Monday, November 06, 2006

In the Presence of the Lord

Went to the National Gallery last Saturday for a celebration of Louis Le Brocquy's 90th birthday - one of a seemingly endless series of events held this year to honour the great man. This was a rather special one judging by the invitation's unusual assertion that it should be presented at the door. And indeed there was security at the entrance checking that the riff raff didn't slip in.

The great and the good of the art world were in attendance. i saw Robert Ballagh as I came in, and there is the venerable Pat Scott leaning on an elegant cane. John Taylor and Mary were there, keeping very close to Pierre Le Brocquy - the man who controls access to Louis's work. The legal profession were out in force, Eoin McGonigal, chairman of IMMA was there and so was Jim O'Driscoll in the company of Peter Sutherland (whose wife appeared to called Verucca if my ears didn't deceive me). There were a lot of men dressed all in black but with extremely colourful ties - Ian Whyte to name but one. This is obviously the look for the professional art person. I also saw John Kelly from RTE (taller than I imagined) and even Benji from the Riordans (OK, Tom Hickey).

Raymond Keavney made the opening address suggesting that if Jack Yeats was the Irish artist of the 1st half of the 20th Century, then Louis Le Brocquy was his equivalent for the 2nd half. He then slightly lamely took him into the 21st Century with some assertion about how he would extend his influence into this period. It's a bit dodgy, I suppose, discussing the future of a 90-year old man. Le Brocquy himself then stood up and spoke very eloquently, from notes, about the origins of his head pieces. Some of the artists like Bacon, Beckett and Bono (oh dear) were his friends, he said. Others were artists he particularly admired - like Lorca and Strindberg. He remembered as a schoolboy meeting W.B. Yeats but only knew him as one would know a school-teacher. He tried to capture some of their intelligence and genius in these head images.

The show itself was mighty fine - the Yeat's and the Beckett's being especially good. The Lorca's seemed weaker to me but maybe that's because I have no real image of Lorca in my head. And thanks be to God they had the good sense to omit the horrific portrait of Bono as the Mekon.

After the speeches, Le Brocquy sat himself down at a chair by the rostrum and received a line of well wishers - a number of them shabbily putting the make on him for an autograph. And yes readers, I joined that line. But only because P. had his camera and pushed me. I let him off lightly - just congratulating him on his speech and saying it was an honour to meet him. His hand was surprisingly soft and delicate. Most artists (male and female) are horny handed. He seems a gentle soul - unlike his great shark-faced biddy gliding through the attendant lords nearby.

Oh and the food being handed out was pretty good: duck kebabs no less, and dainty confections of choux pastry and peppers with olives. And the wine flowed.