Monday 20 November 2017

What lies beneath: Long-legged Fly

Long-legged Fly by Hughie O'Donoghue, carborundum, edition of 40, courtesy So Fine Art Editions

The loved unloved: Long-legged Fly by Hughie O'Donoghue, is his celebration of Yeats's poetry.
The loved unloved: Long-legged Fly by Hughie O'Donoghue, is his celebration of Yeats's poetry.

Niall MacMonagle

Flies. In Damien Hirst's 1990 artwork A Thousand Years he created, from maggots, a plague of them in a glass box containing a severed cow's head. Birth. Death. Survival. Flies fed on the bloody head; some met their end in an insect-o-cutor, part of the artwork, others survived and continued the cycle. Difficult to love, the house fly, for example, can't chew. It spits digestive juices on food to soften it up before eating. Yum.Yum.

But Yeats in his late poem Long-legged Fly, written between November 1937 and April 1938, creates a more elegant image.

The fly, in this instance moving "upon the stream", prompts Yeats to meditate upon the charismatic, powerful figures of Caesar, Helen of Troy (who, in Yeats's mind, becomes Maud Gonne), Michelangelo and catches them in quieter moments: Caesar in his tent, "His eyes fixed upon nothing"; Helen practising "a tinker shuffle/Picked up on the street"; Michelangelo soundlessly painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Long-legged Fly was Hughie O'Donoghue's choice of poem when artists and writers were invited to celebrate Yeats's poetry.

And the wonderful result? Fine art prints, handset original writings from John Banville, Eavan Boland, Paul Muldoon, Edna O'Brien, Colm Toibin and handset Yeats poems.

In this hand-printed carborundum work on 350 gram Hahnmuhle natural paper, the technique involves ground silicon carbide or fine particles of metal filings being made into a paste, applied to a plate, to produce this gritty-textured, striking, magnified fly.

For Hughie O'Donoghue, "what particularly interests me about the poem is the way that it encapsulates how an artist might work - how the image of the fly on the stream starts a kind of stream of consciousness in the poet" and "an image of a brush moving back and forth is an image that is sort of natural for a painter." What impressed him was how "something quite banal can lead to ideas and associations about the creative mind".

No flies on him.

A lonely impulse of delight at So Fine Art Editions, 10 South Anne St, Dublin 2 until January 30.

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