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Kennys since 1940

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Crazy Jane

Exhibition of Works in Mixed Media
by Padraic Reaney
Galway Arts Centre

Exhibition Catalogue

Exhibition Notes by Desmond MacAvock

Over the years one of the pleasures of visiting group exhibitions in and around Galway has been coming face-to-face with the painting of Padraic Reaney. Amidst the facile Western views and tentative attempts at up-to-date Expressionism, his work has always stood apart, for not only was it untouched by these facilities, but it proclaimed a self-contained, complete integrity. And, intriguingly, the paintings made their own pictorial statement without reference to the landscape and light outside the gallery doors.

When I met the artist and visited his studio, which is actually set in the magical Galway landscape, I mentioned the absence of any feeling of this in his work and asked why he never seemed to use his wonderful surroundings. He replied that he would never think of painting it and in particular could never imagine himself ever setting out to paint a particular view or even effect of light...

It is here that his birthright is evidenced for he was born in Carraroe in the heart of the Western Gaeltacht and in spirit and in fact has never left this. So the landscape that has prompted and nurtured so much art is to him, not exotic, romantic, quaint or even more 'Irish' or any of the qualities that, over the years, attracted so many Irish artists to the West. It is Reaney's natural environment into which he was born and in which he has always lived: nothing very remarkable. And it is suddenly bourne in on one that the art brought out of the West has all been produced by those who have come there in search of these particular qualities; one hesitates to call them tourists, since many have settled and lived there for long periods; but their work has a whiff of souvenir; certainly it is not indigenous. In fact Padraic may well be thought of as the first Connemara painter, rather than as a painter of that area. However when landscape features do invade his painting, which as a figurative painter they must, and since these are his daily surroundings, it just becomes part of his iconography so that tree, rock and sky are unlocalised; just another recognisable shape; a reference.

But, it may be asked, surely it is not possible in such isolation, remoteness even, for a painter to construct a comprehensive oeuvre and particular one that pays so little attention to the local scene? Well the exhibition here belies that and very powerfully. Admittedly hitherto this could hardly have happened but now with the freedom and variety and indeed pervasiveness of visual information, the necessity that was so vital in previous ages to travel to gain any knowledge of the heritage of art has been adequately replaced. Even training itself has become free of the metropolis and the total effects of this transformation are already very obvious here in Ireland and will become more so. Certainly without these modem factors it would be difficult to see work of the range and scope of Reaney's being achieved. Actually he has, by preference, travelled very little, indeed very infrequently and reluctantly and when he does, it is usually to the same place, London, because it has a lot of galleries and above all is easy of access. Thus his work can draw upon the masters of the past as of the present; some of the preferred are obvious: Frands Bacon, Munch, Griinewald, for instance; others are less obvious but all are absorbed into his own personal idioms.

These are deployed over a range of images in a variety of media and to a number of purposes. He has, for instance, a lively interest in graphics, particularly noticeable recently in a series of quite complex monoprints. He delights in using and extending the craft but this delight is kept in its place and never allowed to become an end in itself, so that his prints are never just a display of craft but rather show how this has been exploited to contribute to the image and thereby become integrated into his expression and his total oeuvre, not just another description of this.

In fact it can even provide a means of access to his creative world demonstrating how this is in a continual state of becoming; reacting and extending itself as it feeds on each new challenge of subject or medium. His imagination runs free but it always resolves itself into a solid image. He is very clear in the realisation of his imaginative world: everything, however fantastical, even evanescent, becomes specific, exact. This inner world is rooted in his interests of which a fascination with birds is uppermost (when I visited there was, probably still is, a wounded merlin contentedly tethered in his livingroom) and also his reading. This can result in a series like the recent set of monoprints based on the Tain in which he has succeeded in evolving a fresh set of images for this much illustrated, even hackneyed, text. In these the shapes of the original plate and its textures have contributed to a realisation of the narrative, giving the incidents the emblematic quality of stone-carving. Another recent extension of his work has been the tapestries woven by V'Soske-Joyce which again show how successfully his imagery and its medium can fuse.

This variety of output shows very forcibly how sure he is in the realisation of his vision. Here his drawing: sensitive, but exact, contributes very considerably and in fact these, with their immediacy and display of skill have considerable charm, although, as I found, they are rather undervalued by their maker! Drawings, it seems, are the basis of his image-making; the solid foundation which clarifies and subtly expresses his creative intelligence. This is a very individual merging of the sensual, fantastical and, finally, the formal. His iconic forms are reverberant, enigmatic, replete with echoes, suggestions, reminiscences: now bird-related, then animalskeletal; all making and existing in their own world and all expressive of a personal, steadily developing statement of considerable scope of which, I would suggest, the present exhibition is but one of the early chapters, for he is now working with complete authority and individual purpose.

Desmond MacAvock