Thursday 19 September 2019

What lies beneath: Sunbeam by Pat Harris

Sunbeam by Pat Harris, oil on linen (2015), courtesy Taylor Galleries

Sunbeam by Pat Harris
Sunbeam by Pat Harris

Niall MacMonagle

As kids, we believed that if we kept on digging we'd end up in Australia. But archaeologists, especially in Ireland, needn't dig so deep to reveal other worlds beneath our feet.

The Ceide Fields, large neolithic fields on the Mayo coast, for example, date back to 2,500 BC and the lives lived there and then are impossible to imagine.

But for artist Pat Harris, such places allow for extraordinary connections between what is past and passing and what is to come. His new show, Thin Places, celebrates locations which the early Celts believed sacred, places where you sense, however fleetingly, that "the divide between past and future was thin".

Wordsworth, another lover of landscape, speaks of "spots of time" when we connect with a place and "see into the life of things".

Harris thinks such a phrase is "a metaphor for artistic endeavour". As a painter, he said: "I'm always trying to do what I can't do. I'm always trying to make the invisible visible; the paintings we make aren't there until we make them."

He situates his work within the European portrait tradition - at 24, Rembrandt's Margaretha de Geer moved him to tears - but Harris is best known for large, fluid, expressive still-lifes and the "change from a pear, a flower to a stack or an island and the space they occupy was a gradual process. The major challenge is how I can translate this into marks: paint on a surface."

In the Irish countryside, he said: "It's the traces that past occupants have left behind that draw me to it."

This painting, Sunbeam, confidently catches that magical, timeless, short-lived, deep shaft of sunlight in an unspoilt County Mayo.

Another painting in the new show, Sruwaddacon Bay [Sruth Fada Con, "stream of the long hound"] was where the Children of Lir spent 300 years in captivity.

"At the end of the day" said Harris, "that's all we have, paint on a surface."

And so much more: history, archaeology, mythology, sacredness, beauty. And genius.

Thin Places is at Taylor Galleries until December 13. The Artist's Talk is on Thursday, December 3 at 1pm. All are welcome.

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