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Kennys since 1940

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Paintings and Sculpture

Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture
by Selma McCormack
May 1st - May 21st 1998

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Opening Speech by Fred Johnston

Let me begin by saying how delighted I was to be asked to open this exhibition of new paintings and sculpture by Selma McCormack. Selma and I haven't met for, well, quite a number of years; we worked together in Dublin in the days of a magazine some of you may remember, "This Week", edited by Joseph O'Malley. So it was particular pleasure not merely to open an exhibition of hers but to meet again and chat after all that time.

Ireland was, as we all know a very different place then. At the beginning of the seventies it was a time before Arts Councils, as I recall, and before a sort of arts civil service; artists (writers, painters, musicians, sculptors) worked at their task little aware indeed that what they were doing would become the subject of such media attention and cultural debate in the years to come.

I remember the innocence of writing poetry, for example, in those days: one whispered back then that one wrote poetry, now one boasts about it. No doubt it's the same with the other arts; if someone said he or she was a painter you looked the other way nowadays you get yourself photographed with him. I don't altogether believe that this change has come about because we have suddenly grown more to appreciate the beauty and aesthetic appeal of our artists and writers. Be that as it may, I tend to believe that many things in art have lost their integrity with the coming of media attention and what may be termed glittering prizes.

I think that very often when we spoke of the Irish arts world (including the literary world) we talk of that which we recognise chiefly through the media and what the media tells us. Perhaps this is as good a point as any to wonder when Galway is going to consider building itself a municipal art gallery.

I am very pleased, therefore, to be confronted in Selma's work with a reminder in some way of other days. Selma's work retains integrity and senses of creative urgency, which is rare enough in sculpture and painting; there is great energy in this work, a dramatic context and a sense of things distilled from drama and action. I see a great deal of painting and sculpture in my work as a reviewer of new art in the West and am often struck by the degree to which some accomplished artists are confined rather than liberated by their medium and chosen themes. By contrast here, Selma's dancers seem impatient to dance off their plinth; her African figure with Arms Raised both invites and spins away from us. Her sculpture, "Rearing Horse", similarly is impatient with unleashed energy. Above all else, there is a variety and sense of imaginative daring in these paintings and sculptures; they do not centre around one single theme, because the notion of energy and experience is the theme, and these concepts have no discernible centre. The artist should, of course, take everything and anything as material for of the elevation with which artistic creation may endow them.

Poetry is my field, for the most part. Most of us know the origin of the term in the Greek, poiesis, meaning to make or produce. It has become fashionable to take of "making" a poem, which is clever nonsense; one composes a poem, as one would song. The French philosopher, Jean-Louis Vieillard-Baron, who remarks that; "Poiesis is the complex unfolding of a man who contains a world within himself, objectifies it and recognises himself in it before the eyes of men". In this sense, then, the sculptures around us are a form of materialised poetry as anything written the paintings aptly complimentary to them. I am not the first writer to be envious of the immediacy and physical presence of painting and sculpture. If a work of art can make us envious that we have not been its creator, then it ordained and, in general, the world of manufactured images in which so many of us spend our days. For Selma this is a welcome return to her native city, a city which has changed as much for her as it has, indeed for its residents. I would like to thank Tom Kenny for asking me to open the exhibition, and I do so gratefully Thank You.

Selma Welcome Home.


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