Exhibition of Paintings
by Hugh McCormick
10th - 30th January 2003
Catalogue Notes by John Hogan
I travelled with Hugh once, to an exhibition of Manus Walsh's paintings at his studio in Ballyvaughan. On our way there I tried to provoke my companion. 'How was it,' I asked, 'that western art had resisted the degenerative process that has almost mummified Eastern art? How is it, that the influence of the traditionalist, which is so dominant in other fields like music, dancing, sport et al, is practically nil in the fields of literature, theatre and especially in the visual arts? How was it, that in Greece you could go into a factory and buy, at a very reasonable price, an ikon which will have been finished to near perfection? How was it that here, you have to travel down to places like Ballyvaughan and there purchase, at a price which you are totally incapable of valuing, a picture, which likely as not, will arouse similar feelings of incomprehension? Fortunately I was driving because Hugh fell asleep.
I had come to know Hugh in 1979 simply by becoming his next-door neighbour. Nice man with a nice family and by all accounts, a nice job. But then I discovered that he was an artist and so he became a little intriguing at first and then interesting. He was energetic, extremely talented and devoted to painting, but what I found fascinating about him was that he was so very conventional. He was polite, dressed well, had his hair cut and mowed the lawn. He would discuss house prices, mortgages, life assurance, pensions and all the other trappings of the respectable man but plainly he had another more personal commitment. He did not quite fit in. He lacked affected disdain, the phony angst, the mask of kindness and concern and the cavalieir attitude to insecurity with which most of us hide our desperate acquisiti- veness. Hugh wanted these things but as a means to an end and as any man who has acquired wealth could tell (but he won't) to gather money, one must love it for itself. Hugh wished desperately to become independent in order to work without distraction and for myself, I think this desire created an intolerable tension in his life. However, for a six month period, he did achieve something of the desired state when he was sponsored to work in New Zealand.
It is debatable whether Hugh's flight to the antipodes was good or bad. His health suffered there but he returned with a dazzling exhibition of landscape studies which seemed to be free of the brooding obsession with our Irish light which was a recurring theme in much of his work. He was primarily a landscape painter in so far as he used landscape, sky and above all, colour to convey his own internal vision but in the South island of New Zealand in particular, he was overwhelmed. For one who never concerned himself with topography his paintings displayed a rapture with the scenery and in the use of dramatic form he seemed to eschew some of his cherished technique as a colourist. But in a negative way they are still illustrative of Hugh's primary vision and the obvious joy in the paintings contain some of the exhileration of a child freed from school for the day.
I will always believe that there is an heroic quality to Hugh McCormick's painting. He saw the spectrum in its fragmented colours and endeavoured to reconstruct the light - not in a unified or prettified purity but in a true artistic attempt to bring some order to the changing heart. Like an incomplete metaphor his work suggests the chaos of feeling and the starving search for "something genuine" which keeps most of us restless and some of us demented.
In the last few years of his life Hugh's health deteriorated rapidly but he continued to paint. I know that he found solace from the actual painting as I sat for him on a few occasions while he pursued his studies in portraiture. At the last sitting I remember teasing him about the number of imitators he had acquired and that in years to come it would be difficult to identify the real thing except by reference to an expert such as myself. He said that at last he had heard a fate described that was surely worse than death. Well, he need not have worried. His work will always stand out and will be seen as one of our major influences particularly in his use of colour. I think perhaps that one of the reasons why the traditionalists have not gained control, is because artists like McCormick keep pushing the parameters of originality.
John Hogan - December 5th 2002.
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