Celebration of McSweeney life and art
Part of an unseen ‘treasure trove’ of paintings and prints by Cork artist Tadhg McSweeney, uncovered since his death last year, is to go on public display for the first time.
The deceptively naive style of the Cill na Martra painter and sculptor is encapsulated in the title of a new exhibition of his work, ‘Complex Simplicity’, opening on September 7 at Baile Mhúirne’s Ionad Cultúrtha.
The exhibition marks the first anniversary of McSweeney’s death with a celebration of his life and works, offering a glimpse of a vast collection of oil paintings, watercolours, and woodcuts, described as “an asset to Irish visual arts”.
McSweeney, who was largely self-taught, painted prolifically and exhibited in Cork, Dublin, London, Germany, and the US during his lifetime.
The works in ‘Complex Simplicity’, all of them on sale, are part of a collection in the care of the Tadhg McSweeney Trust, established following his death for the benefit of the local community. They include studies of everyday household items such as brushes and coal shovels, and of nature, many featuring the haunting presence of the crows which became something of a trademark of McSweeney’s paintings.
The apparent simplicity of his style belies a complexity of approach, according to Camille Lynch, who is working with the trust on planning exhibitions of McSweeney’s work in Cork City, Dublin, and London: “He was concerned with the simplicity of the way things look, and also with the complexity of the way things are. He painted birds, trees, fields, everyday objects, people he knew, and people he saw in the street. He wasn’t interested in the work being a reference for anything else.”
McSweeney himself said of his technique: “There doesn’t have to be a story. It doesn’t have to refer to anything. The fact of itself is enough.”
McSweeney was inspired by the Polish mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, who discovered fractals, the geometrical figures used in modelling structures such as snowflakes.
“When Mandelbrot died in October 2010, McSweeney became aware of the apple trees in his garden, and he noticed how the apples repeated themselves beautifully along their branches. He observed that this pattern was, within itself, a fractal — what Mandlebrot called ‘a shape made of parts similar to the whole’,” said Camille.
Apple trees are among the diverse subjects in ‘Complex Simplicity’, an exhibition which spans work created from the 1980s until shortly before McSweeney’s death, aged 82.
It is only a fraction of the work he left behind, however, and the job of the Tadhg McSweeney Trust in presenting his art to new audiences is only beginning.
“It’s a treasure trove. It’s an asset to Irish visual arts and the community. It’s a really significant collection that needs to be seen,” Camille said. “We’re going to try to get the work stored correctly, catalogued properly, and introduce it to the public.”
The Baile Mhúirne exhibition in McSweeney’s local Múscraí Gaeltacht area marks the start of that process a year on from his passing with a “celebration of his life and work, for friends, family, and the local community”.
‘Complex Simplicity’ will be opened by film-maker and Aosdána member Vivienne Dick at 7pm on September 7, followed by a screening of Dónal Ó Céilleachair’s 2014 film Tadhg McSweeney, Painter: A Film Portrait.
The exhibition runs until October 22.
‘Breakfast Table’ by Cill na Martra artist Tadhg McSweeney, whose work will be exhibited posthumously at the Ionad Cultúrtha, Baile Mhúirne, from this Saturday, September 7.
Tadhg McSweeney, whose work will be exhibited at Baile Mhúirne’s Ionad Cultúrtha, opening this Saturday.