Seeing things

My faith in ‘Charbonnel 55985’ has suffered under a new scrutiny, this black etching ink, the crème de la crème of unctuous noirism, has served my purposes for many years but suddenly I’m no longer convinced. Cool, warm, opaque, transparent, gradations of soft and stiff. Am I dancing on the head of a pin?

Able to draw, or at least able to make things look like the things I was looking at, when I was a kid mimetic pleasure was matched equally by pleasure in the materials themselves. Pencils, without HB value, were simply either stubby or long. Markers ran dry but you could remove the interior tube of colour-impregnated sponge and use them like paint. And crayons, the smell of a new box, a window in the yellow packaging anticipating the range of colours within. Multiples of twelve, twenty-four, thirty-six! Once I had a box that made room for a crayon of pure white – an object whose mystery will never be unraveled. Paper sheets were standard but to work big you had to improvise. A roll of unused wallpaper was two feet wide, working on the reverse side you could unroll it to whatever length you needed – the limit set by the length of the dining room table.

Remembering other things I had then, toys, bikes, a transistor radio with a one-piece earplug, two objects resonate particularly. I had a torch and couldn’t wait for it to get dark. Twisting the plastic collar around the housing of the bulb focused the beam or made it wider. Hidden corners became illuminated, objects on the bedroom shelf newly mysterious in its tube of light. Lifting an edge of the living-room carpet, the space beneath the floorboards revealed no hidden safe, only a subterranean world of complex cabling and dust. A telescope was a present for Christmas or a birthday. I had no interest in the night sky – though I fantasized about a torch powerful enough to penetrate it – and trained the lens instead on the houses across the park. Pebble-dashed surfaces, the details of a wrought iron gate, examined closely, their banality seemed strange from a distance.

Contemplating the purpose of life the philosopher John Gray notes how other animals don’t need one. At the conclusion of Straw Dogs he writes, “Can we not think of the aim of life as being simply to see?”


Repeat patterns

On Tuesday evening ‘i.e. Patterns of thought’ was launched, a book of, ‘writings and reflections on the subject of (Irish) architecture and spatial practices’. The publisher used an image of mine for the cover and I enjoyed seeing my work transcribed in this way, becoming a wrapper for the words, a fragment image dislodged from the rarified world of art and making its way in the world of things.

(Texts compiled and edited by Ellen Rowley, published by Architecture Republic)

A little over a week ago I participated in a panel discussion following the opening of Colin Martin’s exhibition, ‘The Garden’. Fragments from the four texts commissioned by Kate Strain were projected on the wall behind our heads. The projected words allowed the audience a sense of the textual framework and helped give structure to the discussion. It seemed to go well, though I wondered afterwards had we spent too much time waffling about gardens and not enough about the particulars of Colin’s work? Sometimes the ostensible subject is easier to address than the underlying one. I’ve added my text to the ‘Writing’ section. Information about the exhibition can be found at

Liz Caffrey, Alice Lyons, and myself, curated an exhibition of graduate work from the fine art course at ITSligo. It opened at the Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, last night. ‘As of Now’ is the first public showing for most of the student-artists, and the pleasure and fun (pressure too) of that was palpable. And no art-world cynicism, hooray!

















Poster image; Nala Kanapathipilliai

Watching percussionists is as much fun as listening to them and after the show some of us watched the Can Percussion Trio play beer kegs, blocks of wood, and laminated menus (!) – they played drums too. The music of Steve Reich featured prominently in the programme; repeating and overlapping patterns of tightly focused sounds. The Colin Currie group will perform Reich’s ‘Drumming’ tomorrow night at the National Concert Hall, the weekend beginning and ending with a bang!


A few years ago, making an important decision about the direction of my studies, I wrote to a lecturer for advice. I didn’t get an answer. Some time afterwards the lecturer rang me and apologized for his lack of response, “I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you before”, he said, “… it’s just that, well, … things happened”. I didn’t know what those ‘things’ were, but I found out later, and I understood that things do happen. However busy, whatever plans you may have.

Haven’t done a tap in the studio for almost three weeks.

Sleep Furiously

Sleep Furiously is a documentary film by Gideon Koppel about Trefeurig, a small farming community in Wales. Aphex Twin provides intermittent music (including a gentle piano motif that acts as a kind of signature tune for a central character) but mostly we hear the sounds of animals, farm machinery, the weather acting on the landscape, and unhurried human voices speaking in combinations of English and Welsh. The local school is closing down and old traditions are fading. We see the yellow library van, shot from on high, trundling across the hilly terrain. A wide shot is held while the van crosses from one side of the screen to the other, the landscape traversed by old books and a librarian worried about his new laptop, “I thought I might be retired before I’d have to use it”. At a sheepdog trial John and his dog make a bit of a mess of it, and the judges, sheltered in a nearby car, are embarrassed on his behalf. Clouds shift across the valley as a choir of voices begins. The camera focuses on the young woman conducting the rehearsal, silent instructions animating her face. The singers stumble and soar but we never see them. People in the film are seldom seen or spoken to directly. Aphex Twin appears again in time-lapse sequences casting the unpeopled landscape in a higher register, a tempo beyond the detail of human arrangements. A woman has her pet owl stuffed and then finds it’s too big for the coffee table. Its supporting branch is shortened while she tells the joiner how she froze the dead bird before sending it to a taxidermist in the post. The woman is the filmmaker’s mother, and she appears often through the film. Just before it ends these words appear on the screen, “It is only when I sense the end of things that I find the courage to speak/ the courage, but not the words”. The mood is elegiac but it’s not really about the end of things, it’s about how things change. The school kids are moulding clay. They squeeze and stretch the clay and make extrusions using a small tool that looks like a garlic press. The teacher tells them, “It does quite a lot of things, so long as you keep it in the right consistency”. Having come through winter the film ends on a shot of a single tree, branches and leaves blowing, animated – as the preceding 90 minutes have been – by an invisible and gentle spirit.

Thanks FM


Reliant on lacunas – gaps in attention when something unexpected might happen – these etchings demand the kind of haphazard precision that enables you to fuckup in just the right way. Drawing the needle through the wax ground I sometimes think about the first wax cylinder recordings and how sound engraved onto their surface was made audible through the phonograph. Drawing makes a record.

Drawing the zinc plates I’ve been listening to Schubert, Debussy, and Jazz. If I’m feeling robust enough I’ll put on the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. In the opening aria of Bach’s cantata BWV 82 she sings about acceptance of death, – “Ich habe genug” – I have enough. She sings the phrase twice, expressing repletion, and then weariness.

– Rilke writes of Eurydice, ‘Her deadness was filling her like fullness. Full as a fruit with sweetness and with darkness was she with her great death.’ – (1)

The singer of Bach’s cantata already recognizes  – “Die freude jenes lebens“ – The joy of the other life. Wanting this world no longer, she asks, – “Wenn kommt das schone: Nun!” – when will the lovely ‘now!’ come’?

Orpheus was unable to prevent Eurydice from returning to the underworld and his voice, the most beautiful, was set to mourning. Good singers know – and Dave Hickey said it perfectly – ‘that all songs are sad songs, borne as they are on the insubstantial substance of our fleeting breath’. Hunt Lieberson was 52 when she died in 2006 but we are still here, and thanks to recording technology she is still singing, – ‘in the lovely now’.

– ‘She was already loosened like long hair, and given far and wide like fallen rain.’ – (1)

For FF

(1) From Rilke’s early poem, ‘Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes’ 1904. Best known for her renditions of Bach and other Baroque composers LHL also performed several Rainer Maria Rilke lyrics set to music by her husband Peter Lieberson.

Darkness and light

When teaching I am sometimes amazed at how quickly a student grasps a new idea or technique. Things can be light and quick and art-making seem quite straightforward. Returning to myself the register becomes heavier, it’s another gear and it grinds. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a slow worker (uncertainty and incompetence have also taken their toll) Printmaking is a slow medium, and things seldom go as planned, at least not as I’ve planned, maybe there’s a grander plan I remain unaware of.  I like the name of the Printmaking studio – ‘The Black Church’ – the devotional and the forbidden, a place for worshiping the dark. There is a print workshop and publisher in London called ‘Hope (sufferance)’, an even better name, hope and sufferance, it’s always like that, and in that order, hope and sufferance.

Rigor (are you serious?)

During a recent studio visit Kate Strain and I talked about ‘seriousness’ in making art, we identified a holy trinity – rigor, thoughtfulness, and awareness of context – as important criteria for identifying seriousness. I’ve been mulling over the ‘rigor’ bit, what do we mean when we use the term in art-making?

Usually the notion of rigor makes me think about being true to something. Rigor equals honest endeavor. But doesn’t the term also suggest something rigid, harsh and stiff? Rigor can imply insensitivity; in botany for example the term denotes inertia. It can imply inflexibility, after death the body succumbs to ‘Rigor mortis ‘, the ‘stiffness of death’!

Maybe ‘rigor’ could be replaced in the sacred trio by a less exacting quality, suppleness perhaps, or openness. Is remaining supple and open (and calm – there is a sign in the Black Church that reads ‘keep calm and print on’) a more effective strategy, and one more in keeping with art’s (and life’s) vicissitudes?

3 -Triúr

3-Triúr (In Search of Musical Form), a documentary made by Dónal O’Céilleachair was shown on RTE during the week. The film followed three musicians, Peadar Ó Riada, Martin Hayes, and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, recording together. The sessions took place in Ó Riada’s house (and in particular in his dad’s – the late Seán Ó Riada – small study)

Introducing a piece Peadar Ó Riada remarked, “There ‘s no melody in this tune, the melody is in the structure”

Later Martin Hayes quoted an old saying, “ After seven repetitions comes a great truth”

Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh is the youngest of the three and was less disposed to talking. He did explain how he learned a new tune, how he listened to it played again and again, in order to, “Let the structure sink deeper, and the letting out of it freer”