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What lies beneath: Arthur Griffith’s bird’s-eye view of history


'Arthur' by Sarah Walker

'Arthur' by Sarah Walker



Brian Maguire Arizona 3, 2020. Photo courtesy of Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, © the artist

Brian Maguire Arizona 3, 2020. Photo courtesy of Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, © the artist

Eoghan McGrath's ' Vexed to nightmare'

Eoghan McGrath's ' Vexed to nightmare'


'Arthur' by Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker Arthur

When Sarah Walker, the daughter of art critic Dorothy Walker and the architect Robin Walker, was a child she drew “the families that I thought myself and my siblings might have been when we grew up. I drew my dream house and I loved drawing schoolchildren in various types of uniforms. I used to draw up to a hundred school children in school yards.”

Yet school itself didn’t provide art classes. Walker went to Saturday morning Leaving Cert classes only to be told by her teacher “not to apply for art college, that I wouldn’t get in”.

Ignoring that advice and “very shy with little confidence”, she applied, did get in, aged 16, studied at NCAD and in New York, which she adored, and where, she says, “I was able to see paintings in reality that I had spent my youth looking at in books”.

Then 30 years ago this October, Walker was asked to fill in for a friend, an art teacher in a local school. Staying in the family’s Robin Walker-designed holiday home on the Beara Peninsula, she did the two weeks’ teaching, stayed on, married a fisherman from Co Clare and is still West Cork based.

Walker’s early work looked at her “environment quietly in detail”. Frequent conversations with her mother focused on “the emotional stimulus of paintings”. Both were huge Rothko fans and though Walker’s ‘Black Cut/ Yellow Bog’ (1996) or ‘Ploughing the Field’ (2002) have “definitely been influenced by Rothko’s colour planes”, Walker says, “some of the work over the last 10 years is closer to those schoolyard drawings that I did as a child”.

Her new show, rooted in history, is inspired by Walter Leonard Cole, her maternal grandfather, a TD in the third Dáil, and his house at 3 Mountjoy Square, Dublin. “The images, piling into my mind for years, are a combination of memory, from conversations about the house with my mother and photographs.”

Walker had painted interiors before, contemporary ones. For her degree show at NCAD she painted images of a New York Italian pastry shop where she had worked one summer. Her Boxing series, based on her sons’ keen interest in the sport, also featured halls where the competitions took place but this recent work brings us back to 1922.

Arthur, an unusual outdoor scene, features Arthur Griffith, sisters Christina and Breege Swanzy and Breege’s fiancé Thomas Casserley. It’s early spring 1922 and though it looks cold on the roof the image is a happy one. Based on a photograph she found among her grandfather’s papers, Walker says, “it’s delightful to think of them spending some time up there on the roof enjoying the moment”.

There is a painterliness to the work, an immediacy and freshness. Photographic realism, says Walker, “is just not me”. She used her usual palette knives and brushes but, regarding the colour palette, “I was definitely thinking historically about that period of time. I also used detailed diary descriptions from Christina’s daughter Madge.”

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Walker calls it ‘Arthur’ because Griffith, who led the delegation that supported the Treaty, died suddenly that same year. “It seemed that the stress of the Treaty negotiations and the subsequent fall out killed him.”

If walls could talk, No.3 Mountjoy Square – now an adult learning centre – would tell of underground meetings for Dáil and Treaty negotiations, of being raided during the War of Independence, of being set on fire. Walker’s ‘Arthur’ tells of a happier, top-of-the-world moment. 

‘Walter Leonard Cole, 3 Mountjoy Square’ is at Oliver Sears Gallery until November 12. sarahwalkergallery.com; @sarahwalkergallery

On show: two to view

Brian Maguire 

Seven large disturbing and powerful paintings are Maguire’s response to the migrant crisis in the US. Over 21 years, more than 3,300 “undocumented border crossers” have died. Maguire paints the bodies of the dead in a harsh, hostile landscape.
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, until January 9; crawfordartgallery.ie

Eoghan McGrath 

McGrath switched from medicine to art and his recent work incorporates the spiral into unusual portraits that become meditations on the body, energy and motion and the relationship of the body to time.
Kildare Gallery, Stewarts House, Carton House, Maynooth until October 31; thekildaregallery.ie

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