Category Archives: Art

Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) – it’s molificent!

 

MoLI - Newman House

MoLI – Newman House

MoLI is the latest addition to Dublin’s literary map, and a splendid place it is too. It is situated in Newman House (86, St Stephen’s Green), a wonderful building that has been splendidly revamped, and there are exhibits on different floors. This reimaging of the grand, old house’s purpose has been, no doubt, well considered, and deftly achieved.
The museum is a collaboration between University College Dublin (UCD) and the National Library of Ireland (NLI) with the latter supplying many of the exhibits including, most famously, the first copy of James Joyce’s greatest work Ulysses. Joyce signed the first hundred copies (of the original one thousand print run) and the first one he gave to Harriet Shaw -Weaver, the English political activist and magazine editor (The Egoist), who had supported the writer financially for many years.

Some of our literary greats

Some of our literary greats

Early in the exhibition homage is paid to the multitude of Irish writers whose works have entertained, provoked and, no doubt, encouraged others to put pen to paper. For a small island our contribution to world literature is impressive, and undeniable when you see the list of famous names.

A Riverrun of Language shows, through various media, the development and history of Irish writers. Then the Dear Dirty Dublin exhibition (Bayeaux Tapestry-like), which was proving very popular, takes you on a tour of Joyce’s life and writing. The city model, with streets and buildings highlighting scenes from his books, was of particular interest and very informative. It shows Dublin, the muse that he loved but had to leave, when he observed (in An Encounter, Dubliners) ‘I wanted real adventure to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.’

Dear Dirty Dublin

Dear Dirty Dublin

Upstairs there are items from the lives of George Bernard Shaw and WB Yeats, with the telegram informing the poet of his Nobel Prize award. With the extensive archives of both UCD and, particularly, NLI to draw from, exhibitions will change to showcase the collections and the works of Irish writers. So there will be plenty to see for years to come, and of that you can be certain!

Even the statue has a book!

Even the statue has a book!

The garden at the back of the museum is easy on the eye, and an oasis of calm in the heart of the city. With access directly from the restaurant I can see it being a popular place when the weather permits.

The building itself is a treat and dates from the early 1730s. It was once owned by William ‘Buck’ Whaley, a Member of Parliament, a renowned bon vivant and gambler. It was bought in 1854 for the Catholic University of Dublin (now UCD), and is where Joyce and many other famous Irish writers like Flann O’Brien, Maeve Binchy and Mary Lavin attended.
There is much to see and enjoy here, and I’ll finish with a comment that I overheard as I was looking at one of Joyce’s much-corrected notebooks.
First Voice: So,  what do you think?
Second Voice: Well, if you must know, I’m suitably…mollified.’
I had to smile, and I knew that Joyce would be happy that the Dublin wit he so appreciated was alive and well. Oh yes, it’s a wordy place!

A place for quiet reflection

A place for quiet reflection

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, flann o'brien, Ireland, James Joyce, poetry

Almost Home

 

Point of departure

Point of departure

As I neared Holyhead the weather improved. Soft, white clouds that had been travelling with me for the previous couple of hours silently disappeared, leaving a brilliant, blue sky. The sunlight reflected off the chrome of oncoming traffic making me squint and smile at the same time. It was a glorious day and a great start to my summer holidays.

Driving down to the sea the reception on the car radio was sporadic, and picking up RTE was a real hit and miss affair. Not having listened in since Christmas I was eagerly looking forward to it, when Larry Gogan’s dulcet tones suddenly filled the car. As I drove slowly around a steep bend he said ‘And now Mary, what is a gelding?’ There was a momentary pause as the Just a Minute Quiz contestant gathered herself, and answered. ‘It’s a horse with no pe..’ she answered, as the radio reception disappeared into a haze of loud, electronic crackling. I had to grin, and thought ‘Yes, almost home’.

Holyhead, never the most attractive of towns, was looking fine, bathed as it was in the strong sunshine. Flowerpots overflowed with blooming plants and freshly painted railings stood out against grey walls. Lines of paintings hung from the railings where artists and enquiring tourists chatted and haggled over prices.
The ‘art fair’ was a pretty addition to the town’s image and, although there were not as much on show as could be seen on a Sunday morning at Merrion Square, it was busy and drawing keen attention.
The town was alive, with tourists dressed in brightly coloured clothes, strolling easily.
There was a fair amount of sunburnt skin on view, indicating the glorious weather that had been hanging around North Wales for the last few days. There had been no such sunshine in smoky, old London which had, as usual, managed to act like a sweat box making travel on the underground unpleasant, while the sun fought hopelessly to escape from behind a thick covering of greyness. No sunburn there, just frayed nerves and short tempers.
I drove slowly towards the docks, passing the Cead Mile Failte pub on my left, outside of which a small crowd of happy revellers were enjoying a ‘last drink’ before boarding the ferry. One man was playing a guitar, another was tooting on a tin whistle, while the others around the table sang, and cheered when I honked my horn. ‘Nice one,’ I heard somebody shout in a familiar accent, as I slowed and waved over.

Ferry Time

Ferry Time

A couple of hundred yards further on I joined the end of a long, crawling queue that was working its way towards the magnificent ferry that awaited. ‘Here we go,’ I thought and rolled the window down.
Living in North London I hadn’t been to the coast in months, and when I closed my eyes I soon imagined walking on the quiet expanse of the strand at Brittas Bay where the fresh air could purge even the most blocked and needy spirit.
A friend at home had rented a small house there for a month and he had invited me to stay over for a few days. I was looking forward to spending some time there as it would be a perfect way of relaxing and unwinding from the stress of living in crowded London. Also, taking a walk on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire was always therapeutic and an absolute must for all returnees. I would do that with Mum and Aunt Liz, that would be fun and, of course, there were always calorie-laden ice creams to consume.

 

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire

East Pier, Dun Laoghaire

This was going to be my first visit home on holidays since my dad had passed away, and I felt that it was going to painful. He had been one of three fatalities when, out of the blue, a drunk driver crashed his skidding car into a bus shelter. It happened so quickly that there was no chance for any of the victims, who were all killed immediately. It was a tiny crumb of comfort that he had not suffered, but beyond that it meant little to any family members. Anyway, my mother, although hurt beyond words managed, as I knew she would, and when her sister, Liz, moved back to Dublin to be with my mother and I could hear the improvement in her voice when we spoke on the telephone.
This was great news, and now I was looking to seeing both her and Aunt Liz, whose farm in Roscommon I had often visited on school holidays. Playing there was always a novelty and my young imagination was let loose as I chased Indians, rounded up stray cattle and built campfires where I sat at the end of a tough day with John and Peter, two local boys who had joined my crew as we drove herds of cattle to the great, dusty market in Abilene. They were wonderful days and thinking about them brought a smile.
I was lost in daydreaming about another roundup when the sharp blast of the following car’s horn made me sit up and hurriedly join the now slow moving line of cars.

The new ferry seemed a mile high and was truly impressive. I’d heard about it from friends who had been on it recently, but I was taken aback when I was up close. The thought occurred that Noah would have got some serious amount of animals on board if he’d had the chance, and boy where would we be now. Interesting….and already I liked the idea of travelling on this new star of the sea. The ferry swallowed the seemingly endless amount of cars and trucks like a giant, gorging whale as I parked and made my way upstairs and joined the growing crowd of travellers.
The smell of fresh paint and newness was strong and the main area was as hectic and noisy as Moore Street on Christmas Eve. The place was bright and airy, the floors spotless, unlike those on many of the old ferries when I first travelled across the Irish Sea.
Children screamed at each other and their parents, as they dashed about like headless chickens, dodging baggage and jumping on seats. At least they had seats to sit on I thought, as I tried to find a place that was relatively quiet.
I travelled the length of the ferry and marvelled at the amount of people aboard, and the shops and restaurants that were doing business. I passed a cinema that was showing the latest summer blockbuster, and I thought that maybe I’ll come back later and watch it. Must get a seat, I told myself again, and spotted one against a far wall. I flopped down heavily, put my head back and sighed in relief. ‘Almost there,’ I said quietly and closed my eyes.
I drifted off to the rhythm of the ferry and seemed to have dozed for ages before a familiar voice made me open my eyes.
‘Howya, Chris,’ said a grinning Paul Kavanagh, a friend who I used to play football with in Dublin. I had almost slipped off the seat and was only stopped from hitting the floor by my knee wedging itself against my neighbour’s haversack. I straightened up and shook hands while he crouched down and started to chatter at a mile a minute as only Paul could. ‘Knackered, eh?’
‘You’re not joking,’ I replied, rubbing my eyes before running my fingers through my hair in the faint hope of waking up. I yawned, loudly. ‘No offence, Paul, I just needed 40 winks. You know yourself’.
‘More like 140,’ he laughed, as did the others sitting around me.
‘Jeez, I thought he was dead,’ sniggered a big bloke as he elbowed his friend. ‘Hey, your man’s actually alive,’ he added, sending his friend in to a fit of giggles.
‘Yeah, and at least he’s stopped bloody snoring,’ chirped somebody else as Paul suggested a pint.
‘It’s a miracle,’ the big bloke added, as he cracked open a can and passed it to his friend.

Sail on....

Sail on….

The bar was packed and difficult to stand at as the ferry moved up and down in the uneven sea. We also moved from side to side while people staggered about with great difficulty. The only person making easy progress was a guy who was obviously drunk and unconcerned with the staccato movement of the ferry. He moved freely while those around him clung onto banisters and tables in a desperate effort to remain upright.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and here in the middle of the Irish Sea, I was witnessing one, as homo drunkus moved with ease in a straight line from his seat to the toilets. It was a stunning insight, and made me think of astronauts careening about on the space station – and they were sober!
‘Welcome home…nearly,’ said Paul, handing me a pint. ‘And here’s to both of us having a good time.’
‘Absolutely…and it’s really good to see you, Kav. Slainte,’ I said, and we hooked our elbows onto the bar and hung on. Drinking on a rolling ferry was not for the faint hearted, and we had to try and anticipate each rise and fall of the ferry and before taking a sip. It led to some funny moments, but it did the trick as it took our minds off the rest of journey that passed quickly.
We discussed holidays and Dublin’s chances in the All-Ireland championship before swapping phone numbers. Without realising it we found out about mutual friends back in London, and we arranged to meet up for a few less buoyant beers in the Princess Louise pub in Holborn, a pub we both knew and which was close to where we worked. Things were looking good, and we were now only 30 minutes from home.

I went out on deck and the stiff breeze was invigorating. The loud cawing of dozens of seagulls overhead made me look up as they swooped and played in the clear air. They looked and sounded like they were having fun, maybe even welcoming me home, and I hoped that some of their excitement would be coming my way.
As we approached the coast the waves lessened, and the spray was refreshing after the stuffy atmosphere of the bar.
A few lungfuls of fresh air made me feel light-headed, but it was a million times better than being just another poor, sweaty commuter on the hot and fetid underground.
I made my way to the front of the ferry, gripped the railings and enjoyed its rise and fall. ‘Dublin, you’re looking good,’ I said into the breeze, where only the seagulls heard my words. The twin towers at the Poolbeg Power Station, with their red and white painted hoops, were getting bigger and clearer with every forward movement of the ferry. To the left, a fleet of small yachts off Dun Laoghaire harbour, their sails flickering in the sunshine, were enjoying a perfect day for racing. Beyond the city I could see the Dublin Mountains, their outline a jagged edge against the blue canvas of the western sky.
I stayed where I was for a few minutes, smiling as the salty air tugged at my shirt and tickled my nose. Now, only the sound of a flapping flag intruded, and I closed my eyes in blissful anticipation and said once more ‘Yes, almost home.’

Dublin's famous Twin Towers

Dublin’s famous Twin Towers

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, Humour, London

Time Please…

 

Same again...

Same again?

‘Another one bites the dust,’ well not just yet, but it’s coming. The sad news is that The Bernard Shaw, a pub that I often visited, will soon be closing its doors for the last time (sometime in October, I believe). It is a cause for regret by patrons, and those who see its demise as the loosening of another thread of the city’s fabric. As one patron said ‘It’s like the heart’s been ripped out of the neighbourhood,’ and it’s easy to see why.

Situated on Lower Richmond Street, a stone’s throw from Shaw’s birthplace at 33 Synge Street, the pub is more than just an enjoyable hostelry serving great pints and good food. Over the years it has become an integral part of the community, with its Eatyard (a very popular place to sample food from many countries), music shows and support for local events; its closure will undoubtedly be a body blow felt by many. As Shaw might have said: ‘Life contains but two tragedies. One is not to get your heart’s desire, the other is the closure of a favourite pub.’  I’ll drink to that.

A pub...and much more besides

A pub…and much more besides

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, History

Picture Perfect

Floating colours

Floating colours

I have always loved the way light made it come to life. Bright sunshine spilled in through the dining-room window before getting under the surface and breathing life into my favourite painting. The tropical yellow and red blobs shimmered in a sea of blue, as black dots and squiggles seemed to move between them. The blobs crept towards the edges of the canvas, and I loved all the swirling, crazy shapes that drew my attention. It was as though I was looking at a dream, and I smiled at the creative mind that created this wonderful piece. The master of so many similarly, brilliant works was none other than Joan Miro, a man known for his vibrant imagery and captivating playfulness. An original, certainly!

‘It’s wonderful David, really wonderful,’ said Laura excitedly. She was standing a few feet from the canvas and gazing with studied interest at Miro’s handiwork. She took a sip of wine and pursed her lips as her eyes slowly moved across the painting. Her head moved from side to side taking in the scene, and a slight grin broke from the edges of her mouth. I liked watching the bewitching influence this painting cast on those who stood before it – it never failed. As I looked on it was as if Laura was having a conversation with it, something I understood very well, for I, too, had often been in a similar trance. It was not the first time that somebody had been so impressed, but the fact that Laura was an art teacher was doubly pleasing. She turned to me and smiled, nodding her head in a knowing fashion. ‘Wonderful.’
‘Thanks,’ I replied and looked over at the shimmering colours.
‘Pity it’s not an original,’ she said, with a little giggle. ‘Where did you get it anyway?’
‘Well that’s a long story,’ I said ‘and one that I’ll tell you again when I’ve more time.’ I headed for the kitchen. ‘Right now I have to put food on the barbeque for all those folks in the garden, so you’ll have to excuse me. OK?’
Laura nodded and her gaze returned to the painting that was now bathed in the shifting rays of the afternoon sunbeams that danced between the swaying leaves of the palm tree on the patio.

La Seu, medieval cathedral

La Seu, medieval cathedral

A few weeks later Laura phoned and asked if she could come over. Her voice held a note of excitement.
‘Sure,’ I said ‘you must have known that I’ve just opened a bottle of wine!’
She laughed. ‘Brilliant, we’ll be there in ten minutes. Bye.’ She put the phone down immediately and I was left wondering. We, I thought, who is this other person? But then that was Laura’s style, always meeting people and introducing them like long lost friends. All good fun, really. And anyway, I knew she wanted to see the painting again, and she wouldn’t be disappointed, especially as it lay highlighted in golden light.
‘Salut, Joan,’ I joked and raised my glass to the Spanish painter before stepping out onto the patio.

When Laura arrived she was accompanied by a man, who she introduced as Pablo Morientes from Majorca. He was giving a summer course in her art school and he had a lifelong interest in the work of his fellow Spaniard. His hair was jet black and he had a bushy moustache above a mouth that suggested he was a happy sort. A firm and friendly handshake was reflected in his intelligent, blue eyes. ‘Hola’, he said shaking my hand.
‘Hola, como estas?’ I answered.
He grinned. ‘You speak Spanish?
‘A little,’ I offered. ‘But only if you speak slowly.’
‘Bueno. But I prefer to speak English – practise OK?’
‘Of course,’ I said and showed both of them into the dining room before I went to get two wine glasses.
I could hear them talking as I rinsed and dried the glasses and wondered just what Pablo might have to say about my Miro. The little painting that measured 20”X18” was the centre of attention just as it was the day I came upon it four, or was it five, years ago?

Port D'Andratx

Port D’Andratx

I was on holiday in Majorca with the explicit intention of improving my Spanish and staying at my sister’s villa in Port D’Andratx. I went to see Frederic Chopin’s winter hideaway in Valldemossa with its magnificent view of the blue expanse of the Bay of Palma where La Seu, the magnificent cathedral, dominated. Later, I visited a number of galleries, of which, thankfully, Palma has plenty. The Museum of Contemporary Spanish Art has a collection of great works by Picasso, Dali and many other local artists. It also houses a few by Joan Miro, and I was delighted to see these works in a Spanish environment. Seeing them here, in their own place, was a special treat.
While strolling through the narrow streets near to the Plaza Major I met my Miro. I had been browsing aimlessly through the colourful and noisy streets, taking in the local artists and musicians when, for no particular reason, I stepped into a small shop and saw the painting. It was lying against a wall at the back of the shop and covered in a layer of blue dust. I knelt down and drew my finger across the top of the frame and immediately fell in love with the bright colours. I moved back a little to get a better view and knew exactly the wall in my house that could do with something like that hanging on it.
‘You like, senor? asked a voice from on high.
I was taken aback and stood up.
The owner of the voice was a large, middle-aged woman wearing plenty of gold bracelets and rings. She was very attractive and her brown eyes seemed to know exactly what I was thinking.
‘Yes,’ I managed to say ‘it’s…..it’s wonderful!’
She nodded like the practiced trader she was. ‘€200.’ She smiled and took a step back, giving me time and space to consider her offer.
I made a face. ‘It’s nice, but €200 is a …..’
Neither of us said anything for what seemed like the longest time. ‘OK, give me €175 and it’s yours.’ She smiled like a seductive siren.
I grinned and opened my wallet where €160 waited. ‘That’s all I have,’ showing the empty leather folder. I waited.
She rubbed the notes deliciously and eyed me closely, and smiled. ‘Because I like you,’ she said and the deal was done. I followed her to the counter where she put the dusty painting into a large plastic bag and said ‘Adios’ before giving a new customer her full attention.
I walked to the Plaza Major, had a few cold beers and wondered at what had just happened. What was it called? Doing one thing and suddenly finding yourself involved in something else? Then I remembered. Serendipity, that was it. What a wonderful name for spending an aimless afternoon before buying a lovely painting, which only a few hours earlier I had no thought of doing!

Perspective on Palma

Perspective on Palma

Laura and Pablo were standing in front of the painting when I entered the room and poured the wine. ‘Rioja,’ I said and we clinked glasses.
‘Gracias,’ said Pablo.
‘You like,’ I asked.
He took a sip and nodded approval. I then glanced at the painting and Laura’s eyes widened.
Pablo took another sip before replying.
I waited. What for, I had no idea, but just the element of unknowing was exciting.
Pablo left his glass down, put his hands together and then drew one across his mouth.
I sipped some more.
‘It’s wonderful, David. Really wonderful.’ He paused. ‘Can you tell me where you bought it?’ He added quickly ‘If that is not too, how you say, nosey?
Two sets of interested eyes never moved from me as I told them the story of my find in Palma.
Both shook their heads and I could see that Pablo was very interested. ‘Do you know much about Miro’s work?’ he asked, a serious tone to his question.
‘I know that he was involved with the Surrealists, and that he lived in Paris for a number of years.’ I put my glass down. ‘He also worked in ceramics and moved to Majorca where he died on Christmas Day 1983.’
‘Bueno,’ said Pablo. ‘Like other great artists he had many different phases in his career, one of which was the painting of his Constellation series. These are similar in style to your painting and there are only 23 of them, recorded, that is.’ He paused for effect, I supposed, and the small room was silent.
Laura took a sip and licked her lips in anticipation.
‘There has always been a rumour that Miro did another painting in the series, No 24, but it has always been just that…..….a rumour.’ He turned to look at the painting. ‘But now I’m not so sure.’
Laura raised an excited eyebrow. ‘What do you mean, Pablo?’
‘Having studied Miro’s work for over twenty years now, I think,’ he looked at both of us ‘that this may be his missing work. This may indeed be Constellation No 24.’
I felt a shiver crawl up my spine. My mouth was dry and I looked wide-eyed at Pablo who was now grinning. Mischievous or what, I thought, and stepped closer to the painting as my heart beat a little quicker.
‘You’re joking,’ was all that I could offer.
‘I think not,’ said Pablo slipping into his professional artist’s mode. ‘The brushwork I recognise and the images used are similar to those in the other Constellation paintings. The canvas and framing look original, so I think that it might be Miro’s missing masterpiece.’ He let that sink in and I felt my jaw drop at the thought of having an original Miro hanging in my house. I took a big sip of wine and looked at Laura who was equally dumbfounded. More serendipity, I thought, and went to the kitchen and got another bottle.
Later, we sat out on the patio discussing the merits of the painting and Pablo grew more convinced as the evening wore on. He wanted to take photographs of it and discuss ‘the matter’ with his colleagues in Spain and asked if that was alright with me. I couldn’t object and chatted with Laura while Pablo took a number of Polaroids of No. 24.
‘It’s so exciting, David,’ chirped Laura the excitement in her voice now loud and obvious. ‘What will you do?’
‘You mean if it’s real?’ I replied, trying to calm my growing excitement.
‘Of course,’ said Laura.
I put my glass down and looked up at the setting sun, now a large, red sinking ball. I shook my head a few times. ‘I don’t know, I have no idea.’ Then I turned to Laura and winked. ‘But it could be fun!’
Laura smiled her largest smile and both of us laughed out loud.
When the wine was finished Laura and Pablo left and I was on my own with the thought, however fanciful, that only a few feet away Miro’s Constellation No 24 was looking down on me. Wow, I thought, and closed my eyes as the breeze rustled the leaves on the palm tree.

Shapes of Things to Some

Shapes of Things to Some

About a month later I received a phone call from Pablo. He said that he had shown the Polaroids to his experts he knew who were intrigued with ‘his find.’ It may indeed be the missing Miro but that they needed to see it, ‘in the flesh’ as it were. ‘Can you bring it to Palma?’
I was stunned. ‘Sure,’ I replied. ‘I can’t get over for a fortnight,’ I added ‘would that be okay?’
‘Fine, that would be fine,’ Pablo replied ‘and it will give us more time to check things out.’
‘Right then, I’ll be in touch before I travel. Okay?’
‘Adios, David.’
‘Adios, and what is Palma like now?’ I asked a definite edge of excitement in my voice.
‘Fantastico!’ he said his voice rising, before clicking off.

Pablo and one of his colleagues, Antonio Diaz, met me at the airport and we drove to the Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro. The Foundation is named after Miro and his wife, and If there was something useful to be found out about my painting then we were certainly in the right place. It oozed refinement,and everywhere works by the great man were on show. It was indeed an Aladdin’s cave of Miro paintings, sculpture and glistening ceramics. and a place he would surely have been proud of.
I was introduced to the Director, Fernando Gonzalez, a tall man in an immaculately tailored black suit who had the unmistakable bearing of a leader. His inquisitive, bright eyes never left mine as he shook my hand and showed me to a chair in front of his desk. He asked me to tell him ‘the story’ and I did that over a cup of coffee. He was intrigued.
When I stopped he opened his palms to heaven and said, ‘That is amazing. Absolutely amazing.’ Pablo and Antonio were grinning at the unlikely tale and I felt my face redden. I mean, here I was in the Miro Foundation, telling these experts how I had discovered a painting whose ‘existence’ they had considered a rumour, and now it may just become a reality. It was a great surprise, and the silence in the room fuelled the edgy anticipation.
‘Shall we go down and see, Manuel?’ said Fernando rising from his chair. Pablo opened the door, smiled and we walked down a picture-laden corridor to the conservation department. This is a fabulous facility with state of the art equipment for the repair and preservation of works of art. The hum of activity hung in the air alongside the gentle hum of the atmosphere-controlling machines.
I handed over the well-wrapped package and waited as the Chief Conservator, Luis Rivera, cut the painting free. There was an audible intake of breath as the painting was placed on a long glass desk that was lit from below. The Director bent down to get a closer look as did Antonio and the Chief Conservator. Pablo turned to me and winked.
‘How long are you staying in Palma? asked the Director as the others followed his words.
‘My ticket is for a week,’ I answered.
‘Excellent,’ he replied. ‘We would like to carry out some tests, you understand, so as to establish the authenticity.’ He shrugged. ‘Or not, as the case may be.’
I nodded.
‘Very well then, Pablo will keep you informed.’ He glanced at my painting. ‘And thank you very much for bringing it here. It is very good of you.’ He leaned over and shook my hand.
Everybody was smiling, and it looked as though the experts had come across the Holy Grail and couldn’t wait to get on with their examination. I hoped they were right, sort of. Well I had bought the painting because I liked it, and that’s all. I never imagined anything like this happening, and anyway, what could I do? That word serendipity floated back into my mind and all I could do was think of Miro and wonder what he might say. Bueno, maybe. That was something none of us would ever know, but I was sure that he would be happy with his painting being ‘found’. Gracias, mucho gracias!
Over the next few days I took in the sights of Palma and came to understand why the city played such a vital role in the lives of Miro, Picasso and Salvador Dali. The atmosphere on the streets mixed easily with the smells of tapas from the restaurants and, combined with the warm, Mediterranean breeze, it made a heady concoction that excited the imagination. Its creative nudge was undeniable and Pablo agreed with my observation over dinner one evening. He was non-committal about events at the foundation, but by the same token said nothing to discourage me. ‘When are you going home, David?’ he asked later.
‘Saturday,’ I replied, knowing that half of my allotted time was already used up.

Mucho vino!

Mucho vino!

We drank some more of his fine wine and chatted about life in Palma and his part-time work at the Foundation. He loved art, had painted since he was a child, and had won competitions both in school and college. He sold some of his work but not enough to allow him to give up his teaching role at the university where he lectured on art history, specialising in the life and work of Spanish artists. It was through this that he had developed his love for Miro, and he had published numerous articles on his favourite subject.
It was easy to see why he was so taken by my painting, and why he had asked me to bring it here. His love affair with the works of Miro was obvious, but the possibility of discovering Constellation No 24 was simply incredible. At first they had not believed him at the Institute until he produced the Polaroids and told his side of the story. The other experts were so taken with his enthusiasm that they suggested that I should be invited to Palma – with the painting of course! So here I was looking out over the bay and the hundreds of yachts and sailing boats in the marina.
A day later I picked up a note at the hotel’s front desk. ‘Collect you at 1 o’clock. Pablo.’ I read it a second time and sat down with my mind racing about what might lie ahead. It was buzzing but I knew that I should be happy. If nothing else happened at least I had enjoyed the week in beautiful Palma and made a new friend in Pablo. And, come what may, I was going home with my Miro safe, where an empty wall awaited.
Pablo and Antonio were on time and we drove through the busy traffic, open-top, as the breeze kept us cool. Driving past the magnificent marina the sunlight sparkled off the chrome and steel of the myriad of sailing boats. Everywhere there was light and sparkle and it was a thrill to sit back and take it all in. I loved the rush of wind on my face and the tangy smell that came from the sea. It was a classic Mediterranean mixture, and I closed my eyes and breathed in the invigorating vapours.
When we reached the Foundation we made our way to the Chief Conservator’s office where he and the Director were waiting. I noted that the large room was almost empty of furniture but it had quite a few paintings hanging from its white walls. In the middle of the room, resting on an old, well-used easel and demanding attention, was my Miro.
The Director stepped forward and shook my hand, his eyes betraying nothing more than a friendly greeting. ‘I hope that you are enjoying our city?’ he asked, stretching his arms out extravagantly. I thought that I saw a little grin sneak out of the corner of his friendly mouth.
‘Yes,’ I replied ‘it’s been great. Bueno.’
The Director stood over my Miro and I could see him draw in his breath slowly. He was preparing himself, and only a tiny mote of dust moved in the sunlight. He looked to his colleagues and turned to face me. ‘My dear, David, we have studied this beautiful painting very carefully. Very, very carefully,’ he stressed ‘and we are of the opinion that it may indeed be Constellation No 24. Our initial examination shows similar techniques and materials used by Miro, and we would like to carry out some more tests. Gabriel Solano, who is considered to be the pre-eminent scholar on Miro, is arriving from Madrid next week, so we would like him to see it. If that is alright with you?’
The silence was deafening.
The sunlight danced across the floor and flicked against the edge of my Miro. It tickled the surface and a spark seemed to explode and hit me in the eye. I felt as if the air had been sucked from me and I could not hear anything. Was this really happening? I blinked and looked around at their anxious faces. ‘Sure, no problem,’ I replied ‘no problem at all.’
They all nodded and the Director shook my hand firmly. ‘Gracias, mucho gracias,’ he laughed, and the others clapped congratulating me.
‘It’s a wonderful day for you,’ said Pablo ‘and for Miro. He would be very happy. He is coming home.’
We drank some fine wine and the Director offered me one of his favourite Cuban cigars. He and the others, especially the Chief Conservator, explained their findings and their reasons for thinking that Miro’s missing masterpiece had been found. It was all very professional, and exciting.

After I left Palma, Pablo kept me informed of progress. Finally, after two weeks, I was surprised when the Director himself called. With his excitement barely under control, he said that Constellation No 24 had indeed been found.
I was lost for words and could hear only the gentle hum on the line. ‘Thank you,’ I managed. ‘What now?’
The Director had clearly been expecting this and his answer was calm and controlled. ‘David, such a painting could be, no,’ he corrected himself ‘is, worth a lot of money, especially if it goes to auction. You understand?’
‘I understand.’
‘Well, the Foundation would love to add it to its collection and it has many rich patrons.’
‘I see.’
‘So, why don’t you come over next week and we can work something out,’ continued the Director. ‘We’ll send you tickets tomorrow, okay?’
‘Fine. Next week is fine.’
‘Gracias, David,’ he said. ‘You have made a lot of people very happy. And many, many more will also be delighted when they get to see your Miro.’
I grinned broadly.

Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro, Palma

Fundacio Pilar i Joan Miro, Palma


The next few days passed in a daze while I prepared to travel. Miro’s painting was certainly going home, but what did it mean to me? And could the Foundation’s patrons donate enough money to purchase the painting and make a big difference to my life? Hopefully, I thought, for the umpteenth time. On the day of my flight I locked up the house and grinned at the empty space on the wall where a stray sunbeam lay. ‘Adios,’ I said.
Palma was hot and humid and Pablo definitely had an extra bounce in his step. He was a happy man and he talked excitedly all the way to the Foundation. There he introduced me to Carlos Lopez and Diego Falcone, two of the Institute’s richest patrons, who shook my hand and thanked me for finding the missing Miro. And so it was that within five few minutes I had signed over my rights to Constellation No 24 for a very significant amount of money.
And one other, small thing.
And it’s this small thing, a brilliant copy of my Miro, done by one of the Institute’s artists, that now hangs on the wall in my dining room where it entrances people. ‘A pity it’s not an original,’ they say. And you know something, they’re right!

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin

Trinity College Book Sale

It’s that time of the year again and for all book lovers out there the 30th Trinity College Book Sale will be taking place next week. https://www.tcd.ie/booksale/ This is a great book sale, and one that I always like to attend as I know that I will come across books that are unique, out-of-print and bought at a good price. Now that’s what I call a good book sale.  I wrote a piece about last year’s event and you can read it here. Enjoy!

 

Examination Hall

Examination Hall

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin

The canvas can do miracles

Art for art's sake

Art for art’s sake

‘Mmm, I like this,’ said the voice behind me.
I turned and saw a woman who was taking a close interest in one of my paintings. She glanced at me briefly before turning her gaze back to the painting that was hanging from the railings on Merrion Square. It was a Sunday morning in early May and the place was busy with tourists taking in the colourful canvases. I had recently managed to get a pitch at the city’s most popular outdoor art market and I liked the friendly atmosphere. It was proving to be fruitful for me and I had met some interesting people.
‘Good,’ I said, following the woman’s look to a seascape I had painted a few months earlier. On a breezy day in September, I remembered, when the wind was fresh and clouds scudded across a blue sky. ‘Do you recognise the scene?’
She stepped closer to the painting, her eyes roaming over the canvas. ‘No, but I like the energy. And I think that you’ve captured the moment beautifully.’
I raised an eyebrow in response and looked at the painting that I had called Sea-scape. It was one that I had painted quickly, the idea for it coming almost fully formed at the moment of conception.
That did not happen often, and I was immensely satisfied with the result. And so, it appeared, was someone else.
‘Where is it?’ she asked, looking at me.
‘It’s from the end of the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire, looking across Dublin Bay to Howth. There was a yacht race on that day but I was only interested in the small boat just beyond the harbour entrance.’ I pointed to red brushstrokes that showed the boat with a white sail flapping in the wind. It was being lifted by an incoming wave and the two sailors, in their yellow lifejackets, were holding on to the side rails. In the middle of the bay yachts were racing; and beyond them the sun glinted off windows on sea-facing houses in Howth.‘The single boat is eye-catching,’ she said.

The Beacon, Baltimore

The Beacon, Baltimore

‘Do you sail?’
‘Not now, but I did once upon a time. I lived in Baltimore, in west Cork, and I’m familiar with scenes like this. They were always exciting, and that’s what I remember best.’
The woman was, I suspect, in her mid-thirties and she had short, dark hair that just reached the collar of her cream-coloured blouse. The handles of a leather bag hung on a shoulder and she twirled sunglasses in her hand.
‘But since I moved away, and that’s a long time ago, I’ve no family there anymore…this painting brings back memories.’
‘Happy ones, I hope.’
She grinned. ‘Yes, very happy ones.’

It was nice hearing such positive words, something that I never expected when I finished my first painting. I was in my late teens and liked visiting galleries with my mother and listening to her talk about her favourite artists. So, after a few false starts, I began painting, something that I kept secret for as long as I worked on it. A month or so later I nervously removed the old cloth and revealed my maiden effort.
‘Very good,’ Mum said ‘and remember how good it makes you feel because others will feel it too. And that’s a wonderful thing.’ She gave me a hug, and told me again that she loved what I had done.
She had always dabbled in art, but began to take it seriously after my father died.
He had been killed in a car crash and I remember the sound of her cries as she rocked herself to sleep. Losing the man she loved was painful, beyond words, and it was her love of painting that saved her, and me. I didn’t understand that at the time, but looking back I see how strong she was, and that her search for peace was something that she had to do to give her life meaning.
Over the years she sold many paintings at local fetes and Arts & Craft fairs. That was a great source of pride, but there was more to it, a deeper feeling that I could not see, but knew was there.
‘It’s all about finding peace of mind,’ she told me as we sat in the studio one day ‘and the clarity it brings.’ Then she pointed to different features in a painting and how they worked together to make a coherent, pleasing story. ‘One day you’ll understand,’ she said, squeezing my shoulder.
I nodded, but it took many years before I finally understood what her words meant.

‘And I really like the rhythm,’ the woman said, as my artist friend on the next pitch gave a thumbs-up sign.
‘And what rhythm is that?’ I asked, as another person stopped to look at my wall of paintings. I had discovered that talking with a potential customer was good as it attracted others, and I had a quick word with my latest visitor.
‘The rhythm of life,’ replied the woman turning to the painting. ‘The little boat has left the safety of the marina and is struggling in the waves as it heads into the bay where the water is calmer. And then there is the far-off land, past the big yachts, that the little boat may one day reach.’
I nodded.
‘It’s like a metaphor for life,’ she added and crossed her arms.
‘And do you interpret dreams too?’ I asked, and that got a laugh.
She shook her head. ‘No, but I have been dreaming about finding a painting like this, and I’d like to buy it. So, how much is it?’ she asked, before turning again to the canvas that might just be on its way to a new home.
I checked the price on the back and she said ‘I’ll take it.’ We shook hands and I asked her if she painted.
‘I don’t, but I’m a musician and I love paintings even though I can barely paint a garden fence.’
It was my turn to laugh.
‘And I hope that you have a good place for it,’ I said, as I began wrapping the painting.
‘I have a blank wall in a room where I like to read and listen to music, so it will suit perfectly. It’s a lovely room but it’s been waiting for something like this to complete it. And I’m delighted to have found it.’ She was happy and so was I, as I knew my painting was going to be appreciated.
‘So, what more can you tell me about it?’ she asked, stepping back to let a couple walk by.

I spent a decade living in London where any number of attractions demanded and got my attention and painting wasn’t one of them. I went to plenty of art galleries and exhibitions but I didn’t lift a paintbrush until I returned to Dublin.
My mother had passed away years before and I often walked on the West Pier in Dun Laoghaire as I reacquainted myself with the place. The tangy smell of the sea air and the breeze, sometimes gentle and sometimes strong, were always a draw and I loved it. And with my mother’s old brushes by my side I made quite a few paintings of scenes from the pier, many of which I had, thankfully, sold.
And it was with great anticipation that I accepted my friend Sheila’s invitation to go sailing from the yacht club. ‘Just do as I say,’ she said as we sat in her boat before setting-off.
She was an experienced sailor who was enjoying her new boat, and on a sunny day in early July we were ready to sail. Having often stood on the West pier as boats made their way into the bay I was delighted to be finally enjoying the experience.

Dun Laoghaire marina...to the sea

Dun Laoghaire marina…to the sea

‘You ok?’ Sheila asked.
‘Aye, aye, Captain,’ I said, grinning from ear to ear.
Past the lighthouses and into the bay the water began to get choppy.
I grabbed the hand-rail and rocked up and down and back and forth as we bounced about like a cork. I was a little nervous but not afraid, especially as I was with Sheila who knew what she was doing.
No, it was more like I was thinking about something else, but I couldn’t quite work out what that was.
Sheila pulled ropes, shouted instructions to me and used the tiller to guide us to calmer waters. It was demanding, and I had no time to think of anything other than what I was told to do.
After four or five minutes in the bubbling water Sheila shouted something and I managed to do what she wanted and the sails filled. The boat lurched forward and I was suddenly lifted into the air, before plopping back down. It had all happened in a heartbeat but I felt as though I had been flying. I knew it was crazy but I couldn’t deny that something was different.
Then a wave then hit the boat and completely drenched me. Sheila looked over, a look of concern on her face.
‘Are you alright, this is a bit rougher than I had expected,’ she said.
I didn’t remember my reply but Sheila said that she was surprised when I began to laugh, and embrace the choppy waters like an old sea dog.
Back in the yacht club Sheila asked me what had happened. She thought that I must have banged my head, and if I did it was only to knock some sense into me.
Sailing about later that afternoon I thought about my ‘flying’ incident.
When I was lifted into the air all sense of fear disappeared and I experienced an unexpected calmness. It was quiet, and I felt and understood everything around me. I had been released, that was the only word that made sense to me, and I had found my happy place. And the thing was that I could ‘feel it’ just like my mother had said all those years ago.
The sun was a big, orange ball falling into the sea as Sheila and I talked about our trip and I told her about my epiphany.
‘Oh to be beside the sea, is that it?’ she said with a knowing look, and I happily accepted her offer of another trip into Dublin Bay. The sea had given me something special, and I tried to capture it in my paintings. It was difficult, but sometimes I got close and for that I was thankful.

‘And that’s why I called it Sea-scape?’ I said, ‘because it was at sea that I escaped into a new freedom.’
The woman smiled. ‘I understand, and thank you for telling me that. Now, whenever I look at the painting I will be able to see you being bounced around before finding your happy place. It’s a wonderful story.’
I nodded. ‘And I hope that you find yours.’
She put the painting under her arm, slipped on her sunglasses and was about to leave when she turned to me. ‘I have, and it’s called Sea-scape.’

The canvas can do miracles

The canvas can do miracles

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, short stories

Joyce and Stream of Consciousness – kind of!

 

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

Arguing with the guy you know who can beat you – I had never thought of it like that before but it makes sense, especially now as I am walking on Sandymount Strand with nobody within two hundred yards, and I can hear words go back and forth inside my head as the argument carries on. And I am nervous because I feel that I might just lose. How crazy is that? Very, I thought, and I wondered which one of those arguing had responded. I stopped, looked around making sure that I was still out of earshot of any beach walkers, and said ‘What’s going?’ There was a long silence and I heard nothing as both voices seemed to have, well, lost their…you know. It was a weird moment and I remembered that James Joyce, a keen stroller and habitué of the strand where I now stood, was fond of using stream of consciousness in his writing, a literary device that awakened the world to its subtleties in his most famous work Ulysses, a book that is considered a difficult read by many who pick it up and one of the greatest ever written by countless others. That such a difference of opinion should exist is partially a response to Joyce’s idiosyncratic style with his referencing of mythological and historical characters; differing chapter layouts where various rhythms reflect the story being told at that point and his use of the stream of consciousness technique that permitted the reader to be ‘inside the character’s head’ and in the story like never before. This was a new and radical approach that did not win favour at first, except with a small number who saw the liberating aspect that he had revealed. Being ‘inside the character’s head’ was not only interesting and revelatory but, as many readers found out to their surprise, an uncomfortable place to be, as much for its unexpectedness as its lack of familiarity, and the not-knowingness of what was coming a step too close to a reality they thought they had left behind, if only for a little while.

Joyce's magnum opus

Ulysses – book for thought

Yes, Jimmy, my man, you have managed deliberately, of course, to ‘get under the skin’ and show normal life in all its simple and twisted moments; a life that happens more surprisingly that we ever imagined; where what we see is not always what we think it is and where the opposite is equally true, and where stream of consciousness, although a wonderful addition to the writer’s quiver of literary techniques is above all, to put it simply and something that I suspect Jimmy recognised because he was such a sharp observer, about thinking people thinking as they move through the day, as they have since the dawn of time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, Ireland, James Joyce, Sandymount Strand