Exhibition of Paintings
by Gertrude Degenhardt
At the Villa Musica, Mainz, Germany
8th November 1998
Comments made by Tom Kenny at the Opening of Quartets
A Cháirde agus a dhaoine uaisle idir Gael agus Gearmánach, ba mhaith liom fíor chaoin fáilte a chur romhaibh ag an ócáid stairiúil ealaíona seo, taispeántas saothar nua le Gertrude Degenhardt. Is ábhar bhróid agus áthais dhom bheith anseo le sean cháirde, iad suíd i bhur measc, agus iad siúd ar na fallaí. A friend of mine once went to an opera and when I asked him what the performance was like, he said "Well, I will put it to you this way, when the tenor hit the high notes, there was not a dry tooth in the house". This exhibition on the other hand does not contain one shrill or strident note. Instead we are surrounded by symphonic poems. There is an old Irish proverb which says "briseann an duchas tré súile an chat" "Nature breaks through the eyes of the cat!"
Given Gertrude's family background and in particular her father's strong influence, it is no wonder that her great talents should find expression is musical motifs. The idea for many of these paintings began some twenty years ago with a series of images entitled "Von Tanten die Trinken und Tanzen" - "Of Aunts who sing and dance". What a wonderful series and what an evocative title - the name alone conjures up such enchanting images - aunts who sing and dance. Every family should have them.
These aunts subsequently gave birth to a new series of women - women in music. They broadly fell into two categories; normal women who played extraordinary and fantastical instruments, and unusual and unbelievably shaped women who play conventional instruments - they are acrobatic and contorted, they are often very well built, they are balletic and poetic, they play, they dance, they drink, they glow, they flow - they all make music! In a word, they are WILD.
Gertrude's men on the other hand were calm, quiet, laid back people. They occupied bar stools, drank pints, told stories, and solved the problems of the world in an unhurried way.
Then came a marriage of these quiet men with those wild women, and this union produced a new generation of Degenhardters - quadruplets or quartets made up of fiddlers, cellists, flautists, timpanists, vocalists. These new musicians are at once team players and soloists, virtuosos. They can sing and play at the same time. They are wild and often very sexy.
Some are concentrated and very dreamy, lost in their music, in ecstasy. There is an air of abandon about many of them.
They have, what we in the West of Ireland call NEAA! These quartets are melodious and tuneful, dulcet and mellow, mellifluous and euphonious, they are enchanting, ravishing, Orphean. They say that women and music should never be dated, but you could not date these groups - they are timeless, of no particular vintage, but I have no doubt they will live long in people's hearts, and in art histories yet to be written.
For artists, their creative work is really their spiritual home. In Gertrude's case, this world is a unique fertile imagination which produces wild talented foursomes and maestros who, in their turn, give us concertos, fantasias, nocturnes, minuets, mazurkas. There are no laments in this exhibition, no dirges, no requiems. Instead we're surrounded by grace notes and flourishes, by bravura and coloratura.
I think that painting is the most personal of art forms - we are literally invited to look at the world through the artist's eyes. These pictures allow us to look into Gertrude's world, but they also assault our acoustic organs - you can hear them as well. Listen to these musical images and let your imagination run loose. Try to guess what are these quartets playing - is it classical or traditional? Is it adagio, moderato or prestissimo? Because there is great variety here - there are crescendos, but there is also the fiddled whisper music of gentle strings.
At a Degenhardt exhibition in Galway it is fun to watch visitors trying to physically imitate the musicians on the wall, to participate with these painted performers. I invite you to do the same, and I guarantee you a lot of fun in doing so. Ask yourself - what is the tempo these quartets are playing to, what is the rhythm? Are we hearing sharps or flats, crotchets or quavers? At a Degenhardt show we truly are an audience, we hear and see the musicians at the same time.
They dazzle and glow, sparkle and scintillate, they are a source of light in themselves - they would warm up any room. There is an old Irish proverb which says "Maireann croí eadrom i bhfhad" - a light heart lives for a long time. These light-hearted musicians all around us will live in our memories for a very long time. They are memorable.
Look at "Zirzensisch III" - number 44. This lady is at once a pianist, an organist, timpanist, trumpeter and dancer. Look at the "Alternative Academy" - far more preferable than any official Academy. "Love Me Tender/Love Me True" is one of the most joyful and pleasurable pairs I have ever seen. See the intensity in "Gevatter Schwell".
We had an important review of a Degenhardt exhibition in Galway once when three famous traditional musicians toured the show with a radio microphone. They had great fun describing the images, but what impressed them most of all was Gertrude's understanding of musical instruments and how they were handled. No matter how acrobatic or contorted the musician, the instrument was always held sensitively and correctly. Many of the recitals we see in these paintings take place in the open air.
This may seem strange until you realise that the music and the performers are part of, are emerging out of the very landscape. "Sky Road" is a perfect example of a holy trinity of music, of players, and of the soil from which they have come.
Whether they are inside or outside, these instrumentalists are all 'fanatico per la musica'. They represent a unique personal and irreverent statement.
Gertrude herself has many of the characteristics I have mentioned. She is blessed with a wonderful perception. She is no face painter or recorder; rather she gets in under the skin of these musicians, into their soul. She has a wonderful sense of humour, which is evident all around us. Most important of all she has that unique imagination which, combined with her flowing and confident brush strokes, her brilliant colour, her passion and flair, produces for us masterpieces like we see today.
She also has Martin, her devoted husband who makes all that space which enables her creative impulses to run riot, and thus enrich our lives. In Ireland, we believe that the most fun you can have with your clothes on is to buy a painting that you really like - so enjoy yourselves here today. At an exhibition opening once, in Spiddal, I remarked to a man beside me how wonderful it was that artists had different vision, different ideas, different taste. He said "It's a bloody good job, sure if they all had the same taste, they would all be running after my wife!" We cannot all be running after Martin's wife, but we can run after her images. I recommend you do.
Tá failte is fichead romhaimh ar fad anseo anocht go dtí an ocáid tábhachtach seo, an chead thaipeantas i mBaile Atha Cliath le Gertrude Degenhardt. Ba mhaith liom fáilte ar leith a chuir roimh mhuinntir an Spidéil - an cheanntar i gConamara ina bhfanann Gertrude.
You are all most welcome here this evening to this important occasion, Gertrude Degenhardt's first exhibition in Dublin. I would like to especially welcome those people from the Spiddal area, that part of Conamara so beloved of Gertrude.
A painter friend of mine Walter Verling from Limerick went to Carraroe in Conamara many years ago. He fell in love with the area, and was fortunate to meet with Charles Lamb, the first artist who ever went to Conamara and stayed. Lamb taught him a great deal and indeed, you can still see his influence in Walter's paintings today. Now there was a location in Carraroe that intrigued Walter - he always wanted to paint this particular place. For a number of reasons, he never managed to do so. Then one morning, he woke up in his cottage and decided that conditions were right. "Today's the day". So he put all the gear in his car and drove to the spot, took out his easel and canvas, his brushes and stool. As he sat there contemplating the blank canvas and the wonderful scene in front of him, he suddenly became aware of a presence behind him. He turned around to find an elderly local watching him. He bade him the time of day, and then this elderly man said: "Do you mind me asking you, what is it that you are doing there?"
"I am going to paint this wonderful scene in front of me", said Walter, "It has been haunting me for years, and to tell you the truth, I just have to do it".
"Arrah you don't really." said the old man. "You see, Mr. Charles Lamb has it painted already".
Gertrude Degenhardt is another artist who went to Conamara, and fell in love with it. She comes back at every opportunity spending a couple of months every year there. You could never say, however, that her Conamara had been painted already. She does not paint the landscape, rather the people who inhabit that landscape, and particularly its women - Mná Conamara, (The Women of Conamara), sometimes Mná na hÉireann, ( The Women of Ireland) or Mná an Domhain, (Women of the World).