Monday 18 December 2017

Curtis Road Hay Bales

This painting, made in early September in Rochester, New York, is a scene familiar all over Ireland at this time of year. Saving the hay has gone on for centuries, but "swiss-rolled" bales have replaced the cocks of hay. The big balers have left the field and the bales await collection. Meanwhile there's a gentle, silent, relaxed light-filled atmosphere. Just field and sky; and man, the maker of fields and the baler of hay, is absent.

September-born DH Lawrence loved this month best of all because "there is no heat, no hurry, no thirst, no weariness" and "the mornings come slowly. The earth is like a woman married and fading; she does not leap up with a laugh for the first fresh kiss of dawn, but slowly quietly, unexpectantly lies watching the waking of each new day".

It's a favourite month for many of us, even though it's the beginning of the dying of the year. American, self-taught and now a full-time artist, Christopher O'Handley is a man for all seasons. His paintings capture spring blossom through winter snow and "the vast majority of my paintings have been completed in one sitting on site".

All of O'Handley's work is painted from life; he paints what he sees and titles such as this one, or works called Dave's Hay Field or Ford Street Bridge or Creekside Trees, announce that he's interested in the local. "Beauty," he says, "can be found in a tangle of old branches, a muddy field, rusting farm equipment ... pretty much anywhere you look."

Though often in a "large sky, small land" mood, O'Handley, here, gives land and sky equal space. We are looking east where wispy clouds in a pale blue sky, a mountain range, two fields, the nearest with its bales beautifully arranged in terms of perspective and all hazy and shimmering in the last of the summer sun, make for a fine picture of work well done.

It's a painting that matches Jim Crace's belief in his novel Harvest, where he says, "Our fields are medicine. All days prove good to those that love the open air."

O'Handley's recent work can be viewed at Memorial Art Gallery Museum Shop, 500 University Avenue, Rochester NY and Finger Lakes Gallery and Frame, Canandaigua, NY.

Sunday Independent

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