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.]