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All at Sea: Works from the IMMA Collection at St Patrick's University Hospital
Michael Mulcahy, The Navigator, 1982. Oil on Canvas, 157.5 x 165 cm. Collection Irish Museum of Modern Art. Donation, Vincent & Noeleen Ferguson, 1996.

DUBLIN.- All at Sea, an exhibition developed in partnership with the Art Committee at St Patrick’s University Hospital and the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s National Programme, opens to the public at the Art Gallery at St Patrick’s University Hospital, Dublin 8, on Thursday 30 August 2012. The Art Gallery at St Patrick’s University Hospital was opened in February 2011. It had been developed over the previous two years by the members of the Art Committee at SPUH. The purpose in developing the gallery was to facilitate the appreciation of visual art by the SPUH community, its staff, service users and visitors. Many great Irish artists have suffered from mental health and addiction problems during their lives, and yet they have risen above their difficulties to produce engaging, expressive and uplifting visual art that has enriched those who view it. The gallery has hosted exhibitions from leading Irish artists and galleries, from the permanent art collection at SPUH. This exhibition features leading Irish and British artists who have produced work with a nautical theme. The works are varied in influence ranging from literature and social/political to the pure depiction of nature and the landscape in which we live.

For centuries, the Irish landscape has been a source of inspiration for artists. One such artist is Barrie Cooke, whose fascination with Ireland has informed his work since moving here from England in 1954. Water and Rocks is part of an early series of studies of water from the 1960s focussing on lakes, streams and rivers, where drips and splashes of paint capture the surface of the water. Cooke carries a sketchbook with him and constantly records scenes, which he will refer to in his paintings whether it is a rock, a stream or an animal. In the absence of a sketchbook he has stated that he traces the line on his hand with his finger, training the eye to capture and record the image through memorising the line, which later becomes the brushstroke. Cooke’s other passion is fishing which is also a major influence on the work of John Bellany, one of the leading Scottish colourists.

Bellany’s father and grandfather were both fishermen and growing up in the seaside town of Port Seton, and Avail demonstrates how the sea and the special light effects of a seaside environment influenced all of his paintings. His work is strongly autobiographical and narrative with strong, and often symbolic, references to the forces that dominated his life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Old Man and The Sea a series of 14 prints inspired by the Ernest Hemingway novel. The story tells of a fisherman who has caught nothing for weeks and then hooks the largest marlin he has ever seen and the struggles he has to land the fish. It can be seen as a parable of self-discovery. The gallerist Charles Booth-Clibborn invited Bellany to make a publication of his own choosing and this theme of a man being driven to the brink of death seemed apt as Bellany was seriously ill at the time. Bellany later commented that the 'imagery itself just flowed like a tidal wave from start to finish; the passion in the work was magnified by the fact that I was struggling for my own life at the time.'

Like Bellany, William Crozier was also raised in a sea side town. Mediterranean Night is a wonderful example of his expressive painting and is the result of nine months that he spent in Malaga during 1963. This experience was to prove pivotal to Crozier‘s development as an artist, in particular his concerns with the landscape and the painting of the human figure. While based in West Cork he travelled extensively gaining inspiration and often treating the Mediterranean and Irish landscapes with the same vibrancy. This vibrant palette challenged the traditional muted shades employed by many artists while depicting Ireland.

Also an inveterate traveller, Michael Mulcahy, creates highly abstracted paintings of the many remote places he has lived through an intense use of abstract form and sizzling colour. The Navigator is at once figurative and autobiographical with a very sketchy, but accurate self-portrait of the artist in the title role. The title of the painting may be a play on the name given to the sixth-century Irish saint, Brendan The Navigator, so called because of the belief that he sailed the then uncharted waters of the Atlantic. As such, it recalls a world where man, nature and religion were more closely entwined. This story supports Mulcahy’s vision of the artist as the Shaman or healer who suffers for, and guides society to a better state. In The Navigator the grandeur of his task is suggested by the mysterious landscape and the fiery cave opening ahead contrasted with the ghostly pallor of the artist.

The use of the historical to convey a contemporary message is also deployed by Stephen McKenna in The Irish Coast. McKenna combines the classical and academic approaches to painting with the great, 17th century Dutch tradition of marine painting, to comment on a very contemporary, yet universal subject. Painted in 1981 during the height of ‘the Troubles' in Northern Ireland, The Irish Coast, brings together two different layers of conflict - a huge battle between the forces of nature, land, sea and sky - and the smaller, but no less dogged struggle, between two men on the jetty. In the immediate foreground a bird, like the narrator in a Greek tragedy, appears oblivious to their petty quarrel.

All at Sea is the result of a collaboration between St Patrick’s University Hospital and the IMMA National Programme. The National Programme is designed to promote the widest possible involvement with the Museum’s Collection and programmes, through creating access opportunities to the visual arts in a variety of situations and locations in Ireland. IMMA’s Collection is the focal point for each project. The National Programme is also committed to working with venues normally outside the scope of the contemporary art world. This core principle involves a process of encouraging people to view and enjoy ownership of their national collection, as held by IMMA, in their own locality and on their own terms.

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