Skip to content

Contemporary Realism

October 6, 2009

Writing about the day and time you live in is much more difficult than researching the past, for the simple reason that history lends its own filter. Hindsight is 20/20 and it is relatively simple to point at the artists who were influential in their periods. Looking at the art of today affords no such filter and so it’s difficult to say this or that person or trend will come to be known as the hallmark of the period we live in.

No period in history had just one style of art, but when you go to an art gallery, the pieces have been carefully selected to give the impression of art history having a single, cohesive thread. ‘Here, children, you can clearly see where Mannerism turns into Baroque’.  What they don’t show is all the impressionists painting behind the back of Marcel Duchamp and Picasso.  These people don’t die out, though. Today all these threads are still going strong, with different factions of artists worldwide continuing the traditions of Masters past.  The last instalment of this series talked about the Irish Exhibtion of Living Artists (IELA)  that took over from the traditionalists in Ireland  and the likes of whom included Louis le Brocquy, Tony O’Malley and Evie Hone.  What was going on behind the scenes and have we lost any undiscovered beauties?

Fred Ross gave a keynote speech to the Oil Painters of America.  Here’s an extract of what he had to say:

“I haven’t felt this way about a work of art since I stood before Michelangelo’s David. Then I thought, “This must be one of the greatest old master paintings every produced. But no name or country or time would come to mind. Italian High Renaissance, 17th Century Dutch, Carravaggio, Fragonard, Ingres, Prud’hon … back further perhaps … Raphael, Botticelli, Leonardo, no! No! NO! Not one of those names or times felt anything like what I was looking at.

Then I approached the painting more closely, and saw the name mispronouncing it as Bouguereau at the bottom, and the date 1873 — 1873?

How was that possible? I’d learned that the greatest artists at that time were, Manet, Corot, Courbet, and Renoir … that the techniques and greatness of the Old Masters had died out, and that nobody knew how to do anything remotely this great by the 1870’s.

Years of undergraduate courses and another sixty credits post graduate in art, attaining my master’s degree from Columbia University, and I had never heard that name. Who was he? Was he important? How could he not be important? Anyone who could have done this must surely be deserving of the highest accolades in the art world.” (taken from the Art Renewal Center philosophy, )

Let’s have a little look see at what was going on when le Brocquy et al were giving Ireland’s art world a makeover.

Martin Mooney was born in 1960 and studied first in the University of Ulster, then in Brighton and completed his postgrad in Slade School of Art in London. His travels have exposed him to the Barbizon School of Fine art and his love of plein air work shines through his portfolio.

Still Life, Martin Mooney.

Still Life, Martin Mooney.

Mooney’s work exhibits plenty of atmosphere, but lack the finish of his studio work. It’s difficult to bring plein-air work to a finished state without losing its spontaneity and vitality, but I would like to see him try.

   Martin Mooney, Ponte di Tre Archi, Cannaregio Canal, Venice

Martin Mooney, Ponte di Tre Archi, Cannaregio Canal, Venice

James English has produced some rather lovely pieces of marshland

James English, La Mata Salt Marsh, Spain.

James English, La Mata Salt Marsh, Spain.

and is a very accomplished studio painter. Here’s his ‘Jug with Egret’s Feather’.

James English, Jug with Egrets feather.

James English, Jug with Egret's feather.

His tonal schemes remind me of Whistler and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been influenced by the American Schools of Realism.  English draws his inspirations from a variety of sources including horse racing, orthinology and travel.  He works up watercolour studies en plein air and finished in the studio, as is the case with most plein air artists these days. He studied under David Hone, a descendant of Nathaniel Hone together with Evie Hone (who, as you may recall, was an avid proponent of IELA).  It’s curious to see two such distinct styles evolve from the Hone family tree.

English’s first exhibition was in  1974 in the Tattan Gallery in Malahide Co Dublin. This was followed up with three more exhibitions in the Tattan before staging a one person Exhibition in Gallery 22 Dublin. This was successful and led to many more exhibitions and his eventual election as a member of the RHA.  Corkonians amongst you might want to go along to his latest exhibition showing from the 6th-17th October in the Lavit Gallery 5 Fr Mathew St Cork.

Edward Maguire was born in Dublin and   studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti, Rome, and at the Slade School in London. He travelled in France and Italy from 1951-52. He lived at Kilmurvey on the Aran Islands from 1955-56 and in Dublin from 1956 until his death.  He inhabited a twilight world in the arts, veering wildly between the more traditional styles of ‘Owl’ in 1983 and following the IELA aesthetic as in ‘Two Figures in Landscape’.

Edward Maguire. Owl, 1983 Edward Maguire. Owl, 1983
Edward Maguire, Two Figures in Landscape

Edward Maguire, 'Two Figures in Landscape'

John Doherty came into the world in 1949 in Kilkenny and trained as an architect in Bolton DIT.  This architectural knowledge stands him in good stead as his work comprises mostly of buildings and similar structures.  Technically excellent, his handling of light is very good, as shown in this work below.

Buoys on the Edge, John Doherty

Buoys on the Edge, John Doherty

He treats his subjects with much love, handling texture deftly. He reminds me of the Dutch and Swedish artists of the 19th Century.  This beautiful painting below sold in 2006 for 17,000 euro. It will be worth watching to see whether his position as a contemporary realist artist will maneuvre his art into the top price brackets within the next few years.




The last artist in the spotlight for this article is Paul Kelly. The youngest of the artists in our selection,  he was born in 1968 and is self taught. He seems to carry  the mantle passed on by the Barbizon artists and Nathaniel Hone.

On the Liffey, Paul Kelly

'On the Liffey', Paul Kelly

Resting Lambay Island

Resting Lambay Island

‘Resting, Lambay Island’ reminds me of Hone’s famous ‘Pastures at Malahide’.  His dextrous handling of landscapes sadly does not extend to the human form, but hopefully with time this shall change and a more well-rounded master will emerge.

Several more artists deserve to be mentioned here. Unfortunately I am limited by space and time and shall have to end here, but a google images search will throw some more light over the following artists: Philip Lindsay, Henry McGrane (recommended and I may do another piece on him in the future)and  Rowan Gillespie (sculptor and creator of the Famine sculptures that you see along the Liffey in Dublin).

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: