Monday 26 August 2019

What Lies Beneath: Conversing with Trees Again 2 by Patrick Walshe

Conversing with Trees Again 2 by Patrick Walshe, Oils on silver leaf and canvas

Conversing with Trees Again 2 by Patrick Walshe
Conversing with Trees Again 2 by Patrick Walshe

Niall MacMonagle

Ennis, County Clare, in 1952, when Patrick Walshe was born, "was a fair town with more horses and carts than cars."

Transport has changed, Ireland has its motorways but the West still boasts a glorious landscape and all over Ireland right now the country's greatest annual show is now on view: its trees, trees, trees.

Every May the greening of Ireland creates a glad-to-be-alive sensation and trees feature again and again in Walshe's art: "Trees are so much older than us; if you spend a bit of time with them, you appreciate that they have a quiet personality, a presence which is interactive and benevolent and stress relieving."

Always "an obsessive creator of images", Walshe boarded at Glenstal Abbey where "a very active teacher" encouraged his art.

Did the monks foster that spiritual outlook so evident in his work? "The Benedictines teach you to think for yourself, to contemplate, and I certainly learnt it is never what you do but the spirit in which you do it. Quite Buddhist in many ways."

That outlook has remained with him, and his paintings resist the pressure - that of an online culture that "encourages us to be 'online' at all times."

Patrick Walshe's career as an artist was momentarily interrupted after Glenstal Abbey: "My father was a West of Ireland professional man, a solicitor, born in 1904, so I studied business in Trinity not art!" His first Dublin show was in 1978 but he escaped Ireland, in 1982, "at the height of the economic gloom."

In New York he exhibited in the East Village, then to LA where he worked as a chef to supplement his income - "you can't eat canvas" - and moved back to Ireland in 1993 via a two-year trip through Asia, India and Africa.

"We came home like migratory birds to start a family. Best thing we ever did, really." He and his wife settled in Wicklow, "an old stomping ground in my student 'hippie' days and a special mystical place for me."

Did he sketch on his travels? "Thousands. Instead of whipping out a camera in remote Indian or Indonesian villages, I would find a quiet corner and sit down with pad, and sketch. Within minutes the entire village would be gathered round for entertainment, chattering away."

Walshe's goal is "to capture the sense of mystery and wonder I experience when I open my eyes and truly look. I want to draw the viewer's attention to the interplay of light, silence and time."

Using oils and silver leaf, in this painting he does just that. Tall, steady, strong, shadow-dappled, lichened trunks reach towards the light. The small, delicate leaves and branches of late spring soften the composition.

Why silver leaf? "It happened gradually over the years, more prominently when we all started viewing images on backlit shiny screens. By painting with a mixture of translucent and opaque oils, a parallax is created which alters the image under different lights and the orientation of the viewer."

For Walshe "painting, like music, is the point of intersection between conscious craft and unconscious inspiration", and he believes, with Picasso, that "you do not create, you find. A painting that you plan and execute is a bore and not worth doing."

He admires work "that explores light in all its manifestations..."

This light-filled work is called Conversing with Trees Again 2.

He has seen the light.

The conversation is ongoing.

Sunday Independent

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