Monday 16 September 2019

What lies beneath: Erris, September by Cormac O'Leary

Erris, September by Cormac O'Leary

Oil on canvas Courtesy of the artist

Erris, September by Cormac O'Leary
Erris, September by Cormac O'Leary

Niall MacMonagle

September. The Saxons called it Barley Month; Christians, the Holy Month because of the Virgin Mary's birthday on the eighth.

For artist Cormac O'Leary, "drawn to earthy, warm colours, yellow and ochres", it's "the most atmospheric season".

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Born in Cork, he grew up surrounded by his father's powerful abstract paintings; his mother encouraged self-expression - and one wall in the house was for drawing on. They moved but memories of "the English Market, its colours and noise, the Crawford Collection" are vivid still.

Sligo, late 1980s, O'Leary studied at Sligo Institute of Technology where his father, John O'Leary, taught as did Sean McSweeney and Con Lynch. "It was a lively and varied art course. McSweeney told us not to get hung up on academic 'details' in the landscape - just paint what it 'feels' like to be in a place, use all the emotions. Make a mark!"

The young Cormac O'Leary admired Egon Schiele, Munch, Anthony Whishaw, William Crozier's "vivid images which glowed with colour" and, later, Tapies and Picasso.His first real paintings were "paintings based on textured walls in Barcelona's old gothic quarter with all the graffiti marks".

Today, "Leitrim's peaceful and quiet environment" is home. "I get a lot of work done between school runs."

Erris, September was inspired by Mayo's open boggy landscape stripped and bare but also containing hidden colours. "Van Gogh said you must 'heighten the colour'."

The low perspective gives "a sense of the open space running towards very distant hills and the patterns of the cutaway bog became part of the shapes on the surface of the painting. It gives you that feeling that you're in the middle of the bog, with views out towards a faraway horizon. The place has a dramatic sweep, the skies open up, you can sense the sea but it also has a very 'inland' feel. There's a wilderness but also a sense of the landscape being worked on for centuries, a bleak beauty, a loneliness to the place, a raw elemental power".

O'Leary loves "the soft ground of canvas, the paint's rich texture" and though "more of a representational painter, I always push the work towards a minimal, simplified abstracted series of shapes and surfaces" as in this vibrant work, Erris, September, which, using all the emotions, captures what it feels like to be in a beautiful place.

He's made his mark.

'The Distance of Memory', new work by Cormac O'Leary at The Doorway Gallery, April 2020.

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