“Ben” Barry Kerr | oil on canvas | 19×16 cm | $3,750
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I used to sit on a rock in the field behind my parents’ house when I was growing up, and look around at the margins of our property. On the eastern edge were towering pines, which seemed huge and foreboding to me when I was very small, and at their feet, a tumbling rock wall marking the edge of our property. On the western side was a line of tall, graceful poplar trees that made a whooshing sound like a rainstick in the evening when there was a breeze and lit up with the sun falling behind them. We didn’t visit our neighbors much on either side, and I only ever had a vague idea of what was behind those lines of trees. And to this day I still have dreams in which I walk past those edges of my little childhood world, and find myself in a strange kind of otherworld, which is impossible to describe with my waking mind. For me, painting and music are both a way of describing this otherworld that lies outside the boundaries of my conscious thought and the limits of my own personal experience of the world. As W.B. Yeats wrote about the stories of Irish mythology “they are set in a world so fluctuating and dream-like, that nothing can hold them from being all that the heart desires.” I suppose, if I had to explain why I make pictures, my desire to follow my imagination down a path as it curves and disappears behind the last tree would be the best explanation that comes to mind.
Daniel Faiella was born and raised in New Hampshire. His interest in landscape painting has its roots in the rocky, forested, and mountainous terrain of the Northeastern United States in which, as a child, he first became aware of his surroundings through exploration on long walks and hikes. Another significant influence on his relationship with the landscape came from his childhood interest in Irish mythology. In his teens, he became interested in the way in which Irish mythology weaves the supernatural world of the gods into the natural landscape of everyday experience. In the view of the world presented by these stories, there is no strict division between supernatural and natural, magical and ordinary, or animate and inanimate. Inspired by this philosophy of nature, while still in his teens he studied Irish Gaelic and used his knowledge of the language to read the Middle Irish narrative Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne in the original language. Beginning his studies in art at the age of 16, with painter Paul Ingbretson, Daniel completed a 6-year atelier curriculum in classical drawing and painting before pursuing his BFA in drawing and painting at the University of New Hampshire. During this time he also worked as a studio assistant to artist and illustrator Tomie DePaola. He lives and paints in the seacoast area of New Hampshire, within a short drive of the mountains, the ocean, and the woods he first explored as a child.
JB (John Brian) Vallely is one of Ireland’s most productive painters. Born in Armagh in 1941, it is that city which he has made his home and in which he has raised his family and produced the bulk of his work. Unlike his illustrious artistic predecessor there, John Luke, he has given most of his visual attention not to place or topography, but to people. And, rather like William Conor’s dancers, JB Vallely’s subjects are not passive either. They are busy and engaged in specific things, all of these to do with aesthetic and psychological endeavour. The greater theme in his work is Traditional Music; another significant dimension is sport, and there are lesser tropes around aspects of culture such as mythology, history, and customs.
JB Vallely, an accomplished musician, and uilleann piper, founded the Armagh Pipers Club with his wife Eithne in 1966. His sons Niall, Cillian, and Caoimhín went on to become exceptional and world-renowned musicians, performing on concertina, uilleann pipes, and piano respectively. His son Cillian is the uilleann piper for the Irish supergroup, Lúnasa.
JB Vallely is currently working toward a major retrospective of his work, to debut in November of 2021, marking the 80th birthday of this exceptional Irish artist.
This month’s featurette focuses upon an association of artists instead of one individual (like Norah McGuinness from our last BEALTAINE show), although the association itself is comprised of artists who could each, individually, be considered remarkable. That is actually the point of this Irish association created in 1981 by the Arts Council of Ireland and a group of Irish writers to honor and support the best of Irish creative talent and cultural work. Aosdána, which means “people of the arts” in Irish, is a selective association of members limited to 250 individuals who are selected by current members for inclusion in the membership (and only once a slot has opened due to death). It represents three main areas: music, literature, and the visual arts, and it includes the highest honored group of “Saoi” or “wise ones” who are elected to this position by current members. Its governing body is called the Toscaireacht. Samuel Beckett, Brian Friel, Seamus Heaney, Geraldine O’Reilly, Patrick Scott, Tom Murphy, Pierce Hutchinson, Roger Doyle, and Louis le Brocquy are all current or former Aosdana members, and the contemporary painter Geraldine O’Neill is only one of the influences upon my own artwork that Aosdána has recently honored with membership.
Aosdána is important to Carrickahowley Gallery for more than simply personal influence, however. As an organization of support for artists that provides a stipend for their work allowing them artistic focus, Aosdána represents the type of cultural support that creates community and cultural dynamism both, developing human potential and promoting cultural inquiry and artistic freedom. Such support is crucial for such freedom, but in a reverse sense, it is art that makes us better beings more capable of imagining the necessities of new realities. Art builds new worlds, and as such, it is the key to change. Aosdána members have all dedicated their lives to create such change, and Carrickahowley Gallery salutes their commitment and emulates their belief in the power of not only “people of the arts” but also “arts of the people.”
Check out Aosdána website for more details and for lists of members and links to their work! It will enrich you and connect you to the best of all things in Ireland!
For more on Geraldine O’Neill, visit the RHA website
Welcome to the Carrickahowley Gallery’s Lughnasadh show! Lughnasadh (also spelled Lughnasa or Lúnasa) is an ancient Irish harvest festival in honor of the Irish god Lugh, the Tuatha Dé Danann warrior, king, and master craftsman, who vanquishes Crom Dubh and seizes the harvest for humankind. This festival celebrates the bounty of the harvest, with hikes, feasts, traditional music, and art. Our Lughnasadh show similarly celebrates the artistic and musical harvest of the year, with work by four exceptional Irish and Irish-American artists: JB Vallely, Barry Kerr, Daniel Faiella, and Chris Gray. These four artists approach oil painting with a lyrical, melodic, and musical sensibility, informed by parallel and intertwining identities as Irish Traditional Musicians. Like a string beneath a pick or the hum of an uilleann drone, the works of these artists resonate with the vital presence and gesture of their painters.
In the spirit of Lughnasadh, there is a rich and bountiful quality to the impasto, bravura, and alla prima passages of JB Vallely’s paintings. In addition to being a painter, Vallely is also an exceptional uilleann piper, a player of the Irish bagpipes. While bagpipes are generally noted for their inability to be silent, to “play” a rest, one great innovation of the uilleann pipes is that they can in fact be silenced. Like his uilleann piping, Vallely’s painting is unique in its simultaneity of expressive volume and white space. His works are often characterized by a figure on a white ground. This approach gives the figure the primacy of a piped melody, establishing a powerful focal point. But as we listen to this melody, depth emerges in the white ground, like the subtle hum of the drone transformed into regulator chords, revealing the colors beneath and the impasto textures above. Like the pipes, there is an uncontainable and synesthetic vitality to Vallely’s paintings, which perfectly capture the energy and motion of a set of jigs and reels. The figures vibrate and fracture into waves of sound and strings of music.
Barry Kerr’s oil paintings similarly capture the vitality of Irish Traditional Music, echoing Vallely’s expressive and textured vignettes. As with Vallely’s paintings, Kerr’s work is often highly musical in both subject matter and approach, leaning toward the lyrical abstraction of music, but with striking notes of realism in the likenesses of his subjects. Kerr’s alternately impasto and fluid grounds, through which layers of hue and history are revealed, generate a physical depth to his paintings that is paralleled by their pictorial depth. Their drips and alla prima blending create a wonderful sense of motion, visually manifesting the swirling of tunes. While his grounds are abstract, his figures possess a compelling blend of expressive abstraction and realism. Kerr’s likenesses are deftly rendered, with lighter tones modeled over umber grounds, like notes upon staves of music. The dark ground emerges around the features of his figures, providing a sense of emphatic delineation, rootedness—a literal connection to the ground and to place—within which the figures come alive. Through their contrast against the tonal value and realism of his figures, these outlines seem only to strengthen their presence and voice. As in Traditional music, what at first might seem to be the limiting outlines of tradition instead become stylistic roots that connect, empower, enrich, and raise the stakes of the artist’s creativity and ingenuity.
Daniel Faiella’s oil paintings contain the expressive vitality of Vallely and Kerr’s paintings. While Faiella’s landscapes occasionally feature musical subjects, a Traditional musical sensibility nevertheless permeates his work. The responsive subtlety and nuance of his paintings parallel his approach to musical accompaniment. Daniels’s paintings are elegant and emotive, remaining authentic to their source while becoming enriched by his thoughtful and creative engagement. His nuanced use of color harmonies and complements causes the paintings to glisten and vibrate, mirroring the motion of his brushwork. There is a captivating immediacy to Daniel’s paintings, a sense of being in the moment, in the landscape, in their confident, clear, and expressive gestures. Viewing his work is like being present for his concerts, seeing the chords and melodic runs as they are played, experiencing the evocative harmonies and driving rhythms, and being left with a lasting memory of the moment. Daniel’s paintings capture something transient and beautiful, and something of the undeniable music in the landscape.
I am honored and humbled to be able to join this lineup of incredible artists and musicians. While my style contrasts markedly with that of Vallely, Kerr, and Faiella, my own work similarly explores musical themes, capturing rollicking Irish sessions on the coast of Maine, and portraits of local musicians. I am captivated by the shifting play of light across a figure or an instrument, and the ways in which chiaroscuro and tenebrism function much like modal inflections within the music, with the emotion of a tune shifting as if under changing light. If you peer closely, you might see the faint silhouette of a harp in Planxty Damm, and the treeline that is in fact the waveform of the Irish harp tune, Planxty Irwin.
Thank you again for joining us for the Carrickahowley Gallery’s Lughnasadh show. I hope you enjoy the work of these four fine artists.
I am interested in life and tradition on the island of Ireland, its people, its history, and the landscape. I am particularly interested in Irish folklore and ideas of the otherworld and how this shaped and influenced Irish traditional music over the years. Concepts of tradition, continuity, and innovation and where they intersect inform my artistic practice.
Originally from the southern shores of Lough Neagh in County Armagh but now living and working in Dublin, Barry Kerr is one of Ireland’s most accomplished artists. He has toured the world as a solo artist and has been equally at home sharing the stage in the company of other artists including Steve Cooney, Cara Dillon, Julie Fowlis, Lumiere, and Dervish. Renowned folk acts such as Karan Casey, Flook, Jiggy, Beoga, Brian Finnegan, Damian O’Kane, and Kate Rusby include his compositions in their tour repertoires.
He has performed on some of the most prestigious stages in the world, from Radio City Music Hall in New York to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, and has multiple arena tours under his belt. He performed as principal uilleann piper on a symphony orchestra tour of the United States with Celtic Thunder under the direction of conductor David Brophy.
As Artist in Residence at the celebrated Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts in Belfast for a number of years, Barry played a central role in developing the city of Belfast as a vibrant cultural hub.
Previous works include; Castor Bay (2018) a duet album of traditional song, flute, uilleann pipes, and fiddle music with his sister Laura Kerr and guitarist Donogh Hennessy; Boy in a Boat (2015) a collection of original songs; CEATHAIR and Continuum an exploration of the concept of relating visual art with musical performance, storytelling, and composition.
Barry was recently awarded the prestigious Liam O’Flynn award from the National Concert Hall and the Arts Council of Ireland. As a result of that award, Kerr released ‘Cairn’, a collection of Barry’s own compositions which also includes a set of jigs composed by piper Liam O’Flynn, arranged and interpreted by Kerr.
Chris Gray is a Maine-based oil painter and uilleann piper whose portraits and landscapes explore music, memory, and tradition. Gray received his MFA from Maine College of Art in 2021, with previous degrees in Art and Music from Bowdoin College (BA in Studio Art) and University College Cork (Diploma in Irish Traditional Music, MA in Ethnomusicology). Gray’s paintings are heavily influenced by his background in Irish traditional music and his personal experience of ulnar neuropathy. In 2018, bilateral nerve damage required Gray to take a step back from the music and inspired a significant shift in his studio practice. He began to seriously explore memory as it relates to artistic and musical traditions, looking at the ways in which the performative act of painting can revive, reify, or transform memory in a manner that parallels revivals of traditional music.
Chris Gray is a member of the Coastal Fine Arts Alliance of Maine, and he was the 2019 recipient of the Bangor Art Society’s Open Juried Show award for First Place in Oil Painting. Gray’s work has been featured in numerous group and solo shows along the coast of Maine, including shows at the Shaw Gallery, the Salty Dog Gallery, and the Cornerstone Gallery on Mount Desert Island.
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