syndrome,” A poet published by Faber and Faber will have more chance of reviews and entry into anthologies than one from a smaller publisher.

But let’s face it, no collection of poems by a living poet will ever attract a bidding war advancing into millions - but as Robert Graves said,

“There may be no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money.”

Not so with art.

Although having said that, the art work on some bank notes – and especially in Ireland – is art and often reminiscent of the Book of Kells, or am I being just too fanciful?



Margot Quinn at the Maverik Gallery Shoreditch 25 to 26 March 2010

The invitation said cocktails at six and after a couple of bilberry vodkas my eyes opened wide to a really stunning exhibition of parochial Irish art which (like the poems of Patrick Kavanagh) instantly claimed the universal. The stunning centrepiece was a patchwork quilt of 360 tiny (six inches square) paintings (oil on canvas) all set together to record the domestic and the ordinary; pictures of little boxes, a husband’s hat, a Saxo salt packet from the fifties, an old tea-tin – but all building up to an artist’s recognition of ordinary things. I asked the artist if this was a celebration of everyday objects; she paused and then said, “just an acknowledgement”.

Along the minimalist walls of the gallery, there were little grottos containing papier mache sculptures with bizarre names like Robot Man, Sock Boy, Spooky Lady; all bizarre but with an under-breath of perhaps the sinister or the sad; a civilization weeping.

A truly wonderful exhibition by one of Ireland’s more contemplative, contemporary artists.



Handbags, Gadgets And Outfits …

… is the intriguing title of a new art exhibition at the Tricycle Theatre Kilburn.

On further investigation there is a serious and deeply moving dimension to this: Irish artist Margot Quinn has put this exhibition together to celebrate the life of her mother; grainily painted gadgets which were part of everyday life, actual handbags, actual outfits on display, assemblages, all belonged to her mother.

Margot says, “When someone dies, their possessions and ordinary objects associated with them acquire a special significance.”

So this exhibition begins the process – in an artist’s hands – of moving away from the personal to the universal.

“Enough time has passed,” the artist further says, “to accept the loss and celebrate the good times.”

Tricycle Gallery
269 Kilburn High Rd NW6
Mon–Sat 10.30am-10.30pm; Sundays 3.30pm–9.00pm.
Until Sat 4th Nov 2000.