Archive for the Art Category

A Revolutionary Manhole Cover

Posted in Architecture, History, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on August 20, 2020 by telescoper

I must have walked dozens of times past the above manhole cover on Maynooth University’s North Campus without paying too much attention. Then I noticed a post on Twitter of another such cover in County Kerry, in the thread following which someone mentioned one on Maynooth campus so I thought I’d take a picture of it. They must have been made for the centenary commemorations in 2016. There’s more than a hint of Soviet-style design in the artwork.

The figure depicts Eamon Bulfin raising the flag of Irish Republic above the GPO on Easter Monday 1916, the start of the Easter Rising. After the end of the rising Bulfin was condemned to death, but his sentence was commuted and, after being imprisoned in Britain for a time, he was deported to Argentina. He returned to Ireland when the Irish Free State in 1922 where he lived until his death in 1968.


The people who do things and what they do

Posted in Art, Cricket, Football, Opera, Television with tags , on July 19, 2020 by telescoper

It’s a tough lesson to learn in life that the people you admire or idolize for their contribution in a particular arena (whether that be sport, art, science or something else) turn out to be people you can’t stand in terms of their character or political views.

You have to separate, for example, having a high regard for Ian Botham’s cricketing prowess from having a high regard for his personal character. In fact I can think of few sportspeople whose company I’d enjoy socially.

The same goes in many other spheres. Richard Feynman was a truly great physicist but I’ve never bought into the personality cult surrounding him. In fact I doubt I would have liked him very much at all if we’d ever met in person. They say you should never meet your heroes. They’re right.

Another example is Richard Wagner, a brilliant composer but really horrible man, who brings us to this clip from the end of Twilight of the Gods (the last episode of Series 7 of Inspector Morse, first broadcast in 1993).

I won’t spoil the plot if you haven’t seen it but it involves a famous opera singer, Gladys Probert, who visits Oxford to perform and receive an honorary degree. On the way to the ceremony she is shot, but was she the intended victim?

Opera-loving Morse is a huge admirer of Gladys Probert but in the course of his investigation he uncovers some unpleasant truths about her private life. He solves the crime but the case leaves him dispirited.

Here is the ending. John Thaw is Inspector Morse and Kevin Whateley is Detective Sergeant Lewis.

Evicted – Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler)

Posted in Art, History with tags , , , , , on July 1, 2020 by telescoper

I was listening to an interesting radio programme the other day about artistic depictions of Ireland and Irish history. One of the paintings discussed  was a work called Evicted which was painted in 1890 by Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler). I haven’t seen the actual painting – the original (oil on canvas) is apparently somewhere in University College Dublin – but i found the discussion intriguing and decided to see if I could find a representation on the internet. Here it is in reasonably high resolution.



I’m not a proper art critic or anything, but I found this a remarkably powerful work of art made all the more interesting when I read a little bit about the artists. Elizabeth Thompson married Lieutenant General Sir William Butler after which she became Lady Butler. She made her name as an artist painting heroic depictions of British soldiers in, for example, the Crimean War. When her husband retired from military service the couple moved to Ireland, and at the time this painting was made they were living in Wicklow where one of their neighbours was none other than Charles Stewart Parnell. The late 19th Century was the time of the Land War, a period of intense social unrest in rural Ireland caused by the exploitative practices of landlords and the unfair treatment of tenants. Parnell was a vigorous campaigner for land reform and the Butlers became staunch supporters of the cause.

One day Elizabeth witnessed the eviction of a Irishwoman from her cottage in the Wicklow mountains and was so moved by it that she made this wonderful painting. When it was exhibited in London it was met with disapproval for being “too political”. The British establishment of the time did not appreciate anything too critical of the Empire.

In the painting itself there are some striking touches. The eviction party, its job done, can be seen to the left disappearing back down the valley. By all accounts the people who did this sort of thing were sadistic brutes who very much enjoyed their work. Tenants were not only evicted, but their homes  and possessions completely destroyed in order to prevent them returning.  The standing figure of the woman seems to form a group with the pieces of her cottage that are still standing, her own devastation mirroring that of her home. A few glowing embers can be seen among the wreckage.

But it’s the depiction of the woman herself which in my opinion gives the painting most of its power. You might have expected her to be shown in obvious distress, hunched, perhaps crying or wringing her hands. Instead she is standing up with her hands by her sides, looking up at the sky. Is she praying? Resigned to her fate? Or perhaps just traumatized? The painting seems to ask the viewer: how would you react if this happened to you?



Malaria, by Remedios Varo

Posted in Art on May 20, 2020 by telescoper

by Remedios Varo Uranga (1908-63), painted in 1947, 25.5× 21cm, gouache on cardboard.

Dream Time

Posted in Art, Biographical, Covid-19, Mental Health with tags , , , , , , on May 13, 2020 by telescoper

The Dream (Salvador Dali, 1931)

I know I’m not alone during this strange and unsettling Coronavirus period in having extraordinarily vivid dreams almost every night.

I’m grateful for two things related to this. One is that I’m sleeping much better than usual, with not a trace of the insomnia I’ve experienced in the past during times of stress. The other is that these dreams are very far from being nightmares. Most of them are benign, and some are laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The other day, for example, I had a dream in which Nigel Farage returned from his recent trip to Dover in search of migrants publicity to find his house filled with asylum seekers singing the theme from The Dambusters. There was also a cameo appearance by Nigella Lawson in that dream but I forget the context.

I’ve written about dreams a few times before (e.g. here) and don’t intend to repeat myself here. It does seem to me however that dreams are probably a byproduct of the unconscious brain’s processing of notable recent events and this activity is heightened because the current times are filled with unfamiliar experiences.

I know some people are having far worse nocturnal experiences than me, and I don’t really understand why I’m having a relatively easy ride when my past history suggests I’d be prime candidate for cracking up. Perhaps I’ve had enough practice at dealing with anxiety in the past (not always very satisfactorily)? Perhaps the sense of detachment I’ve experienced over the past few weeks is part of some sort of defence mechanism I’ve acquired?

Anyway, don’t have nightmares!

Van Dyck and Beards

Posted in Art, Beards with tags , , , on April 23, 2020 by telescoper

The 17th-century Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) is famous not only as an artist but also for a particular style of facial hair, the goatee/moustache combo now known as a “Van Dyke”, as demonstrated by the man himself in this self-portrait:

What I didn’t realise until recently however that van Dyck painted a very large number of studies of men with all kinds of beards. Here is a particularly fine example (Study of a Bearded Man with Hands Raised, 1616).

I’m not an expert but based on the poses I suspect these studies were done in preparation for paintings with biblical themes. Indeed the model looks rather similar to the figure in Jude The Apostle completed about three years later:

Crystal – Paul Klee

Posted in Art with tags , on January 26, 2020 by telescoper

by Paul Klee (1921, 24cm x 32cm, watercolour, Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland).

Bridget Riley at the Hayward Gallery

Posted in Art with tags , on November 8, 2019 by telescoper

Circumstances require me to travel back to Dublin via London today, so I took the opportunity to spend an hour or so at the wonderful Bridget Riley retrospective at the Hayward Gallery. The exhibition is on until January 26th and I recommend it very enthusiastically.

I took a few pictures, but none of them give an adequate impression of the experience of seeing them in the flesh.

These three deceptively simple compositions made from coloured stripes play with the eye’s colour perception, seeming to change in texture and hue as the observer changes position or viewing angle.

The “rhomboid” pictures like this one November use changes in colour to disrupt the brain’s interpretation of the two-dimensional nature of the painting. The rhombi seem to rise and fall, the surface buckling as a result.

From the black and white collection this is Movement in Squares which uses simple changes in shape to imply depth, but also creates a visual instalibity to the perception is not of a static image.

This (Drift 2) generates a twisting effect on that makes you feel quite dizzy!

This one from 2017 is untitled and is simultaneously the least successful to be photographed and one of the most successful to view in person. It is very large – about 4 metres by 2 metres – and the circles filled with colour seem to jump about in your field of vision with every slight change of eyeline!

There are many more treats to experience in this exhibition which is highly recommended.

Antony Gormley at the Royal Academy

Posted in Art with tags , , on October 11, 2019 by telescoper

One of the nice things about the location of premises of the Royal Astronomical Society in Burlington House is that it’s right next to the Royal Academy. I took advantage of this proximity yesterday to have a look at the exhibition of work by Antony Gormley. The Main Gallery was very busy as I did my tour but I spent a very enjoyable time wandering around the various rooms and, in some cases, inside the installations therein.

The Royal Academy is a very traditional gallery space and it was the ingenious use of that space within the formal confines of the gallery that I found most impressive. In some of the rooms thin steel bars run through and out from the doors like beam of laser light. Two such beams arrive in one room where they are joined by a vertical bar of the same type, setting up coordinate axes for the whole show.

Here are some snaps I took on the way around:



Lost Horizon



`Cave’ is a large sculpture in rolled steel that you can go into. Parts of it are very dark; the photograph I took was from inside looking out. `Lost Horizons’ has typical Gormleyesque human figures standing upright, upside-down and horizontally on the floor ceiling and walls, an idea that resonates with the coordinate axes mentioned above, which you encounter just before entering this room.

But one of the most fascinating parts of the exhibition is the large collection of Gormley’s workbooks, which show how he develops his ideas, always with reference both to the form and materials of his sculpture and the space into which they are to be placed.

The exhibition is open until 3rd December 2019. Do catch it if you can!