Dunlavin is an art lover’s par­adise


Wicklow People (West Edition) - - INTERVIEW -

AH yes, the arts. Dry and snobby arts. Re­mote and elit­ist arts. Crit­ics with airs. Col­lec­tors with no­tions. Not in Dunlavin, not on your nel­lie. In Dunlavin, the arts fill the vil­lage once a year with laugh­ter and ex­cite­ment and oc­ca­sional flashes of won­der. In Dunlavin the arts are fun. Some of the fun is se­ri­ous fun. Some of the fun is hi­lar­i­ous fun. But ev­ery­thing on the agenda for the week­end of the arts fes­ti­val is in­cluded to of­fer some mea­sure of en­joy­ment. No stuffed shirts.

The 37th stag­ing of the an­nual Dunlavin Fes­ti­val of the Arts took place over three days from Fri­day to Sun­day, with some­thing for ev­ery­one, from set danc­ing to cir­cus acts, choirs to crafts. And at the heart of the arts pro­gramme was an art which has been oc­cu­py­ing hu­man minds and hands since the cave dwellers first at­tempted some in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tion – paint­ing. Dunlavin boasts

a mag­nif­i­cently main­tained Mar­ket House, a tri­umph of fine grey stone bright­ened by the daz­zling white framed win­dow on the ground floor and the gleam­ing gilt num­bers above on the clock. On Fri­day evening, for the open­ing of the fes­ti­val, the build­ing was thronged with art lovers – for ev­ery­one in Dunlavin is an art lover come fes­ti­val time.

They were treated to a se­lec­tion of paint­ings (as cho­sen by the com­mit­tee from sub­mis­sions made by in­vited artists), to a glass or two of wine, and to some nicely browned sausages. Tucked into a cor­ner, a cham­ber string duo com­pris­ing Dorly O’Sullivan on cello and Phil Callery on fid­dle ra­di­ated sooth­ing class with their mu­sic. Over­see­ing the smooth run­ning of the oc­ca­sion was fes­ti­val co­or­di­na­tor Laura An­drews who pointed to the strong lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the works.

The home team in­cluded Shay O’Byrne, whose Lacken snows­cape soon had a red sticker in­di­cat­ing an early sale, and wood carver Nor­man Styles, of Grange­con. The word was that con­trib­u­tors had been in­structed to keep their prices rea­son­able, even if this kept down the size of the works ex­hib­ited. ‘Rea­son­able’ in this con­text ranged from a touch un­der €300 to a smidge over €2,000, lev­els re­flect­ing the fact that all the con­trib­u­tors are prac­ti­tion­ers of some stature.

Sub­ject mat­ter cov­ered the lot from horses and flow­ers and por­traits to ab­stract squares and all-too-re­al­is­tic old trac­tors. And the works on show were not all paint­ings, as Nor­man Styles con­trib­uted three of his ex­quis­ite wood carv­ings of birds. Dap­per in blazer and tie, he de­scribed him­self as a re­tired hor­ti­cul­tur­ist and re­vealed some of the tricks of his trade.

‘The tim­ber has to be five years cut be­fore I use it,’ he said. He has a shed load of wood at his home in Grange­con, much of it col­lected dur­ing ram­bles in the lo­cal demesne or Rath­sal­lagh. Other pieces maybe cre­ated from drift­wood washed up on the Wex­ford coast or 50,000 year old yew ex­ca­vated from some bog in Kerry.

The artists are not kept on any sort of pedestal in Dunlavin, with Shay O’Byrne’s wife Mar­garet help­ing with the cater­ing: ‘He’s on the way,’ she promised when your re­porter looked to have a word with her hus­band. The great man even­tu­ally saun­tered in, hap­pily bask­ing in the hon­our re­cently be­stowed on him by the Royal Hiber­nian Acad­emy, which awarded him a prize for one of his Wick­low land­scapes. And he let slip that he is due to be fea­tured shortly in the ‘Sun­day Times’.

A Dublin na­tive, Shay moved to the county back in the 1990s to work at Tur­lough Hill for the ESB, stay­ing put with Mar­garet af­ter re­tir­ing from the power com­pany. He de­clared him­self a big fan of the arts fes­ti­val over many years: ‘It has been a great plat­form for lo­cal tal­ent to show their work. Twenty-five years ago it had a sim­i­lar for­mat – it’s just that it has grown and there is a greater in­ter­est.’ His sentiments were echoed by Nor­man Styles: ‘The arts fes­ti­val is great for Dunlavin, great for up and com­ing artists, and it brings a buzz to the town.’

Among the crowd ad­mir­ing the ex­hibits was Mary Deer­ing, adding a touch of glam­our to the gath­er­ing with her brightly coloured blue and pink wrap. Mary one of few present who could truth­fully claim to have been present at the first of the 37 fes­ti­vals. She re­called that the ini­tia­tive came from the en­er­getic brain of a lady called Glo­ria Clyne, an Amer­i­can wo­man who worked as a pro­ducer with RTE. Glo­ria took part in a Mayor of Dunlavin con­test and de­vised the fes­ti­val as her con­tri­bu­tion.

The 2019 edi­tion was for­mally launched by a man who prefers words to paint. He spoke of how the fes­ti­val was part of his child­hood grow­ing up in Dunlavin dur­ing the 1980s. Robert had the au­di­ence laugh­ing aloud as he read an open let­ter ad­dressed to his 13 year old self, a mis­sive which in­cluded the oft re­peated ad­vice ‘read more books’.

While the speeches were made in the Mar­ket Hall, the fes­ti­val was not a one-venue event – and that is a large part of the chaotic joy of it. A short


step away, the ask­ing prices were strictly three-fig­ure (or even two-fig­ure) in the Old School­house, prompt­ing fes­ti­val vet­eran Mar­garet Lynott to re­mark: ‘There is no ex­cuse. Ev­ery­one in Dunlavin should have an orig­i­nal work of art.’

The sub­ject mat­ter in the school­house show typ­i­cally fea­tured views of Bal­ly­knockan and Donard but among the con­trib­u­tors was lo­cal Ann Clancy who strayed fur­ther afield to ex­hibit a canal scene, rem­i­nis­cent of a hol­i­day spent in Venice.

Not quite by co­in­ci­dence, another Vene­tian land­scape was on show a cou­ple of me­tres away, this one cre­ated in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent style by Michael Clancy – Ann’s hus­band.

She re­vealed that he paints in the kitchen of their Dunlavin home while she usu­ally sets up her easel in the porch and she com­mented: ‘Your char­ac­ter comes out in your paint­ing – and Michael is more ca­sual.’

The show in the school­house had 46 dif­fer­ent artists listed on the cat­a­logue, most of them reg­u­lars, with co­or­di­na­tor Eithne De­laney reck­on­ing that this year’s dis­play has just six new­com­ers.

Another hus­band and wife com­bi­na­tion on Eithne’s roll was Geral­dine and John Fitz­patrick, Dublin­ers who come from Dun­drum.

They have been show­ing at the school­house in Dunlavin for many years, while their son Derek has grad­u­ated from ‘emerg­ing artist’ sta­tus to the up-mar­ket Mar­ket House across the street.

The help­ful map listed eight dif­fer­ent gal­leries – some of them in un­likely lo­ca­tions.

Sarah Rogers – another Grange­con res­i­dent - of­fered paint­ings of Ir­ish cows and Span­ish horses on the walls of a room in the garda sta­tion, of all places. An ar­rest­ing show if ever there was one.

‘Where are the heads?’ peo­ple wanted to know. Up­stairs, over the ve­gan restau­rant, was the an­swer. The 60-plus heads were black and white por­traits snapped on his smart­phone by Mark Lawlor. The not-for-sale com­pen­dium was part of Mark’s photo ob­ses­sion, from a man who has 2,219 images posted on In­sta­gram – and count­ing.

Mov­ing along, there were orig­i­nal post­cards in the bak­ery and paint­ings from school stu­dents in the Lite Door gallery. A group show by Russ­bor­ough based Cruthú took rapid root in what is usu­ally a win­dow and door busi­ness, trans­formed for the week­end to be­come a haven of the arts. Cruthú mem­ber Michelle Leni­han, a res­i­dent of Hol­ly­wood, chipped in with some fine views of Bless­ing­ton.

Next door, back in town af­ter en­joy­ing her­self so much last year was French painter An­nick Genevois, with some of her hu­mor­ous sea­side cre­ations. The can­vasses ar­rived all the way from Lyons by boat in a wooden crate while An­nick her­self trav­elled by plane.

At the end of Stephen Street was the Un­hinged Door Gallery, taken over by Kyle Hamilton, for­merly of New Jer­sey but now liv­ing hap­pily in West Wick­low. She spe­cialises in fas­ci­nat­ing pic­tures of flies, with a wall of the gallery ded­i­cated to stuff her killer cat dragged in by way of va­ri­ety – not just dead mice but also a de­ceased mag­pie and a life­less squir­rel.

Asked if there is any­thing to match the Dunlavin Fes­ti­val of Arts in New Jer­sey, she re­ferred to an event in the state cap­i­tal Tren­ton: ‘But Tren­ton is a big­ger city,’ she con­ceded. Google sug­gests that Dunlavin has a pop­u­la­tion of maybe 720 while Tren­ton’s is at least 83,000. Dunlavin clearly punches above its weight.

Last stop was another group show across the road staged by Red Line Art, a bunch of friends who meet ev­ery Mon­day all year round in Emo, County Laois. Promi­nent among them was Dunlavin based Kathleen Owens who de­clared: ‘I love paint­ing boats and the sea.’

She re­vealed that she was in­volved in the first stag­ing of the fes­ti­val, un­der di­rec­tion of the flam­boy­ant Glo­ria Clyne all those years ago.

Kathleen con­firmed that it was in­vented as part of a fund-rais­ing may­oral con­test. As best she could re­call, Glo­ria did not suc­ceed in be­com­ing mayor though she cer­tainly started a pow­er­ful and en­dur­ing ball rolling.

Shay O’ Byrne.

The work of artist David Rouse.

Ea­monn Hef­fer­nan and Noreen Joyce with some of the art­work on dis­play dur­ing the Dunlavin Arts Fes­ti­val.

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