Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Apotheosis of the Lingerie Model

Dear, oh dear. Words do fail us. And aren't we in a fine old mess when a pretty bimbo does a Diana Lite on the nation. The Sindo all agog - some breathless fat boy journalist regales us with details of the frequency of her fucking. And Berties's aide-de-camp represents us at the plasma screen bedecked funeral where the family seemed more intent on performing than mourning.

The word meretricious springs unbidden to mind. What a country we are when the agenda for the life we should aspire to is set by such a collection of self-absorbed, vapid fuckwits. And shouldn't we start a campaign to liberate Gene Kerrigan.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Fallon's Folly

There is no doubt that the race-fixing charges against Kieran Fallon were spurious in the extreme. The BHA were exposed as both stupid and malicious and their Australian wide-boy witness made a complete farce out of their case with his admission that he was not familiar with British racing. The obscene flouting of natural justice whereby Fallon was forbidden to ride pending the trial gave him a perfect platform from which to capture public sympathy and receive compensation for his troubles.

And what does he do – persist with his coke consumption (apparently, pending the B sample confirmation) so that having at last got off the hook he is firmly impaled on it again. Surely Coolmore will cry enough now. If he gets the usual penalty he won’t be able to ride again until 2010. This is ingratitude write large on Fallon’s part after the loyalty and genorosity displayed by Coolmore.

He has now lost the sympathy of all reasonable men. Ain’t that a shame.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

William Crozier at the Taylor Gallery

Nice man, great swathes of bright alluring colour but there's something I just can't warm to about Crozier's work. Maybe it's the faux naive drawing - especially of trees and bushes - that puts me off. There was a poor enough turn out in the Taylor. Maybe getting into town on a Thursday evening is just getting too difficult with the current traffic levels. I think all openings should be on a Sunday afternoon. They were hawking a book at the show so they had the poor man stuck in a corner signing all evening rather than up and about glad handling the punters.

There was a bunch of barristers there (Eoin McGonigal, Jim O'Driscoll, John O'Donnell etc.) and a few artists (Robert Ballagh, Stephen Lawler, Cecily Brennan etc.) but in general it was quiet. And where was Campbell Bruce? His ubiquitous biddy was there (seated) but he was nowhere to be found. Crozier is a West Cork neighbour of his so he must have been unwell.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Paddle Puzzle

I attended Whytes art auction in the RDS last Monday for an hour or so to gauge the temperature of the art market. There was an enormous crowd there and the RTE cameras were in attendance. Business seemed good and in addition to the usual suspects (Le Brocquy, Dan O'Neill, Teskey etc.) a number of pieces went for surprisingly good prices. a Seamus O'Colmain of a Dublin street scene fetched €19,000 from a guide price of €3,000 and a clinical Liam Belton got €29,000 (guide price €20,000). There was an exquisite small Shinnors ("Evening Study at Window III") that went for €16,000.

One surprising feature of the auction was that of the 60 lots I witnessed, none were withdrawn. This seems unprecedented to me. However looking at Whytes web site today I notice that a number of pieces that seemed to have been sold (William Scott's "Children in Street", Tony O'Malley's "Bahamas" , Le Brocquy's "Resurrection" and an early Teskey for example) are actually listed as unsold. Curious eh. Each of these pieces had a paddle number assigned at the auction - usually an indication of being sold. Maybe it's a way of avoiding negative vibes at an auction.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Droit de Suite

A meeting last night in Buswell's Hotel to discuss the current state of this newly enfroced law. Salient points:

- Robert Ballagh set the scene by recounting the sad story of Madge Campbell - the poor old widow of George. She died in very straitened circumstances while his work sold for thousands at auction.
- There was a general consensus that the law on droit de suite was rushed in and poorly drafted leading to many anomalies. It was brought in hastily to prempt Ballagh's High Court case.
- Very few artists actually benefit: le Brocquy get about 35% of the total (which is around €350K so far in 2007).
- Whytes impose the levy on the purchaser although the law says the vendor should pay.
- Ian Whyte makes the point that in a buyer's market it would kill the business if the vendor were hit. He is also following Sotheby's practise.
- Whytes are holding the money in a special account and not actually paying it out becaause the law is too vague he claims.
- Ballagh took exception to this strategy saying that it could take many years before the law is revisited and that its not that vague.
- The payment to the estates of dead artists is derogated until 2012 - Whytes said the auctioneers would fight this to prevent it happening at all.
- In Ireland there is no official collection mechanism - IVARO is looking to be the de facto agency (le Brocquy is a member). Ian Whyte said he would support their role.
- In England this levy only applies again after 3 years have elapsed - in Ireland this is not covered so in theory there could be a droit de suite liability 3 or 4 times in a few years - this will impact the dealers.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gwen O'Dowd at the Hillsboro Gallery

I’ve been an admirer of Gwen O’Dowd’s painting for a long time. I remember picking up an early Snowdonia more than 12 years ago and later buying a big Grand Canyon work in the Kerlin Gallery. Over the past six or seven years she 's been doing a prolonged Uaimh series - dark ambiguous works with areas of rich colours. I also got a kick out of her wonderful characterful self-portrait in the National Self-Portrait Gallery in Limerick.

Her work is usually dark mysterious and vaguely figurative. Is that a womb, the void, or a rock cave in the West of Ireland? Her work lends itself to such speculation. The Grand Canyon series was somewhat of an anomaly in that the work could be related to an actual physical landscape. Although every time I look at my piece I also see ribs of beef - with the red rocks suggesting meat.

Her latest show in the Hillsboro Gallery in Parnell Square proved worth persisting with appalling Pearse Street traffic to attend. It’s a wonderful spacious gallery presided over by the benign John Daly. The work – a lot of it quite large – was given plenty of room to breathe. It could be described as the Uaimh series with added water. You still have the rich colours (greens and blues predominate) and the dark void, but now there are cascades of water rushing from the depths or crashing over the rocks. If there is a flaw with her paintings, and in general I am a big admirer, it's that sometimes her composition jars, they can seem unbalanced. But the colour, texture, and moody drama of her work more than compensates for this occasional shortcoming.

There was a good attendance of art people at the show but not that many punters. Neil Jordan was there, the Campbell Bruces of course, Mary Lohan, and the fragrant Siobhan McDonald. Afterwards Gwen and the amiable Phelim (her partner) held a reception in her splendid studio nearby - great food and plenty of Prosecco.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Form is Fickle, Class is Permanent

This match caught my attention a few weeks ago and I tried to capture why in the ensuing blog but don't think I succeeded. Maybe my interest was piqued by the contrast between Sharapova's demeanour before the match and her actual performance.

Maria Sharapova is no Kournokova. Despite being one of the tastiest dishes on the women’s tennis circuit, she has won two Grand Slam titles and is a steely competitor. A lot of Eastern Bloc players lose their hunger when the dollars start rolling in but this has not happened to Sharapova. Her modest origins and her early struggles in the US have stiffened her resolve. Of late however the little sweetie has been out of sorts with a shoulder injury and hasn’t been playing much. Her last competitive match was in the US Open where she departed early to a nonentity.

So her end-of-season appearance at the WTA Masters in Madrid against the bang in-form Daniela Hantuchova seemed to be merely perfunctory. Fulfilling a contractual obligation. Prior to the match that amiable old broiler Pam Shriver interviewed both players before they went on court. Hantuchova exuded confidence – after the interview she bounced off eager to get going. Conversely Sharapova was nervous and unusually surly - her greasy hair and rash of pimples contributed to a sense that tonight was not going to be her night. She walked onto the court as one who was walking to her execution.

Aside from her injury and her lack of match practice, the one big flaw in Sharapova’s game has been her brittle serve – frequently breaking down under pressure. Her recent shoulder injury suggested that she would have trouble again in this area. A betting man would have loaded on Hantuchova.

But out of nowhere, after a tentative start (losing her first service game) Sharapova overcame her rustiness and began to dominate like the true champion she is. You could see her blossom as the serve started to work - helped perhaps by a modified action. Hantuchova’s perkiness began to wane and her lighter ground strokes were exposed as Sharapova hammered winners from all angles. The transformation was total.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Art and Graft

The following is an open letter from John Kelly the artist to Peter Murray concerning the Crawford Open - and the thorny issue of selection for open submission shows in Ireland. We're all familiar with the random nature of the RHA's selection policy. This letter seems to be suggesting that cliques and coteries prevail in these circumstances. Judge for yourself.

Dear Peter
I have concerns about the recent selection of work for ‘The sleep of reason’ exhibition, which despite the entry form disclaimer and the denial of further correspondence, should be opened to public debate. For advertising it as the ‘Crawford Open’, with international jurors Enrique Juncosa (Irish Museum of Modern Art) and Frances Morris (Tate Modern) gave the impression it was open to all, with each artist paying for their work to be assessed without prejudice or favour. However the facts as shown below suggest otherwise.
It is worth noting that although submissions from Cork based artists would have made up a significant percentage of the entries, not one artist, currently living and working in Cork survived the cull of 750 entries. I believe if we look at the selected artists we find the reason why. For more than half of the fifteen artists selected are connected in some way to the institutions that the two jurors represent and of the rest, nearly all are art students being given an opportunity (Michael Gurhy, the only artist who might be considered to be living in Cork was amongst this group and is currently at St Martins in London).
For example Mai Yamashita and Naoto Kobayashi from Germany exhibited at the Tate Modern earlier this year. Frances Morris is responsible for international art at the Tate.
The other Kobayashi in the exhibition, Fumiko did not exhibit at the Tate and is not related to Naoto but all three attended the same art-college in Japan and later in Germany together. They have also exhibited together and Mai and Naoto informed me they are good friends with Fumiko. Maybe their selection, like their name, is pure coincidence because stranger things have happened.
It is no coincidence that Frances Morris is aware of selected artist Paul McAree, because for a number of years he worked alongside her as an administrator in ‘Exhibitions and Displays’ at the Tate Modern. McAree also started the Colony gallery in Birmingham where he is a Director, curator and where he exhibits another selected artist, Michelle Deignan.
The other juror, Enrique Juncosa would be very aware of Tom Molloy, Andrew Vickery and Abigail O’Brien for they all have work within the IMMA collection and Martin Healy is currently undertaking a residency at the museum.
Five of the other artists are all students or have graduated within the last year. Four have also had other careers, being an investment banker, a visual merchandiser, graphic designer and one as an accountant/gallery director (another pattern?). Except for one they are all London based art students.
The Tate Gallery was very much part of the London ‘putsch’ that re-branded the UK as ‘Cool Britannia’ in the late nineties. A beneficiary of this re-branding are the London art schools that each year reap significant amounts of income, from overseas students who dream of being ‘discovered’ in the annual college exhibitions. ‘The sleep of reason’ selection simply reinforces this cultural lottery where international students pay thousands to enter the competition.
I am in no way suggesting that the artists and students are not worthy of being included and in some ways the selection process is understandable in reinforcing the two institutions previous curatorial relationships whilst reiterating London’s position as being the centre of the mythical ‘art-world’. However once the connections and patterns of selection are revealed it does lead to the question of just how open was the Crawford ‘Open’? And were we charged a fee or did we make a donation?
Maybe the biggest coincidence of all is the title of the exhibition, for I understand it originates from Goya’s series of etchings titled ‘Los Caprichos’. The most famous of these etchings is "El sueno de la razon produce monstruos": the sleep of reason brings forth monsters. Goya, who having applied several times to become the court painter, only to be rejected, described the series as being based on "the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance, or self-interest have made usual . . .”
I look forward to a response but would understand if you invoke the entry form disclaimer.
John Kelly
Cc: Enrique Juncosa
Cc: France Morris
Cc: Dawn Williams

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bertie Unmasked

Bertie's benign indifference to principles, ethics, or even the basic decencies has been demonstrated once again for the slow of learning - the lame-brained Irish electorate. To accept a €38K annual increase at a time when the health service has a hiring freeze, the economy is in decline, tax rises are imminent and the unions are getting restless suggests his contempt for the Irish people is total. He knows that 40% of them will continue to vote for FF no matter how much shit he makes them eat. And by the way, the notion that in any way our politicians' salaries can be compared to those in the private sector is just a joke. The private sector don't have bullet-proof pensions - and they work considerably longer hours.

On top of this brutish money grubbing, Bertie and the boys have passed a law specifically to enable Michael Woods get hold of a substantial back pension payment. This brings to mind a special law passed by Bertie to benefit the property developer Ken Rohan back in the Nineties - while he was in the middle of some bother with the Revenue Commissioners about the value of his art collection. Forget the common good. Here in our tawdry tinpot republic we look after our own, the rest of you can rot in hell.

Now that he's not going for election again he can remove the mask. And what's revealed is a face no different than that of his old boss.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rugby World Cup IV: Abiding Images

(1) The haunted look on the faces of Anton Oliver and Dan Carter as they stood on the sideline watching the New Zealand train come off the rails against France.

(2) The grace and power of Victor Matfield as he soared above every other second-row in the tournament.

(3) The pursed mouth and hostile demeanour of Eddie O'Sullivan as he was questioned by Sinead Kissane after Ireland's defeat by Argentina.

(4) Felipe Contemponi pinching a discomfited O'Gara on the cheek as he passed by after another Argentinian score. A real Latin provocation.

(5) The theatrically fearsome Chabal taking time to play with an opponent's baby just after the 3rd place defeat by Argentina.

(6) Hernandez flying fearlessly through the air to field one of his garryowens.

(7) The Argentinian team bursting with patriotism as their national anthem was played.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Anne Enright

I don't have any opinion on Enright's winning of the Booker Prize as I've never read her fiction. I vaguely remember she wrote some book about her adventures having children so I (unfairly perhaps) consigned her to the biddy lit category of Irish writing. However, if you were to judge her by her recent contribution to the London Review of Books (4th October 2007 you'd not be handing her any awards. In passing I smiled at John Banville's reaction to her award - he was happy to see the bookies get it wrong again. Not a ringing endorsement then.

Her LRB piece was an extraordinarily badly judged article on the Madeline McCann case. Its gruesome sub-tabloid speculation seemed more appropriate to a rag like the Sunday Independent than the august pages of the LRB. Enright regaled us with her family's (nice cosy consensus eh) growing belief that the parents had murdered Madeline. This belief seemed to be based on the most spurious speculation about child sedation. There were also suggestions of wife-swapping and excessive drinking. In addition she took the husband to task for the polished corporate speak he used in his dealings with the press. As if she had any idea of the suffering of a parents in these circumstances and the mechanisms they use to deal with this pain. She also threw in, en passant, a wildly inappropriate joke about the serial killer Harold Shipman. All in all an appalling and meretricious piece. For shame Anne.

Thinking more about the piece it reads like she dashed it off while on holiday somewhere - maybe after a bottle of wine or two.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Uncle Vanya at the Gate

The Gate is getting a bit too cosy and staid in its choice of plays. It's all a bit luvvies cosying up to the comfortable chattering classes. Don't rock the boat dear. Uncle Vanya was a very conventional choice for the Theatre Festival - even with the Brian Friel imprimatur. There's something relentlessly middle-class about Chekov. There always seems to be a lot of guff about very little in the drawing rooms of polite society. And there's also something safe about the concerns of his plays. You can argue that Uncle Vanya is about wasted lifes and stifled impulses. However, I'm not sure I care enough to engage with any of the characters. Vanya is ridiculous, Astrov is a jaded cliche, Sonia is everyspinster, the professor is a pompous fool, his gorgeous wife Yelena is a cipher and don't get me started on the character that Tom Hickey hammed up - Termagin or something like that.

The problem for me is the lack of drama. Even Vanya's half-baked attempt on the professor's life seems unlikely and the lack of reaction of all concerned is amazing and unconvincing. Friel bolts on some contemporary concerns anout the environment and lively ups the language but it's a bland night at the theatre. Professional and polished of course. A good cast wasted.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Martha Gellhorn

Just finished a scabrous and entertaining biography of Martha Gellhorn by Caryl Rollyson. I've always admired her journalism and her doughtiness but knew little about her life other than what I'd gleaned from her occasional appearances in Granta. She started life as a bright and ambitious literary moppet. Her family were well-got and during periods of rootlessness she would stay in the White House no less - she was a very good friend of Eleanor Roosevelt (through her mother). Determined to be a successful writer she started by catching the eye of that infamous pussy hound H.G. Wells. He agreed to write a preface to her first collection of stories and she was on her way. She of course provided the kind of reciprocation the old goat appreciated. All through her life she had a pragmatic view of sex as a means to an end. She didn't enjoy it much or set too much store on it - she once famously compared it to giving a piece of bread to a starving man; an act of mercy really. She moved on from Wells to the biggest lion in the literary jungle, Ernest Hemingway. He was equally susceptible to a well-turned ankle and soon they became lovers and eventually married. However, he wanted a home bird and she was intent on keeping on the move and so their Cuban idyll soon fell apart. And the acrimony, oh dear. She described sex with him as "short and sharp". He retaliated by likening her nether portions to an old hot water bottle - not a gentleman then old Papa.

When her literary epitaph is written I reckon she is nailed in this description by Hemingway: "She had more ambition than Napoleon and about the talent of the average high school Valedictorian." She was never an intellectual and found Proust a challenge that was beyond her. A woman of action then and a very fine journalist - although with a serious blind spot about Palestine. Maybe her experiences at Dacchau were to blame for this.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rugby World Cup III: How Can Such a Thing Be

Rugby is not like soccer. If you dominate possession and territory you usually win. If not through tries then through the penalties, and maybe drop-goals, that accrue when you are camped in your opponent's half. The match between France and New Zealand last Saturday was the 1% of matches where this did not happen. If that match were played a 1,000 times, NZ would win the other 999. But they choked. They had 72% possession and territorial dominance and they didn’t have the presence of mind to chip over a few drop goals as the French defence heroically countered every attacking gambit. The NZ team spent the last 10 minutes of the match bangng its head against a brick wall defence without ever trying to kick their way out of trouble. If Hernandez had been playing for them he would have popped over 3 or 4 drop golas with that kind of possession. There is no redemption here. Every player on that NZ team will know this to their dying day. OK Carter was injured. OK the pass was forward for the last try. OK the referee stifled McCaw from early on. OK the penalty count was 9-2 against NZ. It doesn’t matter. They blew it. They choked. Richie McCaw should have got up from a few of the rucks he buried himself under and given some leadership. The better team lost.

This is written with extreme objectivity and has nothing to do with the fact that I had a large bet on NZ to win the tournament last November.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Long Day's Journey into Night at the Gaiety

Aptly named I'm sure a lot of the crowd felt as they left the Gaiety around 23.30. And there were a number of nodders off in the audience. But what a treat for the professional miserabilists. And plenty of references to and quotes from Baudelaire, Nietsche, and the patron saint of miserabilists my old favourite Ernest Dowson:

"They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream."

Four solid hours of a drunken, dysfunctional, argumentative family. Morphine addiction, alcoholism, tuberculosis, wasted talents, infant death etc. This was a full-length uncut version of the play - designed to test even the best upholstered arse. There were lacunae, it was hard to be engrossed all the time. But the art won out over the discomfort, you kept been dragged back into the drama by the quality of the writing and the acting. It's hard to imagine O'Neill's masterpiece being done better. James Cromwell was wonderful as the patriarch James Tyrone - bringing subtlety and shading to a role that could become one-dimensional. The sons Edmond and Jamie were equally well portrayed by Micheal Esper and Aidan Kelly. These are hard parts, the characters must be both pitiful and pitiable. Marie Mullen was a bit OTT as the mother but it's that kind of part I suppose.

And the constant drinking, and the truth telling becoming more pungent as the drink bit, and the fog rolling in. Splendid stuff.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Frescoes with Attitude

Headed over to the quiet side of Tuscany last Friday - just north of Arezzo - for a friend's house-warming. The house is located near the village of Caprese Michelangelo - the great man's birthplace. The village itself isn't up to much - a few restaurants and a modest museum to its illustrious son. However, it's perched on the side of great wooded hills (alive with deer and wild boar) with glorious views across to Lake ?? and the town of Anghiari (scene of the great battle - the theme for Leonardo's great lost fresco) . Not far away is Sansepolcro, the birthplace of Piero Della Francesca. The Museo Civico contains his "Resurrection" fresco - a magnificent risen Christ with a don't-fuck-with-me demeanour. The colour is a little faded, as frescoes do, and one of the sleeping guards seems to be defying gravity, but there's no denying its majestic presence. It's a shame you can't view these frescoes in their original settings but thanks to the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and the Second World War these settings have been looted and destroyed and we have to be grateful the work still exists. After this we moved on to Monterchi (about 20 minutes drive away) to check out the "Pregnant Madonna" - one of Piero Della Francesca's greatest works. This is located in a dedicated building at the outskirts of the village. The madonna is very earthed and unromanticised - belly extended and hand on hip supporting her weight. The expression is one of benign resignation. There is something going on with the curtains and the pattern on the front of her dress that suggests country matters. But surely Piero wouldn't be that bold.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rugby World Cup II: Out Out Brief Candle

And our poor players do strut and fret their hour upon the stage, and then they are no more.

The big problem, suggested by the Georgia game and confirmed agaunst France, is that the forwards are not getting enough possession - even from lineouts. Without possession you can't win. Even with the bits we got we could do little against a devastating French defence. The French attack was limited but they had enough territory to thrive on the scoreboard thanks to the pedantic home-town referee. I suspect that this Irish pack will be mauled by the Argentinians and we will lose (narrowly) to them - maybe 15-9. This will consign us to the dustbin and the French to a quarter-final against the All-Blacks in Cardiff. Not what the IRB had planned - France away from home mon dieu.

Elsewhere it still loooks like a NZ - SA final. France don't have enough firepower to trouble the All-Blacks, and Australia will fail up front. I still worry about the NZ second-row but suspect that they will get enough possession to ensure that NZ's greater fire power will prevail. My players of the tournament so far are the fiercesome SA lock Victor Matfield - New Zealand beware, and the Argentinian out-half Juan Martin Hernandez - Ireland beware.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kingdom Come Again

Disappointing game eh. Just as inevitable as the Kilkenny Limerick game. What do Kerry and Kilkenny have in common? An untroubled path through their respective provinces year after year and no interest in promoting the GAA sport in which they don't excel. But having said all that, this is a vintage Kerry team and Cooper is a genuine great - he has that poise and grace under pressure that characterised Best and Maradona in their heydays. And Daragh O'Shea is the enforcer extraordinaire in mid-field. Nice to see a bunch of O'Sullivans in there with Declan well deserving his hour in the sun. I wonder how much Liam Hayes' jibes in the Sunday Tribune motivated them - O'Sullivan certainly alluded to them in his speech.

It's not hard to see them coming again next year, they're a young team and the opposition just isn't there at the moment: Tyrone and Armagh over the hill; Cork cowed; Dublin limited. Maybe Monaghan will gain inspiration from their efforts this year but it's more likely they have learned to fear the inevitability of Kerry's success.

Atonement the Movie

I never read the novel (Ian McEwan is a bit sickly for my taste - and not a great stylist) but I found the recent movie totally bogus and contrived; an unconvincing artifice. Let me count the ways.

While I have no doubt that cunnilingus existed before 1935, I'm not so sure that our protagonist would ever have dreamt of making a written reference to it in that era (Lady Chatterley notwithstanding) - even for his own delectation. It seemed more like an anachronistic device to add a bit of spice to McEwan's stodgy story. Thus the basic plot contrivance seemed psychologically improbable. Also, the whole bit about the author using the book to give the wronged characters the life they never had does not seem like atonement. Rather it added being gruesomely patronising to Briony's previous sins.

Of course the recreation of stately home life was wonderful, and the much maligned Keira Knightly was perfect for the part of the English rose ready to unfurl. I also liked the romantic use made of the white cliffs of Dover. However, the scenes at Dunkirk seemed tacked on and the score throughout was too intrusive - and unsympathetic to the action.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rugby World Cup 1: Ireland Goners

There is a basic design problem with this tournament. The Northern teams are awakening from hibernation while the Southern Hemisphere teams are in the midst of their season, sharp, practised, all systems go. The final will obviously be between New Zealand and South Africa.

I don't think Ireland can now even reach the quarter-finals. The smartest thing Eddie O'Sullivan has done so far is to negotiate a new four-year contract before the start of the tournament. France will beat Ireland easily (maybe even with a bonus point). Ireland and Argentina will be close but even if Ireland win they won't get a bonus point. Ergo, we are eliminated. The pool will then end up with France having 15 points (or 16), Argentina having 14 points, and Ireland having 12 (if they manage to beat Argenina).

Ireland seemed to lack energy, intelligence, and commitment against Georgia, and they were certainly tactically out- manoeuvred - the long ball up the middle was all it took. It's astonishing that Georgia had nearly 60% possession and field position. It's lucky for us that Georgia had little creativity behind the scrum and that the out-half's drop kicks slipped wide. Where to from here? Bring on Quinlan, Flannery, Reddan and maybe Trimble - a bit of energy and ambition wouldn't hurt.

England were equally woeful against South Africa. The lumbering Farrell and the veteran Catt should not be playing international rugby, they're too slow. Only Wales from the 6-Nations have shown anything like the intensity needed to unsettle the tri-nations teams.

And by the way isn't it a disgrace that on the world stage we are represented musically by that banal Phil Coulter anthem. The shame of it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Brian Bourke at the Taylor Gallery

I think that there was only one show of Brian Bourke's that I unreservedly liked and that was a series of New York skyscrapers four or five years ago. These were striking and evocative works, accurately drawn but with a quirky use of colour (reds, russets, pinks etc.) that seemed to work. He does like that part of the palette. I have a red-faced head of Don Quixote by him over my desk and a self-portrait that also favours the ruddy side of the spectrum.

This latest show in the Taylor is mainly of olive trees in Spain - and lots of red earth . They mostly have this annoying painted border around them - a device from the 60s that Bourke uses a lot, both in portraits and landscapes. I find it intrudes on the image - they already have a frame, why paint an extra one. But the trees are interesting, gnarled, alive, and demented. And then there are the surreal skies - occasionally reminiscent of Van Gogh. The whole effect is fantastical - far from naturalistic.

Bourke himself is an interesting character - an artist out of central casting. Large, loud, eccentric, hairy, with an air of one who happily indulges all his appetites. I remember being struck by his chuzpah at Tony O'Malley's funeral where he was sketching the body of O'Malley as it lay in a coffin at the top of the church - during the funeral service.

Greer Bashing

A forensic evisceration by Peter Conrad of that fraudulent old media whore Germaine Greer:,,2160530,00.html

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Hurling Abu

Last week saw order restored to the hurling universe. A Tipperary team liberally besprinkled with Mahers came back from a shaky start to outclass the old enemy Cork. The beauty of Minor hurling is that the players are given time and space to demonstrate their skills, whereas in the Senior game has grown increasingly fast, frenetic and physical - tender blooms and fragile talents do not prosper. Whether this Tipp team will grow into the Senior team we pray for is moot but there are certainly grounds for optimism. Tipp dominated in mid-field through Brendan Maher and McGrath and Carey scored two marvellous goals - the second one kicked in with aplomb as defenders closed in on him. This team are managed by the great Declan Ryan from Clonoulty - just down the road from Ardmayle don't you know. Let's groom him for the Senior job and let him bring along this crop with him.

The Senior final started with an incident that demonstrated Kilkenny's intent. The first time Eddie Brennan got the ball he was tackled by Stephen Lucey - as Lucey grappled with him from behind, Brennan delivered the butt of his hurley sharply into his face, going through the helmet. Lucey collapses with blood pouring from a face wound. Kilkenny judged that Limerick would get physical on them and so decided to get their retaliation in first. It was obvious that on skill alone Kilkenny would prevail, but they also made sure they weren't bullied physically. Even the peerless Henry Sheflin got in on the act. Everyone felt that Limerick's hunger might prove decisive. The Kilkenny camp came up with their own motivational juice - the death of James McGarry's wife. They were obviously told to go out and win it for her. Forgive me for being cynical, but I found all this a bit sick and all the guff about it during the speeches a bit hard to take. I felt particularly sorry for James McGarry who was no longer on the team but nonetheless found himself and his misfortunate son pushed to the forefront of the celebrations.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Flashbacks 1: The End

Listening to the Doors just now I was brought back to London in the late Sixties. Clanricarde Gardens in Notting Hill, mid-afternoon in the summer of 1967, to be specific. It's a gloriously sunny day. I call to visit some Irish acquaintances. Despite the sun the room is in semi-darkness - the light excluded by heavy velvet curtains. A few dim lights provide glimpses of the occupants and the disarray of the room. The Doors are playing 'The End', Morrison's Oedipal masterpiece - just released, my first time hearing it. Very trippy, heavy atmosphere. The air is pungent with hash. Coughlan (or Blue), Martin and Batt are lying around - too stoned to do more than nod and smirk. Batt (suave, plausible, cold, a natural con man, elegant, beret wearing, a Garda sergeant's son from Clare) died in a Montreal hotel room from a heroin overdose in 1970. Martin (strikingly good-looking, wasted, nihilistic, damaged) died in a London bed-sitter in 1973 - choked on his vomit. Blue (paranoid, Christian Brothers victim, permanently agitated, heart-breakingly vulnerable) was last seen begging on King's Cross station in the mid-80s - before that he dwelt in the Salvation Army hostel off Stephen's Green and could regularly be seen disporting himself around the Green in a demented fashion. Casualties of peace man.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fintan Nods - Elvis Rules - Chuck Berry

I bow to none in my admiration for Fintan O'Toole, considering him the foremost journalist of his generation and his study of the beef tribunal, in particular, a master class in investigative writing. However his half-baked assault on the myth of Elvis in last Saturday's Irish was a shoddy effort.

He got it wrong on any number of counts. Here are a few of them:

1. Colonel Tom Parker was never Elvis's "Svengali" - in the true meaning of that term. He was certainly his nemesis though. And no one can deny his culpability for the tragic trajectory of Elvis's career.
2. It's unfair to say Elvis ceased to exist after 1955 when he left Sun records. Has Fintan never heard of the Memphis album recorded in 1970 containing many classics including "Suspicious Minds" and "In the Ghetto".
3. The idea that Elvis in some way stymied the careers of black artists like Chuck Berry is nonsense. The success of Elvis singing black music (including his wonderful gospel recordings) opened the way for a more general acceptance of black artists.
4. His citing of Chuck Berry as some kind of wronged paragon was particularly unfortunate. Aside from his underage bother and tax problems, Berry was more recently prosecuted for spying on female visitors to his restaurant's bathroom. Berry's creative period was even shorter than Elvis's Berry is also notorious for his high-handed treatment of those unfortunate enough to play with him.

Finally, if you want to discover the real Elvis, read Peter Guralnick's masterful "Last Train to Memphis", rather than the vapid abstractions of Greil Marcus.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harrington by Default

Now it's clear that Sergio Garcia lost the British Open because he hardly sank a putt of significant length for most of the tournament and certainly not when it counted in the last round. So in the ranks of who fucked up the most, Romero, Harrington or Garcia (or even Els) he loomed large. And he will carry away the biggest nightmare from the whole absorbing event. His final putt on the 18th missed the cup by a whisker and so saved Padraig Harrington from taking the mantle from Jean Van de Velde as the biggest choker in Open history. It also called into question the quality of Harrington's triumph. He won by default - like Paul Lawrie. And yet, and yet.

I watched it in Santa Barbara where the Yanks did their best to fuck up the stone drama of the final few holes by interjecting commercials every 10 minutes - how I longed for the BBC (even that old fogey Peter Allis) - but the drama won through. (Incidentally, the most prevalent ad was for Cialis, a hydraulic aid for men of a certain age, how apposite was that for a golfing audience.)

Harrington was rescued from infamy by Garcia's narrow miss. Here was a man who had come second 31 times in his career. A statistic that suggests a certain lack of intestinal fortitude. However I never bought into that and saw it more as him often coming with a late flourish and gaining a higher placing than his earlier rounds had promised. There's little in Harrington's record to show he chokes.

But then we get to the last few holes of the open. The rookie Romero blows it on the 17th as he should at his age. And it's down to Harrington and Garcia. Harrington is one ahead and has only to par the last to win - nobody birdies the 18th at Carnoustie. And what does he do faced with immortality? He finds the water not once but twice. He Van de Veldes it. At this point he must have felt like disembowelling himself on the 18th fairway, knowing that he had thrown away one of the biggest prizes in golf and his first major. Instead, however, he hits an exquisite wedge to about 10 feet and holes the tricky putt. So he ends up with a 6 when a 7 looked likely. But still he must know it will not be enough. And then we have the pathetic fallacy of his badly managed child running on to the 18th green to hug his deeply traumatised father. To his eternal credit he doesn't cuff the little pup sharply and send him back squealing to his mother but rather gathers him up warmly as if he had just come to the end of a friendly fourball - knowing what tragedy looms. Pure class Padraig.

And then Garcia rescues him from endless ruin and bottomless perdition. First the excellent drive into prime position. Now only a solid shot into the fat of the green to prevail. But a nervous tweak puts it into the bunker. Not bad when greater hazards looom - and Garcia is a master of all irons. The bunker shot is sound rather than brilliant leaving him a very makeable putt for the British Open. Harrington lurks in the scorer's cabin hoping for redemption - but feeling the die is cast. But Garcia's career so far has suggested he will never make a putt like this and sure enough it slides past after flirting with the cup. The 4-hole play off is an anti-climax. Harrington is back from the dead and Garcia has blown his best chance. There can be only one winner. But despite our pleasure at Padraig's triumph you can't help but feel it wasn't won like Faldo won, or Norman won, or Watson won, or the great Nicklaus won (or Player, or the great Peter Thompson). Rather, when faced with the greatest challenge of his career (standing on that 18th tee), he fucked up royally and was rescued by the weaknesses of his opponents. A win by default.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Santa Fe

God it's such a drag flying these days - especially when going through US airports. Flying from LA to Albequerque yesterday I strip down to essentials for going through security - slip ons, shorts, a loose shirt, minimal luggage. But it's still not easy: a queue about 70 yards long with all kinds of hysteria at the top of it as late arrivals try to jump it for their impending flights. The security staff are hardened to it though and no one bucks the system. I arrive at the gate and warn the virago in uniform that my metal hip will go off. She immediately calls in the male search squad and I'm removed to an adjacent area for the usual tedious pawing and frisking with a metal detector. "Any idea why we are alarming today sir?", are his immortal first words.

And so to Albuquerque from where we're driving to Santa Fe. A debacle at the Budget counter where I luck out and get the trainee. She asks me for my details at least 4 times before a merciful colleague comes over to assist. However, she has made such a hames of it that eventually she need the whole team to sort out the mess - all the other customers being long since departed. Eventually we get on the road. Huge thunder heads are building up around us as we set out and there is one huge cylinder of cloud touching the ground in the distance with gigantic flashes of lightning emanating from it. We wonder are we in cyclone country - it looks like those twisters you see on the National Geographic channel. And then the hailstones start. Maybe we should have stayed in Santa Barbara. Shaken we eventually make Santa Fe and start hitting the margaritas.

First stop the next day is the Georgia O'Keefe Museum. This is a first-rate collection of her work and makes IMMA's recent show look very paltry indeed. As well as a good assortment of her flower paintings, they have a lot of her less well-known abstract works. A Texan sunset and some dark pieces suggesting cross sections of a tree stood out. The place is patrolled by the most fascist security team I've ever encountered in a gallery - they were constantly hassling people for getting too near the paintings (all behind glass by the way) and even had the temerity to scold me for sending a text message.

There are galleries everywhere in Santa Fe and their contents range from the most exquisite and expensive craft work to generic Indian (sorry Native American) tat. The town itself is pretty and low-slung - with faux adobe the prevailing motif.

Inspired by the O'Keefe museum we head off to the Ghost Ranch and her latter home in Abiquiu - some 50 miles north of Santa Fe. We arrive at the office in Albiqu that arranges tours and are told that we should have booked last January. Nothing daunted we head off for the Ghost Ranch. This however appears to be a conference centre for fat Baptist lesbians - who are hanging around the grounds munching cookies and talling about some impending hymn session. We make enquiries in the office and sure enough the former O'Keefe residence is now private property and you can maybe book a tour an eon or two in advance.

But you know it doesn't matter. Why should we want to visit a musty mausoleum when just by looking around us we can get much closer to what made her the artist she was. In the distance looms the Pedernal (which inspired O'Keefe like Mont Saint Victoire inspired Cezanne) where her ashes were scattered). Above us are the towering cathederals of cloud that inspired her cloudscapes - and again a flash of lightning in the distance. And all around us are the red rugged mountains and deserts of New Mexico where she roamed and gathered her source material.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Theme for Reason

Other people's dreams - don't you hate them. There is no excuse for recounting your dreams to your friends or to anyone else. People are, in general, not really interested in you or your doings; so they are certainly got going to be interested in the random ramblings of your mind while you sleep. So, if tempted to recount a dream, for pity's sake desist. Unless of course you're Carl Gustav Jung, whose autobiography "Memories, Dreams, Reflections" inspired a flood of lurid and symbol-laden dreams for many months after I read it. Just try it.

Last night I dreamt I was in a horse race, a sprint. I was waiting at the start in a high draw close to the rails. I moved from my alloted slot into a slightly better draw even closer to the rails. When the stall gates opened I got a flier and hugging the rail had an early lead. Then out of nowhere another sprinter flew by (our horses had disappeared) and was clearly going to win. His name (I know the horses had gone, but dreams are supposed to be irrational) was Paddy's Place - there is such a horse but he's no star. About 50 yards from the winning post, he swerved off the course and began to play football with some kids nearby. I swept by to victory, breaking the tape (like in a sprint) in style. I immediately began to worry that my changing stall would be spotted when the race was rerun on TV.

Afterwards in the changing room I encountered a surly Kieran Fallon who started berating me for taking advantage of a fixed race. "You're one to talk" I responded indignantly. A bit unkind that as he hasn't been tried yet. He didn't however mention the change of stall so I was confident I'd keep the race.

Maybe I need to lay off the horse racing for a while.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Bullshit and Horse Sense

At this time of year an older man's fancy often turns to horses. The Epsom Derby was won with some authority by Authorised, with Frankie Dettori finally getting his Derby. But only in the absence of the black prince Kieran Fallon. Ascot was a bit of a damp squib but was livened up by those big old Aussie sprinters and their no-bullshit trainers. Aidan O'Brien had a good meeting with Yeats' win being the highlight. The horse is, like his namesake, a great stayer and improving with age. I had a fairly poor meeting from a gambling perspective but Mahler at 7-1 rescued me from penury.

Talking about Ascot, the BBC's commentary team is appalling. Willie Carson was a wonderful jockey, a whirling dervish who never gave up. But God is he inarticulate when it comes to talking about racing. When he does get a coherent sentence out, it's usually some banality. He is flanked (nay overshadowed) by the great bulk of Claire Balding - a jolly hockey-sticks type whose main claim to fame is bursting into tears when her father (the great Ian Balding) won some big race. She's an amiable earnest type but again incapable of moving beyond the banal. The third member of the team is some harmless cratur presumably brought in to provide racial balance. He's young, cheerful, hard-working and relentlessly gormless. He clearly knows very little about horses.

Contrast them to the Channel 4 racing team: the incomparable John Francome, the shrewd and knowledgeable Jim McGrath and the astute Alastair Down. There is that bufoon McCririck of course but he's confined to the betting ring and provides harmless colour. The thing I like about the Channel 4 crew is that they obviously like a bet and can be ruefully amusing about their failures. Also, they are not so close to the racing scene that they are reluctant to offend anyone. Trenchant stuff from true professionals and always entertaining with their informed banter.

As for RTE's racing team of Ted Walsh and Robert Hall. They bugger description. Ted is a working trainer and shouldn't even be doing this job. He's sure to observe how one of his horses is not trying - if that ever were to be the case. And he's too close to the whole Irish racing scene to snitch on one of his buddies either. Instead he has adopted the cringe-inducing role of the plain-spoken unpretentious horsy man who calls a spade a spade ("that mares a right little tinker" etc.) - but it is a sthick that has grown tedious and forced. We are no longer amused Ted. Robert on the other hand lives in an area beyond bland. Special subject: stating the bleeding obvious. The only member of the team that gives value is the rarely seen Tony O'Heihr. He is an excellent commentator but is also clearly a man who likes a bet. You can occasionally detect a tone in his voice at the end of a race that gives some indication of how his luck has gone. It's a subtle thing but worth listening for.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Premier Cru?

Tipp's alternative name (the Premier County) is becoming an embarrassment, at least from a hurling perspective. They deservedly lost heir epic Munster battle with Limerick yesterday and few fans could really quibble. Everone's enthusing about the 3 great matches and the excitement of it all - I'm just left musing at what's gone wrong. Looking at Babs Keating's belly I wonder if it symbolises the current state of Tipp hurling - we've gone soft. We need a lean mean Ger Loughnane type.

I remember vividly the last All-Ireland they won in 2001 against Galway. At the end of a comfortable win for Tipperary, the jubiliant young team did a circuit of the pitch waving at their supporters. One player, the immortal Declan Ryan, walked apart from the celebrating players. He seemed to be looking around the stadium as if to soak it all in for the last time. This was his third All-Ireland victory and the end of a glorious career. Some of the younger players there that day (Eoin Kelly, Eamon Corcoran, and John Carroll) should have had a good look around as well because it looks like it'll be a long time before they play in an All-Ireland final again. This Tipp team lack character.

Limerick won because they showed greater strength of character and hunger. They were also physically braver. Players like Mike O'Brien epitomised the Limerick team. He's not very big and he's not very skilful but he put himself about with absolute physical abandon. The same went for the more (much more) substantial Mark Foley. Tipperary were a far more stylish and skilful team but they failed the physical test. Time after time it was a Limerick hand that plucked the ball from a thicket of hurleys and burst downfield. The modern game is so fast and furious that artistry alone will not suffice, and in fact often plays a secondary role. Seamus Butler is a lovely player but is shy of the physical commitment to go with it. The Moran brothers have both qualities as of course does Eoin Kelly for Tipp and Eamon Corcoran. But too many players went absent. Where was John Carroll?

Limerick won't win the All-Ireland this year. In fact I doubt that they'll win Munster. They dominated Tipp yesterday and yet barely won. They hit 13 or 14 wides to Tipp's 5 or 6. For all their heart, they lack a cutting edge. Most of their points were from long range. They were not a threat around the goal. I fear that the Munster teams will soften each other up over the next 2 months and Kilkenny will claim another title.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Christopher Hitchens at the Gate

Went to see Christopher Hitchins (a onetime intellectual hero of mine) at the Gate Theatre last Sunday where he was debating his latest book, "God is Not Great" (what a clumsy title) with John Waters.

The raison d'etre for this book at this time seems questionable - I could understand it being controversial 25 years ago but most of what he referred to would be commonplaces to any semi-educated person today. Of course there are Islamic fanatics who would willingly blow us all to perdition and we must be politically aware of this and ensure it doesn't ever happen. But a lot of it was banal stuff about how deluded people were to not accept evolution and how you don't need to be a Christian to do good deeds. Hitchins made much of his regular blood donations - his proof that you can do good without religion.

All in all the whole thing was a travesty. Firstly it was chaired by Brenda Power who was plainly in awe of Hitchins and allowed him to ride rough-shod over the whole proceedings. John Waters, a regular church goer apparently, was strangely subdued and allowed Hitchins to sneer and patronise him without much in the way of robust response. Waters' main argument was that the desire in man for religion and a life of the spirit indicated that it was intrinsic to our nature. He conceded that organsied religion had failed to satisfy this spiritual hunger. While Waters was speaking, Hitchins was smirking and playing shamlesssly to the audience.

The rot set in during a chaotic Q&A. The first question (admittedly rambling) was asked by Derek Dean (late of the great Freshmen showband). He was plainly not happy with Hitchin's theories but got cut off rudely when he tried to persist with his question in the face of Hitchins refusal to engage with him. He got no help from the Hitchins fan in the chair. When a question arose that Hitchins wasn't happy with he just said "fuck off - next question" and was appaluded for his efforts - both implicitly by the impotent Power and explicitly by the baying audience. The one interesting question about how his advocacy of Bush (a great God botherer) and his policies in Iraq tied in with his thesis he just plain refused to answer - and again got the apporval of the audience. How strange, maybe it was packed by members of the Irish humanist association or some such coterie of cranks.

But Hitchins went way down in my estimation. Galloway's description of him as a drink-soaked popinjay may indeed be true. He is fluent, articulate, and even witty occasionally (but with flashes of truculence when challenged) but he now smacks of somone whose metier is the chat show and the smart-arse quips - a shallow idle fellow whose given up on intellectual rigour to be a performing seal for TV.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sodomised by Sir Anthony's Serfs

Today's Sunday Independent has a feature on a little legal spat I'm having over a blog I published briedly on this site last December. I was interviewed over the phone (after a generous Joycean lunch in the Mansion House) by a carbuncular young journalist from the newspaper and gave him my general thoughts on this matter. The gist of these was that it seemed "much ado about nothing". Imagine my chagrin on seeing me quoted as saying that the relevant blog entry could be viewed as "tawdry innuendo". Now apart from the legal rashness of admitting anything that could be construed as "innuendo" - anyone who knows me knows that I would never admit to writing anything "tawdry". So what do I do now, sue the Indo for misquoting me. Perhaps I should sue tham also for publishing a godawful photograph of me looking up like St. Sebastian in the midst of martyrdom - shame on you Tony Galvin. Also, my friends in the IT industry will be well amused at its description of me as "a high-flying exec".

But in the end it's my own bloody fault for talking to them in the first place.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tipperary in Doldrums

Watching Tipperary struggle to put away a game but limited Limerick team last Sunday filled me with forboding for the summer ahead. They may come back and beat Limerick but they won't beat Cork or Waterford and ultimately wouldn't beat Kilkenny if it ever came to that. On a day when there was a minute's silence for the great Kieran Carey, it was evident that this team lacks both character and characters. Eoin Kelly was unfit and subdued - and, by the way, targeted for softening up by Limerick. Apart from him there is not a major figure on the team. No Jimmy Doyle, John Doyle, or Michael Maher; no Donie Nealon or Theo English; no Tony Wall, Jimmy Finn or Pat Stakelum. And definitely no Nicky English. There are flashes from John Carroll but he disappears for long periods. The once promising Philip Maher seems never to have recovered from his long-term injury. There are major problems in defence, especially at centre half back and the full-back line. And they are far too reliant on Kelly up front. It's going to be a long cold summer for Tipp fans.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Gruesome Twosome

Had my Saturday morning disturbed by happening upon Dunphy's interview with Anne Madden on RTE Radio 1. I was captivated by the sheer awfulness of it all. Dunphy at his most fawning and deferential - Madden at her most queenly and mannered - her self-esteem a thing of wonder. The great unspoken of course is that nobody would be the slightest bit interested in Anne Madden if it were not for her being married to the great Louis le Brocquy. This also goes for her impending show at IMMA. Her art is slight and decorative and I can think of 50 Irish artists more deserving of a show at IMMA.

She made much (encouraged by the shameless Dunphy) of her relationship with Beckett and Francis Bacon. Funny how I never heard mention of her in any of the biographies I've read of these two. Bacon, she claimed, said she had a third eye - this enabled her to guide le Brocquy in his work.

She does have nice taste in music mind you. She chose a fine John Coltrane piece and wonderful version of the Miserere by some Oxbridge choir.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Trashy Emin

Tracey Emin eh, you've got to hate her. The trashy art: can't paint, can't draw, banal conceptual nonsense, coarse sculpture and pointless installations. Then we must endure her constant references to her abortions, rape, and venereal diseases. The frenetic self-publicising and social round far from the islanded peace desired by the true artist. And the misplaced hubris. The twisted face is hardly her fault but it's hard not to see it as the objective correlative to something within that causes her to spew forth such garbage. She has the look of an 19th century street walker who's been through the mill (nice legs though).

There is something fundementally unpleasant about her work. This is not the grotesquerie of Otto Dix's social observations or Goya's depictions of war. Her Her work is banal and lacks both the wit and the technical skill of these painters. This is particularly true of her efforts to draw and paint. Her contribution to the Venice Bienalle is depressing - particularly the abortion water colours (, which combine naivety and nastiness. And don't get me started about that unmade bed.

In recent weeks I've noticed that Lynn Barber in the Observer has become a fawning fan. Two long articles and numerous asides about "my friend Tracey" suggest that this former scourge of celebrity has fallen madly in love with her. How else can you explain the malign old broiler's references to her "magnificent cleavage" and "gorgeous work" - total uncritical adoration. How weird.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Book of Evidence by John Banville

I got to this late. I had recently finished "The Untouchable", a much more florid novel, and was impressed enough to visit Banville's back catalogue. This is a very different type of book. The sociopathic first person narration reminds me of "Lolita". The similiarities to the McArthur case are marked. Freddie Montgomery, the narrator, is from the same social mileu and has the same flakey career trajectory. The appalling scene where the servant girl is beaten to death with the hammer is very similar to what happened the nurse in McArthur's case - right down to the detail of the ambulance guiding him to the hospital. The apartment in Dalkey becomes a house and the Attorney General becomes an art dealer. The raffish social scene seems similiar also. This is a very creepy book albeit written beautifully. If Banville's aim was to bring us into the mind of an affectless sociopath then he succeeded. Here and there we see evidence of Banville's intellectual interests. He uses Nietzsche's "those who look too long into the abyss" aphorism in an unattributed manner late in the book. A dark exquisite masperpiece.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ryanair Rage

I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised, but an encounter with Ryanair staff at Stanstead Airport last Sunday typified all that's wrong with that airline.

My flight was scheduled for 20.30 but had been moved back to 19.30 and they had sent me an e-mail to alert me to this. I, being on the move in London, had missed the detail in the e-mail. And of course the small print tells you that you should reconfirm 72 hours before the flight. Legally they had me. Any road up I arrived at check-in at 18.55 - 35 minutes before departure and with only hand baggage. I was told that I was too late. I asked the supervisor to call the gate and ask would they take me. This she did in a most perfunctory and half-hearted manner. No dice, no joy, sorry mate.

The staff have obviously been trained in obduracy and hired for their hard-bitten qualities - the milk of human kindness would never flow from those dugs. As I protested to one, the others were chipping in with helpful comments such as "we are a low-cost airline and have our rules that can't be broken". I think it was the mechanical inflexibility that most disturbed me. Realising that I was getting nowhere I indulged myself in a major outburst of rage and flounced off like Malvolio in "Twelfth Night" declaring "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you". (I actually said, "I write for the Irish Times, I'll destroy you" - tee-hee.)

I will try and arrange my life so I never have to fly with them again. I mean it's always a dispiriting experience anyway: the scramble for the seats; the hustling to sell you lottery tickets; the whole tabloid travel experience.

London Can be Heaven

Back to London my old stamping ground - it was 40 years almost to the day since I first arrived (jobless, homeless, friendless) clutching a £20 note. In that distant era I stayed in a B&B off Kilburn High Road and spent the first night in an Irish pub watching Celtic beat Inter Milan 2-1 in the European Cup Final. This time I stayed in the Bonnington Hotel in Bloomsbury - small rooms, big breakfasts, wireless in rooms, great location (near Russell Square tube station and walking distance to the West End). On the whole I'd have preferred the stately splendour of the Russell Hotel but it was booked out.

First night involved catching up with old London friends - we met in the Lamb a fine old London pub (free of the ubiquitous tourists) off Aldbury Street behind the Russell Hotel . Next door was Ciao Bella a busy cheerful Italian restaurant that served splendid no bullshit food at reasonable prices - great service, great ambience and a great night was had by all. Nick sardonic, Dervilla talkative, Marietta probing, and Se avuncular and clubbable as ever. JP for once was hard pressed to get a word in.

The next day I started at Waterloo and walked along the South Bank to the Tate Modern - checking out the Rothkos there was my main aim. In truth there's not much else of note and the it contains 3 of the most contemptible pieces of 20th Century art: Carl Andre's bricks (the mundane trying to be significant ), Duchamp's urinal (a joke that has gone on far too long), and that great charlatan Beuys' detritus (flannel suits, blackboards, candles, twine etc.). The preponderance of flannel seemed apt as the ability to talk glibly and at great length about nothing seems his main talent. Little else of note except a dark and troubled seascape by Emil Nolde - an artist underrated due to his minor flirtation with the Nazis. The Rothkos have a room to themselves with subdued lighting - all the better to induce spiritual orgasms. They have a palpable looming presence that works even with the contagion of the throng.

Gormley's show is at the Hayward Gallery but it has spread itself to the roofs of dozens of nearby buildings. These are decorated with his life-size metal figures, slightly ominous and watching you. There's also one on Waterloo Bridge, brought down to earth and therefore less impactful. The show as a whole is playful and punter friendly - the kids will love it. You get to disorient yourself in a fog filled room; trip yourself up in a chamber of rods (one at a time please); walk tall amidst the skyscrapers; wonder at the giant delicately balanced Meccano-like construction; wonder at the well-wrought figures hidden in their metal cocoons; and admire mildly some delicate dark water-colours.

At the Apollo in Shaftsbury Avenue - starring the commendable Jessica Lange who relishes the part of the mother. It's a fine old Victorian theatre with lots of gilt and flourishes - it reminds me of a wider and brighter Gaiety. It's nice to bask in the sea of verbosity that is Tennessee Williams. Who cares if the mores are dated. No doubt these days the daughter would have hordes of "gentlemen callers" courtesy of the internet.




Tuesday, May 22, 2007

John Shinnors at the Taylor Gallery

Good strong show from one of our leading contemporary artists. The piece that stood out was English Garden Allotment - a large multi-faceted work on which the eye could disport itself endlessly. The large crane pieces were strong of composition and bold of colour but I have some reservations about the crane as a recurring motif. It lacks the mystery and aura of his regular motifs: scarecrows, lighthouses, and sinister dark birds. The same could be said of his washing line paintings - nice composition, shame about the mundane subject matter. But this is just me having a quibble - qua paintings they are mighty fine. There were also 2 little water colour triptychs of St. John's Cathedral that are attractive in a low-key way. Needless to say all sold.

Shinnors has also got 6 works showing currently in the John Martin Gallery in London. Four of these are little scarecrow heads and they surpass any of the smaller pieces in the Taylor show.

There was a poor enough turn out for the show - it clashed with a fashionable Scully show in the Kerlin (opened by Colm Toibin) and a large group show in the Graphic Studio Gallery. We repaired to the Shelbourne afterwards and then on to the Four Seasons where Shinnors was staying courtesy of a patron.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Shane McGowan in the Shelbourne

Sitting in the new Shelbourne - local for parvenus, fly boys and brittle blondes - I espy a strange shambling figure gimping his way to the far corner of the bar. It's Shane McGowan, dark glasses and listing to starboard. His face has got very puffy, like a boxer after a hard fight - in his case a losing battle with alcohol. He has lost that tinker chic look he had in his glory days. He also has a long cut or rash along his jaw line.

He is joined by a very colourful dark-haired woman wearing a dress that would have been a fashionable ball-gown if we were still in the Fifties. She ministers to him caringly as he sips his tea, and later some champagne. From time to time he breaks into song - but in a muted low-key way. P. is there with his camera shooting all around him (for the Shinnors opening) but he refrains from intruding on this tragic tableau. It was a subject more suited to Diane Arbus than Richard Avedon.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Pay or Pain

Further confirmation this morning that our government is hell-bent on forcing us to adopt a U.S. health care model.

I required a routine hip x-ray so I rang my friendly local public hospital (St. Michael’s, Dun Laoghaire). After an hour or more on hold to the x-ray department, I gave up and called in. I could hear the phone still ringing as I waited by the reception desk. Eventually a frazzled-looking woman appeared and after listening to my request she told me that I could have an appointment for 3-months hence – late July.

Not impressed by this I decided to go private and rang the Blackrock Clinic. The phone was answered immediately and I was told to come in as soon as I wanted as they had a walk-in service.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pictures of Barcelona 2

Off to the Sagrada Familia on Wednesday morning - Gaudi's epic obsession and surely one of the wonders of world. The place is full of tourists so thankfully there's no chance of getting the lift to the roof - the queues are 2 hours long. It's quite surreal really: there's neo-gothic sculpture, areas decorated with bright ceramics, words such as "sanctus" and "sursum" seemingly scattered randomly around the towering exterior, pillars shaped like trees, a Christ sitting on a ledge looking like he's contemplating a jump, and of course the sheer scale of the building. It's estimated that construction will continue until 2026 so I may struggle to see it in its finished state.

We also tackled Gaudi's Parc Guell which was obviously designed to strengthen the limbs of the locals as it's set on a very steep slope reached by walking about a half mile up another very steep slope. This is much more playful and Disneyland-like with wonderful views across the city.

The best meal we had was in a trendy beach-side eatery called Bestial. We reclined outside on large sofas amidst trimmed down olive trees while we waited for our table - listening to some very tasty jazz. The we were served a very delicious meal (seafood, duck etc.) from a menu that was more international than local. The staff were all cool and beautiful and so were most of the diners - so food for the eye also.

Some tips: buy a Bracelona Card - getting around on the undergound is the best way to travel, even if some of the line changes involve serious treks; avoid the Ramblas - it's full of tourists and hustlers, move 100 yards east or west and you'll find leafy squares and cheap bars and restaurants.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pictures of Barcelona 1

Staying North of the Ramblas in the relentlessly trendy Jazz Hotel, muted, minimalist, cool music in the bar, pool on the roof, and a very decent buffet breakfast. But the towels and the bog roll are also a bit minimalist, and that's not a good thing.

We get the Picasso Museum out of the way first. Very disappointing. It's mostly very early work from his time in art school in Barcelona and later in Madrid. Worthy and conventional stuff. The only work that wasn't painted in his teens and early twenties is the crude and vastly overrated "Las Meninas", his homage to Velazquez. There are some gems though. A few of his blue period works and one self-portrait that catches him on the very brink of cubism ( one eye noticeably higher than the other). There are also a number of amusing pornographic doodles that caused some mirth amongst the scool kids who were being marched through.

Far more like it was the Foundacion Miro in the hills to the south of the centre. Here we were treated to the full range of Miro's genius, including sculpture and ceramics. You saw the evolution from Daliesque surrealism to his very own circumscribed world of women, birds, and the sun the moon and the stars. You also saw the older Miro become very gestural indeed and close to taking the piss with work such as "Painting for the Room of a Recluse", which is essentially a crooked line. A great museum with an excellent layout and a cooling glass of San Miguel in the garden afterwards.

Ten 911s

The Yanks will keep sticking to this "right to bear arms" anachronism and will continue to pay the price in lives lost. The sight of that grotesque old buffer Charlton Heston playing to the gallery with his "from my cold dead arms" nonsense makes your flesh crawl. It's not as if the fucking Sioux are still climbing in their back windows.

After the latest spectacular in Virginia |another lone loser with legal weapons|, there will be renewed calls for gun control and like before they will peter out with time. More than 30,000 people lose their lives to guns in the US every year. That's ten 911s folks. A nation of terrorists.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lower Middlebrow

I mostly listen to Newstalk these days when I'm driving to and from work. There is however one exception to this. Whenever Orla Barry comes on in the morning I'm off to Lyric FM quicker than you can say Magic Flute. She is relentlessly lower middlebrow and petit bourgeois. I'm sure lace curtains figured in her upbringing - and there are far to many references to her mammy to be healthy.

Also, while I take as much interest in women's health problems as the next man, I occasionally like to think of other things.

This morning, being a bit slow on the button, she started a rant about an impending Michael Jackson concert. "how could anybody go to see him after he admitted to having boys in his bed" etc. As if there's a single star of any magnitude who's not behaved in a manner at variance with Barry's ethical standards.

She is also very badly informed for someone hosting a talk radio show, at least Aunty Marian Finucane has a breadth of general knowledge to call on. Also, she has Roisin Ingle on her show regularly - the banal leading the banal.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Robert Hass and Derek Mahon at the Pavilion Dun Laoghaire

Poetry readings eh, I'm ambivalent about them. Somehow the tics and tremors of the poets can interfere with the pellucid words. However, it does serve as an opportunity to accord the bard some respect by turning up when they perform. And I have great admiration for poetry when it's not a lisping sonneteer at the helm. We have constantly to be on our guard against preciousness. Give me the hard taskmasters like Larkin, Berryman, and Yeats.

Tonight in Dun Laoghaire was mighty fine. Peter Fallon, who should be given the Nobel Prize for his services to poetry, introduced both Derek Mahon and Robert Hass, an American poet new to me - but well known to poetry lovers generally as he was American poet lauerate from 1995 to 1997 (I didn't even know they had such a thing).

Mahon was polished and even suave. He deflected Fallon's fulsome introduction by rejoining that "Peter always exaggerates, but in a nice way". He's thinner than he used to be and there is a whiff of privilege, preferrment and tenure about him - a practised international performer. The poetry though is elegant and intelligent.

Hass puts on an extraordinary performance, at least from my position overlooking the lectern: he shakily arranges his papers, picks up a water bottle, puts it down without drinking, takes off his watch and places it on an ajoining table, picks up the water bottle again, puts it down again without drinking from it, picks up the watch and places it on the lectern where it slides to the raised edge, shuffles the papers some more and off he goes. Between poems he repeats this perfomance and is so shaky throughout that it's amazing he can separate the sheets. But his poetry is passionate and more immediate than Mahon's - there's a particularly moving one abut his mother's alcoholism and his father's insensitivity in dealing with it; also a touching one about Nietzsche's last days in Turin. Some memorable lines: "a word is elegy to what it signifies".

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dorothy Cross at the Kerlin Gallery

A ruined old currach suspended from the ceiling, and a pristine (albeit dead) gannet hanging underneath; metal footballs with hands reaching out from them; a couple of well made metal skulls and a whole lot of mediocre photographs of primitive islanders in boats - now go figure all that out. Oh and most of the photographs and the trite video have been taken on West Ireland in the South Sea Islands - very droll that. I reckon I have as much imagination as the next man and can see significance in a grain of sand but all this leaves me cold - much ado about nothing.

I quite like the idea of Dorothy Cross however and the way she adds to the gaiety of nations. Her flourescent light ship in Sandycove was a big hit with my kids and her innovations with cows' udders gave me the odd chuckle. Her video art always seemed pointless to me though. Her forte is the theatrical and the visual jolt that you get from direct encounters with her work. I remember the Waterford glass phallus (lovingly created) and the image of herself nude on the cross - Cross crucified geddit. Tee hee.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Paul McKinley at the RHA

Huge crowd at the RHA for the Nissan Art Project featuring Paul McKinley (with some Mark Clare video as a side show) - mainly student liggers mind you hammering the free wine supplied by Nissan.

I'd never seen PM's work before and was somewhat surprised to find meticulously painted figurative work - using a pointilist style reminiscent of Seurat but with the dots raised off the canvas. The works (mainly landscapes) had an artificiality that reminded me of Stephen McKenna. They were very attractive, if conventional pieces, and eminently collectible I'd say.

In sharp contrast to this we were also offered the video art of Mark Clare - jumping around in a small squalid room or pinching his arm and describing himself as "the perfect human being". We can only hope, I suppose, that he is being deeply ironic. But I'm biased here - video art (?) leaves me cold.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Six Nations Rugby Week 5: From Woe to Weal and after out of Joy

Chaucer was a great man for the Wheel of Fortune - in his works, such as Troilus and Criseyde, the wheel turned slowly albeit inexorably. For the Irish Rugby team, and its tormented supporters, it spun around with cruel alacrity. But great drama nonetheless.

Cecily Brennan at the Taylor Gallery

Cecily Brennan is an unlikely artist for the Taylor Gallery - judging by her recent work anyway. I remember commenting about this to Pat Taylor during her last show which featured scarred wrists and ecszema. His response was that when they took her on first she painted flowers. The inference being that they were taking the commercial hit based on the historical good times. Or maybe it's just the Taylors demonstrating that they care for art beyond the best sellers like Le Brocquy, Crozier etc.

The current show is just as uncommercial - and even at the very modest prices (less that €2K) only a couple had sold on the opening night. I like the work a lot - it's mainly very minimalist water-colour nudes, jagged and expressive, occasionally suggestive of Schiele. In the midst of these spare pieces are a couple of cryptic videos. One features a girl in a crisp white blouse getting knocked over and covered by great dark waves of black paint - good fun for the kids. The other shows an almost disembodied arm making patterns on a wall - occasionally, fleetingly, a nipple is seen.

Mick O'Dea at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery

The KK Gallery is in an unlikely location, down a dodgy sidestreet behind the Morrison Hotel. It's very small and thus difficult to view the paintings if there's any kind of crowd there. And there's a very good crowd for Mick's show - and a very different crowd to the normal commercial galleries. It's very grungy and right on, and bereft of buyers I suspect. The first two faces I see are Roddy Doyle and Robert Ballagh, and there's John Kelly nearby. The rest of the crowd look like artists or NCAD lecturers and students.

The work is well wrought figurative painting, which I don't find very exciting. There's a number of depictions of small tables draped with white cloths - accurately executed but so what. There's a bizzare study of a tall bearded man wearing a blue skirt and naked from the waist up. He does floor boards well - there's plenty of them on view. There is little evidence of his recent stint in Paris - although maybe he met the guy in the blue skirt there - he wouldn't be out of place in Toulouse-Lautrec's Montmartre.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Six-Nations Rugby Week 4: Living Dangerously

It was a typical Scottish strangling job - tackle and ruck like demons, stifle all open play, and kick penalties from all points of the compass. And we nearly succumbed to it. The Scots played with more passion than us, we had expended too much for the English match and this always seemed like an anti-climax. In the end a bit of luck and a bit of class saw us through. O'Gara took his lucky break well and kicked his penalties while Hickie made a great tackle. The rest is silence.

The England/France match was much more interesting. The England pack demolished the French and if they'd had some decent centres, they'd have won easily. Catt made one sublime break for Flood's try but otherwise was limted and Tindall is just a great lumbering lummox. Even Lewsey at full-back was off form. But the half backs were brilliant - Flood and Ellis were lively and creative in all they did and Wilkinson was not missed. The revelation was Geraghty when he came on the replace the injured Flood. In appearance and style he reminded me of Richard Sharp - that great running out half of the mid-Sixties. So now it seems that England have 3 quality out-halves - actually four if you count the injured Hodgson.

Wales have hardly won a match since they sacked their Grand Slam winning coach. Their performance against Italy was limp in the extreme - and Stephen Jones seems to have deteriorated drastically since he returned from France (mind you the dig in the snitch he got from Bargamasco can't have helped). They will be eating from the Wooden Spoon next week.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Up the Aras

Went on a tour of the Aras an Uachtaran art collection yesterday, under the auspices of the Business2Arts organisation. The tour was run by Pat Murphy who runs the Office of Public Works (OPW) art collection. This is a huge collection funded by a levying a percentage of all new development undertaken by the State - a considerable amount of money. While there are permanent exhibits in the Aras, each president gets to choose pieces from the OPW collection and so put their own personal stamp on the Aras collection.

The best came first. In the ante-room where we gathered for tea and biscuits there were 5 enormous Hughie O'Donoghue pieces - crucifixions and studies in melancholy. These were donated to the state by an American business man. They are tortured and disturbing images not at all what I expected to see in the President's house. In the main entrance hall there are pieces by Tony O'Malley, Felim Egan, Jacinta Feeney and a small exquisite le Brocquy. The Feeney piece is a multi-coloured mess and should be thrown out - the other pieces are worthy and representative of the artists.

In the breakfast room there are 3 beautiful Scully prints - including one I have in my dining room. There's also a large figurative Alice Maher painting (oil pastel I think) and a truly awful abstract piece my Maria Simonds-Gooding. In one of the state roooms there are portraits of all past presidents - the two that stand out for me are Basil Blackshaw's portrait of Mary Robinson and Sean O'Sullivan's moody piece of De Valera. Elsewhere pieces that caught the eye were a haunting portrait of the ill-fated Harry Clarke by his wife and a great portrait of Jack Yeats by Lilian Davidson.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Georgia on My Mind

Went to the launch of the Georgia O'Keefe show at IMMA last night, opened by Thomas Foley , the American ambassador to Ireland. Much ado about nothing I felt. A very poor selection, with only one dark abstract piece catching my eye. IMMA doesn't loom large on the world stage and so it obviously had difficulty getting any of the major works. There were none of her large flower pieces, or her desert bones - apart from a straightforward sunflower and one clumsy bone in a desert offering. A lot of the work dated from before she met Stieglitz and before she moved to New Mexico - the two major influences on her art. The work seemed flat, pallid and uninteresting to me - I'm not a great fan of pastel colours anyway . I like her large ambiguous flowers - full of pistils, stamens and fecundity, not the dried up abstract offerings we got in Kilmainham..

The ambassador was introduced by the director of IMMA, Enrique Juncosa. His English has improved dramatically since he moved here a few years ago and he made a short and succinct speech touching on O'Keefe's Irish origins. Foley, of course, is a former Harvard buddy of Bush's and was sent into Iraq after the invasion to privatise the semi-state sectors. He famously described Iraq as a "modern California gold rush” - how wrong can you be. He made a mercifully brief formulaic speech from notes - spouting about the contribution of Ireland to American culture.

There were a fair few artists in attendance including Alice Maher very upbeat about her move to Mayo; John Noel Smith buoyed by a sell-out show in Cork's Vangard Gallery; and the ubiquitous Gwen O'Dowd. Aidan Dunne was there as well - unusual for him, he doesn't attend many openings, but I suppose Georgia can hardly hassle him about his Irish times review.

You wonder about all the time and effort that went into something so insubstantial.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Duffy Undunne

While it's long been evident that Joe Duffy (host of RTE's Liveline) is a ninny, or at best a concerned fool, he really outdid himself yesterday. He brought Ben Dunne on to discuss his new art venture, along with some worthies from the Irish art scene - the fragrant Tara Murphy from the Solomon Gallery, and everyones' favourite socialist republican artist, Bobby Ballagh. Dunne's motor mouth dominated the show and he was allowed use our national broadcaster for a prolonged plug for his new gallery, and while he was at it throw in a few puffs for his gym business. Duffy should of course have nipped this in the bud, but he gave him free rein and a fortune in free advertising.

However, Dunne's venture is doomed to failure, I feel, because the art world is very precious and elitist and neither the better artists nor the discerning punters will want anything to do with the Dunne brand. He may capture the easy on the eye, interior design end of the spectrum (much like the stuff you see at the art fairs in the RDS), but he won't get the top tier of artists.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Crocus Park

Walking the dogs up Killiney Hill on Sunday morning and suddenly everywhere in the dark dank woods are little clumps of crocuses - surreal splashes of colour, harbingers of spring. No uneaten sheeps' placenta fortunately and not a sound of the consumptive postman whistling the "Roses Are Blooming in Picardy". But it's coming for sure and the whole bloody business is starting all over again. Isn't that right Sam.

6-Nations Rugby Week 3: A Bitter Sweet Symphony

Being a miserable old bastard by temperament I couldn't quite achieve the euphoria of my fellow countrymen about Ireland's win over England last Saturday. You could divide your emotions into 3 discrete compartments - but they kept leaking one into the other.

Firstly you had the occasion. Would we disgrace ourselves? Would the louts and the backwoodsmen prevail? Would our centuries-old inferiority complex win out? You could feel the tension building up as the kick off approached. The Irish team raised the ante by leaving the English stew in the Croke Park cauldron for 5 minutes before they joined them on the pitch. A bit of a cheap shot perhaps, but payback for Martin Johnson's infraction. Then on marches the bould Mary in imperial purple and the formalities take place uneventfully. The she's back in her box after being lurched at by the gormless Bertie - to the vast amusement of the world. And so to the anthems - God Save the Queen sung with gusto and no hint of disruption followed by Soldier's Song and not a dry eye in the house. I notice that it's 2 Munster men who cry for Ireland - John Hayes and Jer Flannery - passion eh. So the occasion is a triumph for the new Ireland.

Secondly the match itself. Never have I seen England so put down by an Irish team. It seemed we could do no wrong. O'Gara's cross kick for Horgan to field and score was the highlight. And the Irish (Munster) pack so recently demolished by Leicster, bully an English pack dominated by Leicster men. The key element, aside from greater skill and experience, was that Ireland to a man were hungrier. Their intensity in the tackle and the rucks cleared the decks for the boys at the back to strut their stuff. So all who watched were priviliged to see the greatest Irish team of all time play to their full potential.

Thirdly, and here's the rub, the very fact that they won so easily brought up again the nightmare of the French match. What will this great Irish team, at their peak, have to show for their season? A Triple Crown? That is not enough. There is only one redemption for this team. They must beat France in their group of the World Cup and progress to meet New Zealand in the final. There is no other way to banish the what might have beens.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Charlie Tyrrell at the Taylor Gallery

It's a sign of healthy state of the art market, and perhaps also a sign of the increasing sophistication of the buyers that an artist as relentlessly abstract as Charlie Tyrrell should have a sell-out (almost) show at the Taylor Gallery. The work consists of two distinct styles: the larger square canvases, dark, austere and portentious; and the smaller works on aluminium, with splashes of colour, grids, hatching, and a generally more playful feel - although playful is probably the wrong term for an artist as rigorous as Tyrrell. In addition to the paintings, one room upstairs in the gallery was devoted to a mural and a series of geometrical drawings (not for sale). These added nothing to the show except to create a curiosity as to what they were all about. Maybe I'll ask him the next time I see him. The opening night wasn't the time as he received the accolades of the large crowd in attendance.

There was a good smattering of artists there including Martin Gale, Gwen O'Dowd and Donald Teskey. Also, some big-name buyers including Lochlainn Quinn and Jim O'Driscoll. The latter was telling all and sundry about his impending quadruple by-pass in the Blackrock Clinic. It says a lot for Jim's devotion to art that he was out at all rather than taking to the bed.

It's getting increasingly difficult to get hold of any work by the hotter contemporary artists. I called into the Taylor Gallery a week before the show and two thirds had already gone. I bought a small aluminium piece anyway but it would not perhaps have been my first choice. How the Taylors manage their clients' demands is a mystery to me. I suppose a lot of people just ask to be put down for any painting by certain artists. So when an exhibition occurs, they put one aside for them. Or maybe, like the last Shinnors show, they tip off certain people that the works are arriving in the gallery and a crowd assembles and falls upon them like shoppers at the opening of a Brown Thomas sale.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What to Eat on Valentine's Day

Flowers they wither
And chocolate's too sweet
But my love's sweet clam
I promise to eat

Lord Hawhee

A great arts programme on RTE1 last night, the first of a series called "Art Lives". This opening programme featured the lately departed Charles Haughey and his influence on the arts. It was excellent stuff with a caustic voice to interject for every Haughey apologist like Tony Cronin.

Even Cronin blinked when it came to debating whether Haughey had any taste when it came to art. While he didn't like the word, he admitted that his adored patron was sadly deficient in this area - and a cursory look at the interior of Kinsealy confirms this. Indeed, if Haughey had any taste at all he would surely have destroyed the hugely risible portrait of him by Edward McGuire. It depicts Haughey as squireen, with top hat astride a horse, flanked by an Irish wolfhound, against the background of his Gandon pile. It was surely painted with malicious intent by McGuire - it captures the ridiculous o'erweening vanity of the corrupt little prick.

Bobby Ballagh was also interviewed and seemed to have some affection for the old crook. His portrait, set at an ard-fheis showed Haughey as a Mussolini-like figure with Haughey's head about to disappear up the nose of the great banner of himself behind the stage. Ballagh's work is too flat to convey character or personality, but it is suggestive of the way Haughey managed his party.

Haughey's main claims to fame in the arts world were Aosdana and the tax emption for artists. His motivation, revealingly, was to bring artists into society at large and not have them sniping disconsolately from the wings. The role of the artist as outsider was obviously not of interest to him; and quickly forgotten by the likes of Francis Stuart when it came to getting a few bob. Medh Ruane was in the Arts Council for a lot of Haughey's period in office. She claimed that they were starved of funding during this period and any extra money Haughey gave them was for pet projects he personally got involved in - more self aggrandisment. He favoured art and literature so things like film, dance and music all suffered during his reign.

The programme was quite balanced and showed a very different, even likable Haughey at home in Innisvickalaun in the bosom of his family - off stage. Mind you, you couldn't help but wonder at the stoical loyalty of Maureen - a different generation I suppose.

[An anecdote from an event manager at a Haughey Ard Fheis featuring one of the giant background posters we see in Ballagh's painting:

"When the Ard Fheis gigs started to go professional ( we have worked on them form the 70s ) CJH was first to demand the huge portrait shot of the leader in the background - he also insisted that the main ( front ) camera shot was slightly below his eye level to give the appearance of a large powerful man on screen. The huge portrait arrived in the RDS and was erected with great care and precision , all were pleased. The HMIs ( TV arc lights ) were fired up for the the rehearsal , the
great one was present . After about 30 mins , the heat from the lights started to lift / melt the adhesive that was on the portrait , giving the appearance of a man having serious boils on his nose , neck and forehead. All hell broke loose as we all fell about laughing at the sight of it all . Even funnier was the `suit ` on the ladder  trying to puncture the `boils ` with a
scissors , as he did the glue ran from each pustule , giving the appearance of a teenager after a visit to the bathroom.
A new portrait was done and erected , but if you look at the tv footage of I think the 79 Ard Fheis you can see the bubbles appearing again."

A nice touch of the Dorian Greys eh.]

Monday, February 12, 2007

6-Nations Rugby Week 2: Nightmare on Jones's Road

Now the French were better than us. Sharper, faster, seemingly more committed, definitely more skilful, and certainly better organised in defence. And yet we so nearly won - that's the really cruel bit, because it's so especially sweet to win under those circumstances.

And we had the scent of victory in our nostrils. Despite no O'Driscoll, despite a poor first half, despite an unbalanced back line, we were going to do it. What a way to christen Croke Park - what a memorable day for all who were there. And then disaster. It started with a great hanging drop out (this was an area in which Ireland were deficient - O'Gara dropped out far too deep all through he match, giving his forwards no opportunity to contend and gifting the French possession). The French forwards were there as it dropped and instead of going backwards or forwards, the ball broke to the right and was snapped up by one of the French backs. A quick ruck, a virtuoso break by the French centre Clerc (Hayes a statue in mid-field) and we were undone. The cup dashed from our lips.

And wouldn't O'Driscoll have made the vital difference.

And to compound our misery, England had been very poor against Italy - no creativity in he backs apart perhaps from Robinson - and don't look like they will be any threat in a forthnight's time. Scotland and Wales were both woeful - and will struggle to beat Italy. The rest of the campaign will be easy for us - we'll win the Triple Crown - but France will win the Grand Slam again.


We wuz robbed. The whole match revolved around one incident that the referee got criminally wrong. All the hard work, the sweat, the skill, the hard evenings' training come to naught because of an incompetent official. The incident was a seemingly harmless squabble on the touchline with about 6 or 7 players involved - all giving as good (or as bad) as they got. When the dust settled, the ref pulls out a red card and sends Tommy Dunne off. Why him alone, or at all is a mystery to all concerned. He is devastated, this is his last season - this now his last match.The departure of the Toomevara talisman and playmaker tips the balance in Ballyhale Shamrock's favour and the rest is inevitable. Toomevara go from a 7-point lead to a 3-point defeat.

Monday, February 05, 2007

6-Nations Rugby - Week 1

Let's get the non-events out of the way first. Scotland were abysmal against England and made a very limited English team look good. Take out Wilkinson and maybe Ellis and you don't have a spark of creativity in the back line. But England have now reverted to their World-Cup winning formula: keep it tight and let Jonny kick the goals. Their forward dominance will of course lead to tries as well but they are playing a low-risk limited game. Let's see how they fare against Ireland and France.

I was very tempted by the -14 spread on offer about France at 10-11. They beat it comfortably against an Italian team that can't score tries, despite their sturdy and competitive pack. But this was not a real match and France will get a nasty shock when they come to Croke Park and encounter a fired-up pack and creative backs. It looks like Scotland and Italy will be vying for the Wooden Spoon.

Ireland were unconvincing against a passionate but depleted Welsh team. The line-out was scrappy and our scrum was wheeled nearly every time - so most of our possession was of poor quality. But for virtuoso displays by D'Arcy and O'Driscoll we could have lost. The most satisfactory aspect was the defence, which never gave Wales the sniff of a try (apart maybe from Easterby's last gasp save). O'Connell was very subdued; O'Gara looked rattled most of the time; even the ever-reliable Stringer made a number of uncharacteristic errors.

But winning in Wales is difficult for even the best so this was a satisfactory start for Ireland.

Week 2 Predictions:

Ireland 21 France 14
England 38 Italy 9
Scotland 14 Wales 18

Friday, February 02, 2007

Apocalypto: A Ripping Yarn

The first thing to say about this film is that the 139 minutes running time felt like about 60 minutes. It kept you fully engaged every second.

The quote at the start about corrupt civilisations dying first from within proved to be a red herring. This was not about the Mayans going through their decadent final phase. Although the scenes of superstition and sacrifice seemed to point in the that direction., this was not followed through. It was essentially a ripping yarn with an extended chase sequence.

It's very easy on the eye. The cinematography was sublime – tasty visions of the Mexican wilderness abounded. Some of the set pieces were astounding – especially the sacrificial altar scene atop the stairway to heaven, with its attendant grotesques ; and the spectacular arrival of the Spaniards; and the field of the dead etc.

The non-professional cast were excellent although all the acting required was within the melodramatic range. The costumes and make up were spectacular – especially the body carvings and piercings.

There were of course lacunae. The wife n the hole (literally and metaphorically) bit became increasingly risible, culminating in the underwater birth.

But this is Mel Gibson not Bertolucci. His track record suggests good action movies (Braveheart, Lethal Weapon, Mad Max) and this is what we got.