Saturday 24 February 2018

Beloved husband at centre of artist Madden's latest collection

Bereaved: Painter Anne Madden has opened a new exhibition in the Taylor Gallery, Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Bereaved: Painter Anne Madden has opened a new exhibition in the Taylor Gallery, Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Emer O'Kelly

"DEVASTATED, fragmented, even unsure," is how painter Anne Madden describes her state of mind following the death a year ago of her husband Louis Le Brocquy. It was, she says, "like being sliced in half" after their 55 years together.

They lived and worked for many years in France, only settling back in Ireland in 2000, a country where, she believes, mental pain is not addressed.

Louis, one of the most eminent painters of his generation, suffered from Alzheimer's disease in the last few years of his life, and his wife believes that the disease causes actual pain. "I saw it, and I felt his pain," she says.

And having lived with it, devoting herself entirely to giving Louis the peace he needed, she was unsure whether she would be able ever to paint again. His pain, one senses, became hers.

But when it happened, and she went back to her studio, the work "seemed to pour out", and the result is the one-woman exhibition at the Taylor Gallery in Dublin, dominated by a large, almost mysterious piece with a shadowy figure at its centre. Not an homage, but "For Louis". Touches of vermilion, Louis's favourite colour, show through the work.

Madden, hugely acclaimed for her work, particularly in France, has always found large pieces easier to work with than smaller canvases, right from her discovery of abstract expressionism as a student in the 1950s. And usually, when working on a theme or towards a show, she produces the large work first, before turning to the smaller work, which paradoxically is often taken to be studies for the large pieces.

This time, it was the smaller works that came first; but she found them, she says, extraordinarily difficult. They show a return to the influences from earlier in her career, when the landscape of the Burren and the megalithic heritage featured as a dominant theme.

Standing stones, hardly more than abstractions, are at the core, seeming to blend in with their background, but defying the eye with their profound intensity. Madden explains it by describing how, in her Co Clare girlhood, she used to watch the stones from a distance, not quite sure whether they were man or stone, and waiting for movement so she would know.

And she adds that while work comes from the unconscious, from an area that isn't logical, "the imagination has its own logic".

It's a romantic thought, which fits easily with many of the themes Madden has used over the years.

Looking at her current collection, it is hard to believe it comes from an artist who has been at work for almost 60 years: it's a compendium of undiminished fierce passion, born of a defiant commitment to life, love, and art.

Sunday Independent

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