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Kennys since 1940

Maps & Prints

Silent Language

Exhibition of Bronze Sculptures and Drawings
by John Behan RHA

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Remarks made by Jean Kennedy-Smith at the opening of John Behan's Exhibition "Silent Language" in the Kenny Gallery on Friday January 26th, 1996

"Thank you Mr. Kenny for your kind introduction. I was delighted when John asked me to open this latest exhibition, "Silent Language". I'm just so happy to be here because John has become a dear friend during my stay in Ireland, and it is an honour to be asked to participate in yet another one of his many achievements.

From the beginning, John has demonstrated - again and again - his warmth, humanity and generosity of spirit. This summer, I asked John to design a bronze rose in honour of my mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, that I presented on her birthday to mothers of children with mental handicaps. Everyone who saw it was deeply moved by its singular beauty. John was able to capture my mother's gentle nature, her strong will, her zest for life, in one flawless piece of work.

John also sculpted a saxophone player for President Clinton, and presented it to him - on behalf of all of Ireland's artists - during a reception at my residence. The President was visibly struck by this thoughtful gift. Even Bill Clinton is overwhelmed by John Behan's genius. It seems that John Behan can do anything and everything as we see very clearly in this forceful and distinctive exhibition "Silent Language".

As John wrote recently in a letter to me: "The thrust of this exhibition is an amalgamation of some ideas that have floated around my creative drive for some time... I keep being pulled toward the same number of themes. I can only hope that the work will carry through the impulse that began the cycle," he wrote. "(That I will) universalize the intention; and communicate in the silent language of sculpture that form which is unique to itself."

John, you have succeeded. Through this exhibit, we better understand the themes that have inspired you over the years. On behalf of everyone here, I want to thank you, not only for your unfailing friendship, but also for the immense talent and wisdom that you have shared with us.

It is now my great pleasure to declare this exhibit, "Silent Language", open. Go raibh maith agaibh."

Jean Kennedy Smith
U.S. Ambassador to Ireland

The Exhibition

There are a number of themes in this exhibition:

The Bull. For many years the bull was almost John Behan's signature, as he produced cast pieces of extraordinary strength, solidity, energy, virility, menace. This show marks a return to that image with several sculptures of varying size, giving us all those characteristics.

"Literary" Pieces such as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Mad Sweeney and mythological pieces such as Leda and the Swan, Maeve and the Morrigan, and Cuchulann.

Fun Pieces such as the Whiskey Drinker and Digeridoo which are witty and perceptive.

Famine. There are several famine pieces which convey the awful horror of famine. These are not cliched images, but rather harrowing provocative sculptures which pierce one's consciousness, and show us, like no words can, the misery, the deprivation, the desperation of that period in Irish history.

The Drawings. Many of these are mixed media including metal rods. They are background, often being the genesis for finished pieces of sculpture, thus the whiskey drinker on the drawing has finished up in more solid form sitting on a plinth. This in no way devalues these drawings, they are superb works of art in their own right, but looking at them beside the sculptures affords us a unique opportunity to see an artists mind at work, and to see his ideas develop.

Famine Ship

After John Behan's Sculpture

Three black masts
Adrift on a hopeless horizon;
A picked and rotten hull
Coffins the wasted remains
Of those that escaped...

The wind keens
Through threadbare bodies -
Useless skeleton sails
That flail and cling
Wildly to each other
And to hope...

I want to
Cling to this tattered human flotsam
Will on this voyage
Of the doomed,
But I cannot avert my gaze
From three black masts
On a Golgotha of dreams...

© John Quinn
January 27th, 1996