Sunday 18 March 2018

What Lies Beneath: Ha'penny Bridge by John Nolan

Ha'penny Bridge by John Nolan, Acrylic on canvas, courtesy of the artist

Ha'penny Bridge by John Nolan
Ha'penny Bridge by John Nolan

Niall MacMonagle

John Nolan is a second generation Dub. Phibsboro, Clontarf, Drumcondra his territory. A Shomera in his back garden is his studio and he works there seven days a week.

Nolan teaches morning and evening classes but "afternoons are my own and weekends, that's your time for your own work".

Over 40 years he has produced a body of work that includes cityscapes, seascapes, abstracts and portraits. Though dropping out of NCAD in his 20s - "I'm in it for the long haul" - art has been a part of his life since he was a child.

"My father gave us a blank kitchen wall and my two sisters, my brother and I were allowed the freedom to draw and paint all over it. When we were done my father would whitewash it over and away we'd go again".

Ha'penny Bridge, part of Nolan's Starry night in Dublin series, honours the city he loves and Van Gogh whom he admires. Originally called Wellington Bridge, for Dublin-born Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon in 1815, and officially known, since 1922, as the Liffey Bridge, the 30,000 who cross it daily call it the Ha'penny Bridge.

Made of iron mined in Sliabh an Iarainn in Leitrim, it was cast in Shropshire and opened on May 19, 1816.

Looking west, in crepuscular light, the curved Ha'penny Bridge is empty and beautiful. With artistic licence, the dazzling stars that Van Gogh saw in Arles here shine down on Dublin.

The arched lamps glow as do "Stop" traffic lights. Ochre and reds shimmer and trickle down the curiously, improbably blue Liffey.

Far from Dublin, Dolcezza, one of Canada's leading fashion designers, has featured Nolan's work in its Fall 2016 collection and in Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks, John Nolan's painting of the inseparable Joyce and Nora Barnacle, was chosen to accompany the Ulysses entry.

Nolan never paints in silence. Thelonius Monk, Keith Jarrett, Chet Baker with their jazzy rhythms keep him company.

Using brush, cloth, palette knife and fingers, those same jazzy rhythms find their way on to the canvas. It's the Ha'penny Bridge in swing time.

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