Tuesday 26 March 2019

What Lies Beneath: August Easy Kerry by Brien Vahey

August Easy Kerry by Brien Vahey, Oil on canvas; courtesy of the artist and the RHA Annual Exhibition

August Easy Kerry by Brien Vahey
August Easy Kerry by Brien Vahey

Niall MacMonagle

'Living in Wicklow means that I paint there most. I am always chasing hayfields around where I live," but artist Brien Vahey, who grew up "in South Dublin near the sea", has also painted Wexford, Mayo and Kerry coastlines. People are often absent in his work but he has painted "busy places like the Forty Foot: I like the colour of the water there".

His civil engineer dad meant that "as a kid, I was always around building sites" where he learned "about scale". At IADT, Vahey studied sculpture and animation, worked as a pantomime stagehand, "morphed into theatre design".

Work at the Abbey followed, then a Motley Theatre Design Course in London and he has worked in theatre and television ever since.

Where does he see himself with an art tradition? Jokingly, he says, "I am a Steady Eddie painter," but he admires Vuillard, Bonnard, loves Monet's large ponds, Rothko's light paintings and "lately I've become interested in assembling objects that tell a story and paint them in the landscape".

As in this delightful, bright-as-day, happy canvas, August Easy Kerry. He and his sister Annette - "the first in my family to paint an oil painting" - paint every year in Kerry. "We had coffee, scones Annette made, gingerbread a holiday buy." Painted al fresco, the freshness of Kenmare Bay at Rath Strand on Lambs Head, "where we've been going to ever since our kids were small", is captured in soft flowing distinctive sensuous brush strokes.

Cup, saucer, plate, bowl, jug, all in blue and white, are timeless but the cafetiere and Kevin Barry's brilliant City of Bohane which he had "just finished and really liked" are "current elements that will mark the time in the future". For Brien Vahey, "art is a Zen-like thing. It can capture deeply emotive images which can be received like music".

This month Brien Vahey, his wife, printmaker Grainne Cuffe, Vahey's brother from Zimbabwe, sister Valerie, woodblock printmaker from Paris, art teacher Annette, other sister Mags and children and grandchildren converge on Kerry.

It's a full house. It's August Busy Kerry.

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