Exhibition of Paintings
by Hugh McCormick
10th - 30th January 2003
Opening Speech by John Behan RHA
I am privileged to be asked by Tom Kenny to open this show that you see here tonight. I was a colleague of Hugh's for a good number of years, both as an artist and as a lecturer up in the R.T.C., and I am glad to see that there are a number of the colleagues of both Hugh and myself from that era still here, and still going strong - Geraldine Quinn, Andrew D'Arcy, Joe McColl and others I haven't seen yet, Padraig Reaney who was a student there, you know, all the people who should be here seem to be here, which is wonderful.
Now, as Tom Kenny has said, Hugh McCormick was a phenomenon who helped to bring about a significant change in the development of the visual arts in the west of Ireland. Not alone as a teacher, but also as an enthusiast who travelled up and down the coast. He held summer schools, he helped organise exhibitions in Mayo and in Galway and all over the place. He got through a phenomenal amount of work in his lifetime. As I say, I was privileged to be a part of that change which came about, in a small way. Along with the other teachers, Geraldine, Joe and others, and the art organisers, there has been a transformation in the arts from the time Hugh took over in 1976, or there abouts, until his death in 1999. Along side of that, there was an exacting demand made on Hugh, he also practiced the art of painting as well as the administrative duties that he had, and the fruits of his endeavours can be seen here tonight - as a painter of the first degree. It is here for our pleasure and for our gratification and for our information.
What makes the exhibition so vibrant is that tension between teaching and practise, some say you can't do both but I think that Hugh proves the opposite. Now, in New York and in the areas of fashion and high art it was thought, I think cynically, especially in New York where the critics used to say "Ideas, not emotions or feelings", again Hugh contradicts this in his work - because he was driven by ideas and driven by passion. Take the subject matter, as it appears all around us here tonight - and upstairs, it is a marvellous tribute to Hugh's integrity and to his energy as an artist. The subject matter was, and he went over it again and again - The Burren, Lough Corrib, The Docks (both in Belfast and in Galway), Connemara Bogland, Nude studies, Domestic Interiors, Portraiture, and for me the apotheosis of his life as a painter, his late and great paintings of New Zealand. This, I think proves without a shadow of a doubt, and it is evidenced here tonight of his mastery of landscape. Hugh was not afraid to use colour. He used primary colours tackled head-on, and it is a testimony to this fact that nothing in art is more powerful than red, yellow and blue. Allied to his commitment is his firm grasp of drawing and painterly technique, his concern for materials and the tools of his trade - canvas, paint and brushes - there you have the complete artist.
The basis of his art is firmly rooted in traditional virtues, drawing from the model, and an understanding of composition, colour and form - this has been the basis of all art, and unfortunately I think a lot of this has been forgotten in very recent times, and it is only coming back slowly into realisation that we have lost a great deal, in come colleges we would be all horrified to go in there and find that some students there don't even know what a colour wheel is, in other words how colour is arrived at. It is an unfortunate fact to be deplored. In his student days, I've seen some examples of Hugh's work, he was a very competent sculptor, so here was a human being who had all the arts, and all the craft as well at his finger tips for remember as Roueo said at one time when somebody asked his as he was a great craftsman in stained glass as well as in painting, he said, what would you prefer to be known as - a craftsman or an artist, he said I'd prefer to be known as a craftsman, so Hugh had all of these abilities as well as the art.
When an artist reaches maturity he cuts loose with paint, as Hugh did, and the effect is dramatic and powerful. I think of Hugh as being in line with Van Gogh and the German Expressionists - there is an attempt through the use of primary colours to engage our emotions about art and life at the deepest and most profound levels - not through the intellect alone but also through the senses, at this Hugh McCormick succeeds very convincingly. So here we bear witness to an artist whose life was cut short by grave illness, but whose art is a triumph and an example of an indominatible spirit. Hugh, though struck down by adversity in his last years, his art will live on and it will affect us all, and it will effect us to the good, in life and in art - that is a great tribute I think. There is the burden to bear for his family and for his friends alike in his passing - but his name will live on down through the ages, and through the golden years. In the words of Catullus "Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale", which means: "And forever brother, hail, and farewell".
I don't have anything much to add to that, except to say that amongst some of the paintings here on display are some of Hugh's masterpieces, and I would like to refer to the small corner of the staircase, in quiet corners you sometimes find very profound work, studies of nudes and landscape there, and they are very moving, and also you have in the New Zealand ones, which as I have said are the highpoint of Hugh's life (and it was a great thing that he ended on such a high note) the spatial relationships between the form and the outer limits of these paintings, this is a new departure. He was still creating in a very active way right up until his final days as a painter. There are paintings here like the huge Lough Corrib study, a very colourful piece, a piece that should be bought for a public collection whether here in Galway, which I think would be very appropriate or somewhere in Ireland, especially somewhere where Hugh was associated with. I have noted here, I have put down "must buy", and I think that they are still available; there is a huge number here but No. 2 and No.42 and No. 44 in particular and that very large one "Corrib Islands" and "New Zealand Forrest", these are very very important paintings I think, some of them are small and some of them are big but it doesn't make any difference to the quality of their rendering.
On behalf of the Kennys, on behalf of all the teachers who knew Hugh, and all of the people in the art world I think this is a great tribute and I hope that as many people as possible will see this exhibition. To the Kenny's in particular for assembling this exhibition through Maeve and the family I think it is a wonderful opportunity for all of us here and outside of here, for people to come to have this collection of work here.
With that I'll just say thank you very much for your attention - the exhibition is now open!
John Behan R.H.A. 10th January 2003
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