Sunday 18 August 2019

John Daly: 'Kerry canvas is Bewick's inspiration'


Pauline Bewick. Photo: Nina Finn-Kelcey
Pauline Bewick. Photo: Nina Finn-Kelcey

John Daly

You never forget the first time you glimpse a naked woman - and the memory goes double when she's reclining by a mountain stream with a frog perched upon her outstretched thigh.

Such was the thrilling vision staring down from the walls of a smoky Killorglin pub back in the 1970s - a genuine Bewick canvas, brimming with such illicit exoticism it fired the imagination of this teenage mind for years after. It was mad, bad and daring - a mix of sexuality and nature that punched hidden switches somewhere deep in the intellect.

If this was bad, as certain lofty pundits decreed it, then it was a bad and bold thing from which one's eyes could not be averted even under the influence of a blowtorch applied to the posterior.

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I was reminded of that long-ago moment last week when the President presented the 2019 Kerry Association Arts Award to Pauline Bewick - a true national treasure who, at 84, remains as much a rebellious bohemian as she was all those years ago.

Back in the day when the conservative regimen of sackcloth and ashes still held a persuasive sway on our island, she was a creature as beguiling as her art, who followed her muse by throwing it all on public canvas and to hell with the begrudgers.

That iconic canvas, 'Woman and Frog', displayed many classic Bewick themes - the female figure, birds, rivers, lakes and landscape.

Inspired by the Kerry panorama where she has lived the majority of her life, the woman who traversed Nepal, China and the South Sea islands long before TripAdvisor pointed the way continues to nurture inspiration every waking moment through the magic alchemy of canvas and brush.

"So much of what I do comes from the geographical fact of living in Kerry, and because I live so much in the present and being so aware of my surroundings, where I am leaks into every subject, even those born of the mind," she explained of the process.

In a scenic haven close by Caragh Lake, the house is deep in the Hidden Ireland tourists yearn to find but seldom do. In the twisting, turning townlands of rugged hills and wild splendour, her creativity is unaffected by her four score years and more.

The acceptance and acclaim Bewick now enjoys was achieved by an often thorny path through the jungle of narrow-mindedness and conservatism that often greeted her early work.

Those were the times when schoolkids were warned about attending her exhibitions, when critics took her ability to garner publicity as vulgar, or indeed fellow artists who termed her attempts to bring art to the masses as self-serving promotion.

It can't have been easy to follow the muse that often drew her to the forbidden exoticism of the nature that surrounded her - but she persevered, regardless of the consequences.

She must sometimes smile at having survived and thrived in spite of that long-ago adversity from her perch as a much-loved national treasure.

"When I first arrived here all those years ago now, I simply wanted to paint every thing - every tree, every field, every rock. And that is how it still is."


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Into this void comes Newsmax, an enterprise driven by a reporting ethos somewhere to the right of Ghengis Khan - my latest guilty pleasure on a rainy day.

Irish Independent

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