Wednesday 24 May 2017

Review: Life Story by Michael Kane

Gandon Books, €25.99

Rosita Sweetman

At the launch of artist Michael Kane's wonderful new book Life Story, in the gorgeous Rubicon gallery, where one is breast high with the trees of Stephen's Green, the ladies among us agree: we are terrified of Kane. Rightly so. Kane is everything a proper job artist ought to be: gruff, passionate, committed; not given to suffering fools gladly.

Erm, not given to suffering fools at all.

You could say all of Kane's work, of which Life Story is the latest manifestation, is imbued with this no bulls*** approach.

"He's got better as he has got older," one of the ladies among us says. "Not all of them do," says another crisply.

The 100 paintings of this show, bits of underlying newsprint and images often poking through, or directly incorporated, appeared in a ferocious explosion of artistic activity in 2010.

Originally curated for ev+a in Limerick, by the beautiful Swedish curator Elizabeth Hatz -- who describes her first encounter with the works in progress laid out on the artist's studio floor, "the thrilling shock they caused to eye, heart and mind" in her afterword -- the show then came to the Rubicon, and now resides between the pages of this wonderful book.

These are not images for the faint-hearted.

Our old friend lust is all about -- priapic, yelling, gleeful, sad, tender and brutal. As is despair, heartache, entrapment, youth, beauty, cars, a goat and some gorgeous urbanscapes -- all dashed off in wild swirls of aubergine, red, magenta; slashed with strobing black ink.

It most truly is a bravura performance.

Anthony Cronin, a longtime friend of Kane's, opened the launch, advising (after a rigorous canter through some of the niceties and politics of modern art): "Not buying this book would be a very foolish thing indeed."

The ladies among us heartily and enthusiastically agreed, as we clutched copies to our bosoms.

Satisfyingly, Life Story is everything an art book should be -- with the paintings, reproduced to the same size of the originals and with amazing colour fidelity, holding 99.9per cent of the space, and the words about the paintings located at the book's end, boiled down to two pages.

The art is truly allowed to speak for, yell for, itself.

Just to drive the point home, a very happy John O'Regan, of Gandon books, got a special thank you for his flawless production from the artist himself.

Kane was born in Wicklow in 1935 and is part of that uber-talented group of Irish artists who broke away from the established art scene in the Sixties, opened themselves to European and worldwide artistic influences of the time, and went on to set up institutions such as the Project Arts Centre and the Independent Artists.

Life Story is a dazzling show of artistic cleverness and honesty; an artist working at the height of his powers.

If you missed the show, follow Tony Cronin's advice and buy -- or beg, borrow or steal -- a copy of Life Story. You won't be sorry if you do.

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