Cel­e­bra­tion of McSweeney life and art

Irish Examiner - County - - News - Pet O’Connell ■

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.

Pic­ture: Nick Lethert

Tadhg McSweeney, whose work will be ex­hib­ited at Baile Mhúirne’s Ionad Cultúrtha, open­ing this Satur­day.

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