Saturday 17 August 2019

What Lies Beneath: James Joyce by Helena Perez Garcia

James Joyce by Helena Perez Garcia


Courtesy of the artist and MoLI

James Joyce by Helena Perez Garcia
James Joyce by Helena Perez Garcia

niall Macmonagle

World-famous fictional characters Huck Finn, Cordelia, Gatsby, Elizabeth Bennett live in between book covers and in our imaginations. But James Joyce's Leopold Bloom has a day named after him, a day all to himself and today's the day.

On June 16, 1904 Joyce walked out with Nora Barnacle and that day was immortalised in Ulysses.

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This image by Spanish artist Helena Perez Garcia is the face of MoLI [Museum of Literature Ireland] and echoing Molly Bloom herself an exciting new museum based in Newman House where Joyce studied. Opening in September, MoLI, says its director, Simon O'Connor, will be "a repository of the past working as a laboratory for the future".

Seville-born, with a masters in design and illustration, Perez Garcia spent six years in London and now lives in Madrid. Having visited Dublin, having read Dubliners and A Portrait, she was inspired to create a portrait of Joyce for herself and was happy that her illustration is being used to promote MoLI.

Here, Joyce has a quizzical, dreamy look. "I exaggerated the look that we see in photographs, emphasising the idea of a dreamer, a creator of stories. It is as if he was there physically but very far away at the same time." The straw hat and striped tie complement each other and those luscious leaves give the intellectual in dark jacket against a plain blue background a natural look.

"Having lived in big cities, among concrete and bricks all my life, painting foliage is a way of feeling closer to it. I placed Joyce in a dreamlike background, as if he was far away from reality. The plants are a variety of Calathea which is a plant I owned when I painted the portrait. It's a magical plant; it closes its leaves when the sun goes down and opens them again in the morning."

Perez Garcia's work is vibrant and celebratory. She loves to include "natural elements like vegetation, flowers and animals, as a reminder of the importance of nature".

She's done covers for Woolf's Orlando, Austen's Mansfield Park, and her images such as 7 Things I Learned When I Was The Only Girl In My Physics Class or The Bully Project contain quiet, powerful messages. But all her work contains bright, vivid, lively colours associated with her native Spain.

Today is also Father's Day.

Colm Toibin in his latest book, Mad, Bad, Dangerous, says that Joyce's father blighted his children's lives and as soon as possible they left home. "Some of them," says Toibin, "felt a deep anger against him" and yet Joyce in his writing remembered his father's better qualities and when he died said "I was very fond of him always, being a sinner myself, and even liked his faults".

A generous, decent, honest thought on Father's Day and Bloomsday.


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