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.