Monday 19 August 2019

Art What lies beneath: Lachryma by Damien Davey

Lachryma by Damien Davey

Acrylic on paper Courtesy of the artist

Lachryma by Damien Davey
Lachryma by Damien Davey

Niall MacMonagle

At school, in Belfast, it was either science or art. And Damien Davey's father thought "science was needed for a good reliable job". So science it was. A dispensation from His Grace, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid - something the young nowadays guffaw at in astonishment - led to a medical degree at Trinity. Having worked as a GP for four years, Davey then switched career, became a medical assessor with the Department of Social and Family Affairs, specialised in disability medicine and completed a masters in medical science psychotherapy. But all this while Davey painted intermittently. Early retirement in 2009 meant another switch.

An NCAD evening course was an eye-opener and he now goes to his studio most days. "NCAD was not a 'how to' course, none of that.

"It was learning by doing. We worked in oil, acrylics, watercolours. The subject matter, at first, was still life - Cezanne- or Morandi-like: cloth, bottles, fruit. Composition and colour."

He's painted portraits of his wife, mother, children, en plein air seascapes, lakescapes, sailing scenes. But a whole new art happened after Damien Davey's cataract operations last November and December.

During surgery, cloudy, diseased lenses are replaced with artificial ones. The first, pain-free operation went well. "All I saw was intense, bright light."

The second operation he captured in this painting. "This is an image, real not imagined. My eye was held open with an instrument called a retractor and the surgeon told me that all I would see would be bright light. But that was not the case. I actually saw the instruments in my eye."

After the first operation Davey noticed "a blueish tinge, a pale sepia tinge in the eye yet to be operated on. Now, post-op colours are more subtle, more intense, saturated". But during the second operation "the sedation mustn't have been as effective. I saw on my retina, at the back of the eye an image along the optic nerve to the brain. I saw precision steel instruments. Blood. It was a lurid experience".

Using "diluted acrylic so that it's more like watercolour", Davey painted the thin, steely surgical instruments, the cornea, the terror, the agony of it all. He called it Lachryma [Tear]. Those cataract operations "opened my eyes".

And he can see clearly now. The pain has gone.

New work by Damien Davey will be on show at the United Arts Club in September

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