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Tuning in to art

It was when The Harvest Ministers cut back on regular gigging that band member Padraig McCaul began to concentrate on his painting. That was about eight years ago.

Since then, Padraig has given up a career as a software developer in response to the demand for his critically acclaimed artworks. Last year, after he'd joined Will Merriman for a gig at Whelan's, Padraig had a minor epiphany.

"I got a clear idea to do something that would involve my painting and also the music," he says. That idea became a collaboration with Will, resulting in Padraig's exhibition at the Bad Art Gallery and Will's new album -- both called The Light of Which I Speak.

"I suggested the title," explains Will. "I've always liked the light in Padraig's paintings and the source of that light is the place in which he paints. So that's where the title comes from."

The exhibition features 25 new paintings, some of which began the process and others that were painted to reflect the songs that Will wrote in response to Padraig's work.

"Most of what I paint is the west of Ireland, around Achill and Mayo," says Padraig. "I leave the paintings open to the imagination. I thought it would be great if Will could come up with characters to populate the paintings. Having thought about it a bit more, I said: 'Let's nail it down in terms of a time frame."

One idea came to mind. "The Year of the French, 1798, seemed such a mad idea," says Padraig. "The thought of the French army arriving off the coast of Mayo. Just 1,100 of them arrived and they were gone again in three weeks. It was like a tragi-comedy. Visually, that threw up images for me. Then Will came up with the idea of taking it from an Irish girl's perspective. Most of the songs are written from a girl's perspective. He brought that alive."

Under the guiding hand of producer Shay Fitzgerald, Will recorded nine pieces, which -- haunting and sparse -- provide a narrative for Padraig's ghost landscapes. "The recording was done quickly," says Will. "No messing around." Padraig also performs on the album.

"In the exhibition, there are eight paintings that map directly on to eight songs," explains Padraig. "But the whole range of the paintings act like a theatre set. They provide the visual images for the characters that are in the songs. If they connect for people, that's what makes it special. There's a connection between the [the paintings and the songs], even though they can stand alone."

The success of the exhibition, a bold and brave initiative by two talented artists, has lead to moves to have it open in Paris this year. - EC

Will Merriman and Padraig McCaul perform live at the Bad Art Gallery, Francis Street, at 1pm on Saturday and March 14th.