Thursday 22 March 2018

What Lies Beneath: Shelter, by Trevor J Noble

Shelter, by Trevor J Noble Oil on canvas courtesy of the artist

Shelter by Trevor J Noble
Shelter by Trevor J Noble

Niall MacMonagle

Though kind to Patrick Kavanagh, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid is more often remembered as the man who, in 1944, banned Catholics from studying at Trinity, who preached on the evils of contraception and divorce and who played a part in drafting de Valera's 1937 Constitution. Stranger still to discover that not only did McQuaid disapprove of advertisements in the Irish Press showing drawings of women modelling underwear, but he knew, according to his biographer, that using a magnifying glass such ads revealed the mound of Venus. He died, Dev wept, and in Ireland now, a same-sex couple can kiss, hold hands in public and most Catholics no longer have 15 children.

Artist Trevor J Noble, from Ballinasloe, is interested in this newer Ireland. Noble, having spent the best part of his life illustrating training manuals for "Ireland's least-hated utility, the ESB", turned to painting. At first, he copied masterworks by Bouguereau, Munier, Cabanel, but his current direction will, he hopes, restore gender balance within art history. The female nude, he says, "occupies an all-consuming portion" and "naked women are so common that one can almost forget that the male nude ever existed."

Meet his nibs, hardy handsome, and framed within a sandstone-coloured concrete structure. In early morning light Foscádan Snamhna na bhFear/Gents Bathing Shelter has never looked so classical. Flagstones, dark green plants, weeds, the silver railings, the blue shapes of sky, sunlight and shadow create such a sensuous glowing work that one isn't bothered that the Poolbeg chimneys and South Wall from the Clontarf side, within the "doorway" are "adjusted" for effect.

Noble believes that "an image of a naked woman makes the heterosexual male viewer feel more masculine. Women seeing the female nude receive a lesson on the way a woman is supposed to look. For heterosexual males, however, the male nude causes men to worry about their perceived heterosexuality and this young athletic male on the shores of Dublin Bay is not about me; it's about you - the viewer. He's unclothed, not nude, and Noble asks, "Are you secure enough in your sexuality to observe comfortably?" What would the Archbishop answer, spinning in his grave?

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