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Monday 24 July 2017

What Lies Beneath: Launches at the Meeting of the Waters near Manaus

Launches at the Meeting of the Waters near Manaus, Roger Casement circa 1910-1911 by Stephen Hall, Oil on burlap, Courtesy www.culdesaclondon.org.uk

Launches at the Meeting of the Waters near Manaus, Roger Casement circa 1910-1911 by Stephen Hall
Launches at the Meeting of the Waters near Manaus, Roger Casement circa 1910-1911 by Stephen Hall

Niall MacMonagle

Growing up in Dublin, against "the low background throb of the Troubles", Stephen Hall ignored Irish history but he "couldn't help but be immersed in contemporary events". He remembers a neighbour, a judge, being kidnapped and witnessed a police/INLA shootout. Suspicious of "nationalist pieties, Ireland's quasi-religious state and prevailing hypocrisy about homosexuality and women's rights", at 18, "with a bicycle and 100 quid" he ran away to London where he was cast by Danny Boyle in a play about the Birmingham Six at the Royal Court. Having lived in Naples, Frankfurt, Brooklyn, "I've realised what it meant to be Irish, culturally".

But Irish history, in the enigmatic and controversial figure of Roger Casement, prompted Hall's recent series of 20 paintings. "I came across Casement again when Bertie Ahern announced an investigation with Goldsmiths College into the authenticity of The Black Diaries, in an attempt to come to terms with the scandalous and controversial indigestible candour of them."

Realising how Casement is so "globally revered", Hall saw him as "a missing link between good faith and a positive brand" and, discovering that the artist, Herbert Ward, was once Casement's closest friend, "the idea of Casement the undiscovered artist popped up, fully formed". Hall wanted "to rewrite history and reclaim Casement's genuinely heroic status". This painting, using Casement's photographs and travel itineraries, imagines Casement himself creating it; "I'm interested in expanded concepts of authorship". Manaus, in Northern Brazil, "beneath a Casper David Friedrich sky", is where the Negro and Solimoes rivers meet. Casement went there in 1910 to investigate the alleged atrocities of a British-owned rubber company. Hall's painting depicts boats with transport workers, animals, servants, pilots, boatmen, landing station manager and overseer - in the smaller boat, an overseer's family with oarsman. "It's more proposition than experiment". It's Hall's work but Casement is its ghostwriter.

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