August 15, 2016

And now for something different...

A few years back, driving west on R340, the wonderfully scenic twisty road along the Connemara coast from Galway towards Carna, we passed over a narrow inlet and up ahead saw a road off to the left winding down to a pier. 

Now, I never saw a pier I didn't like. So we turned off the road and doubled back past one of those ubiquitous—and very effective—signs warning us not to drive into the bay, down to the long
concrete pier which sloping gently into the water. There I found two amazing piles of shells, one mostly clamshells and the other mostly oyster shells. They were so closely packed that it looked like an art installation, carefully assembled by hand. After four years I've finally done the painting I first envisioned that day, that magical gathering of gorgeously colored shells.

While trying to come up with a name for the painting, I learned that we had been in the townland of Cill Chiaráin, which means, "Ciarán's Church." The sixth-century Saint Ciarán spent many years here. Thus, "St.
Ciarán's Shells."
 

July 7, 2016


Which came first, the pony or the frame?

Just a couple weeks ago I came across this frame, dusty and damaged, in a favorite antiques shop in Greene, NY.  We had just arrived for the summer at our upstate NY headquarters, our cottage by the lake. The price was ridiculously low but I would have spent a lot for it. The three frames that had been rather sloppily nailed together could have been easily taken apart and I'd have had three beautiful frames for the price of one. But the frame as it was was just too gorgeous to mess with. I took it home and wiped it down with a couple of Wet Ones and then slapped on a coat of satin Poly and, presto, a million dollar frame.

The inside dimension of the frame was 16 x 20 so I knew I could easily get a beveled mirror that size and I would have an instant classic. But it was 16 x 20 and the one primed empty canvas I had in the studio happened to be 16 x 20, so I decided to do a painting to fit this frame.

I wanted something simple and bold enough to compete with the powerful impact of the frame. When in doubt paint a white horse, so off I went. 



February 26, 2016

Reflecting on Gougane Lake

 Gougane Barra is surely the most calming, spiritually fulfilling location in all of Ireland for Karen and me. A couple of years ago I painted the haunting moss-covered trees of the nearby Gougane Barra National ForestNow I'm back
 
"Reflecting on Gougane Lake" is a depiction of the shoreline one morning after two days of steady rain.  The lake had risen high enough that the water partially covered the lowest hanging branches of the willow tree behind the ruins of St. Finbar's monestary.


 The day was clear, the water eerily still, and it was hard to distinguish between what was real and what was reflection. One clue: a small floating swan feather drifted slowly... on the water... on the sky?   :-)



 Finbar's Rowboat



Another souvenir of Gougane Barra, this old painted rowboat is tied up to the lake shore and is available to the guests of the charming Gougane Barra Hotel. Although it probably never belonged to St. Finbar, whose monestary was located here about fourteen hundred years ago, it would truly be  a spiritual journey to row it around this gorgeous lake. Although we didn't take it out for a row, I sure wanted to take its image with me when we reluctantly drove away. 


If you're ever in the southern half of Ireland, do yourself a favor and visit Gougane Barra, in the mountains of Cork east of Kenmare, at the head waters of the sacred River Lee.

 

November 2, 2015

A victim of the Great War


It turns out that my grandfather, who died when I was a small child, was an artist.  I only recently learned this and after a summer of research and help from many friends and family members, plus a just-uncovered cache of stunning art work from his twenties, I attempted to sum up his life for the Maguire Gallery website:





Frank "Duke" Diehl
April 19, 1892 - August 21, 1944


Life was not kind to Duke Diehl. 

Born in 1892, he was an artistic child who drew and drew and practiced and drew some more, using old accounting ledgers and notebooks for sketch books, drawing and pasting over lists of business expenditures or class notes, copying illustrations from popular magazines, painting glamourous little watercolor vignettes on scraps of cardboard, front and back.

In 1912 he married Edith Lueders, from a well-to-do family and five years older than he was. Edith was also an artist who, orphaned at a young age, was being raised by relatives in their elegant home at the corner of 43rd and Spruce St. in West Philadelphia.

When the war came, Duke enlisted and in September of 1918 at the age of 26 he was sent to France as an Ambulance attendant at the front. While fulfilling his gruesome job he was a victim of German Mustard Gas attacks and when he returned home in June of 1919 he was addicted to alcohol and morphine, and suffering from “Shell Shock,” what we now call PTSD. 

Through the 20s and the Great Depression, he worked as a salesman for cigarette, automobile and other companies, a series of short-lived jobs, that kept him away from home for extended periods, and when he came home drunk, his children hid in the attic. Through it all he was a dreamer, and his scrapbooks are filled with ideas for advertisements or new products, new businesses and such. But he was never able to overcome his alchoholism. When in 1942, at the age of 50, he registered for the army again, his application stated, “unemployed.” 

An artist by nature, a dreamer, a delayed casualty of the Great War, Duke died at age 52 from a sudden heart attack on a peaceful country road, walking home from a night spent with his mistress, a former WWI nurse whom he had met in a French hospital and who lived in a rented house just a mile or two away from the small Berks County farmhouse he shared with his long-suffering wife, Edith (Mimi, to her grandchildren).

After his funeral, Mimi sat on the bed in her granddaughter Bonnie's room and cried and cried. “He was a bad boy,” she sobbed, “but I loved him.”

 


August 11, 2015

Patrick Pearse

The Poet who lead the "Poet's Rebellion"




This year is, of course, the 100th anniversary of the "Easter Rising," the audacious attempt by Irish nationalists to take advantage of Britain's desperate preoccupation with fighting WWI. The revolutionaries took possession of several locations in Dublin, their headquarters in the huge imposing Central Post Office on Dublin's main street.  The P.O. is shown in the painting.  The rebels never had a chance, being completely outmanned and outgunned and were crushed by the superior British force. "Britania's Huns with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew."  Pearse surrendered after six days and within a few days he, along with sixteen other rebel leaders, were executed. Those executions changed perceptions among the Irish masses, turning the Irish people away from the Queen and toward separation from England. 

Padraig, a teacher and a poet as were two others among the leaders, had gone from pacifist to warrior in the span of two years but would not live to see Home Rule for Ireland.

I used a portion of a speech he gave at the gravesite of Fenian hero O'Donovan Rossa, on Aug 3, 2015, nine months before the Rising.  "Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations."

I made this painting the same size as my Irish Writers paintings, three feet wide and four and half feet high.  I have started calling my Writers series, "Irish Giants," and certainly Pearse, who was a poet after all, qualifies as an Irish Giant.

Lyrics to The Foggy Dew, written by James McNally


I was down the glen one Easter morn
To a city fair rode I
There armed lines of marching men
In squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum, no battle drum did sound it's loud tattoo
But the Angelus Bells o'er the Liffey swells rang out in the foggy dew

Right proudly high in Dublin town
Hung they out a flag of war
'Twas better to die 'neath that Irish sky
Than at Sulva or Sud el Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath
Strong men came hurrying through
While Brittania's huns with their long range guns
Sailed in through the foggy dew

Their bravest fell and the requiem bell
Rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the
Springing of the year
While the world did gaze with deep amaze
At those fearless men but few
Who bore the fight that freedom's light
Might shine through the foggy dew

And back through the glen
I rode again
And my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men
Whom I never shall see n'more
But to and fro in my dreams I go
And I kneel and pray for you
For slavery fled oh glorious dead
When you fell in the foggy dew

June 10, 2015

Why I'm nuts about the West of Ireland


Why I'm nuts about the West of Ireland
 
One May we rented a house on the shore of Lough Swilly in Rathmullen, Co. Donegal, within sight of the cove that launched the famous Flight of the Earls.
     Just after dawn one morning, as my wife and granddaughter slept, I grabbed my camera and car keys and slipped into sweat pants and a plaid shirt and went out the door into the fresh Irish morning.  I drove north up the coast road for four or five miles then turned off onto a narrow lane that disappeared between bright yellow hedges of gorse into the Donegal back-country.  For an hour I poked my way up and down the quiet roads, stopping to photograph the gorse and sheep, horses and cottages in the bright morning sunlight that slanted in from the East.  Finally I decided to head back.  I knew the bay was less than a mile or so to the East and I could see down into the valley to the road that led to the coast.
     But every road I tried ended in dead ends or construction barriers, or back to intersections I had just been through.  I found myself passing the same cottages for the second or third time.  I knew exactly where I was, I could see the road in the valley, but could not find my way to it.
     I came across a freshly paved road that curved away in the right direction. I took it 50 yards around a bend and discovered to my disappointment that it ended in a farm yard between an old stone cottage and a low, dingy stone barn. A black and white sheep dog, its chain stretched to the limit, stood on alert.
     Frustrated, I put the car in reverse and began backing out the narrow winding drive.  Driving on the “wrong side of the road” can be difficult but I find backing up next to impossible.  I crept backward, sensed that I was getting too close to the left hand ditch and turned the wheel to bring me back into the center of the road.  Slowly, gently, my left front tire went off the road and into the ditch.  Oh no!  I gave it a little gas but I was totally hung up.
     I opened the door to step out of the car and found to my horror that I was 18” off the road!  Climbing down I saw the enormity of my problem, the car was cantilevered into the air, the right rear wheel lifted high off the road.  The left front wheel was hanging in air over a small but briskly flowing creek!  I fought despair and, standing on the narrow road, in the middle of nowhere, I recited the Serenity Prayer:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, etc.”
     A cloud of gloom hung over me as I headed back down the drive toward the farm cottage around the bend.  When the dog saw me he began barking furiously.  As I approached the cottage an old man in rumpled clothes appeared in the doorway, blinking his eyes in the sunlight.
     “I’ve done a stupid thing,” I told him.  “I’ve gone off the road and into a ditch and I’m hopelessly stuck.”   

     He nodded.  
     I said, “I need to call somebody.”
     “Wait out here,” he said in a heavy rural brogue, and turned back into the dark cottage.  I realized that I didn’t have my wallet, no money or identification, nothing.  I was practically dressed in pajamas.
     I did thank God for two things though: one, my wife wasn’t with me, and two, I wasn’t wearing my fuzzy slippers!
     From inside I could hear the whirring and clicking of an old rotary phone being dialed, and then he was talking… I couldn’t understand a word he said, I realized he was speaking Irish.
     Then he called out to me, “C'mon on in.”
     I entered the cottage and it was as humble, as “mean,” as any poor crofters cottage I’d ever read about.  Dark, the walls sooty, a simple wooden hutch, a tiny window across the way, the Sacred Heart of Jesus framed and hanging from a nail on the wall.  Through the door into the kitchen I saw a cast iron stove, flames visible through the round left-front grate.
     He stood in the kitchen doorway holding the phone out to me, “He’s bringin’ a tractor, tell ‘im where y’are.”  I panicked, I didn’t have the faintest idea where I was!
     I asked him, “What’s your name?” as I reached for the phone.
     He answered with something like, “Gharrrrahough.”  I hadn’t the faintest idea what he’d just said.
     I put the phone to my ear and heard a voice, “Where arr’ya?”
     “Gharrrrahough,”  I replied.
     “Be there inna wee bit.”
     I hung up the phone.  Dumbfounded.
     “Thanks so much,” I said to the old man, “I’ll better walk to the car and wait there.”



Back at the car I stood in crisp morning air, surrounded by lush green fields, birds singing in the hedges, and my rental car, it’s hind leg lifted like a urinating dog.  Urinating on me, I thought darkly. And I had decided not to buy the extra insurance!  After a few minutes a red van sped past the top of the lane, stopped up the road and backed up.  A man in a workman’s uniform climbed out and walked down to me, “How did ya go off the road?”  “Ah, you were reversin’.”  After I told him that help was on the way, he said, “Well I’ll be goin’ but I’ll check back on ya.”  No sooner had he left when I heard the faint putt-putt of a tractor in the morning stillness.
     The tractor came down the lane with a young man at the wheel who parked it and climbed down.  I heard a car door slam and saw a white van stopped up the road, two men in Wellingtons walking toward me.  Then the red van reappeared and parked at the end of the lane, and behind me the old man from the cottage, fully dressed now, came towards us.
     In no time the five smiling men were standing in the creek, studying my predicament, and talking away in Irish.  I stood there silently watching, understanding nothing, helpless.  One of the men turned to me and spoke in English, “It’s hung up on a rock and if the tractor pulls it out it will scrape the bottom of the panel.”
     Before I had a chance to tell him that I didn’t care if it destroyed the car, just get me back up on the road, he turned away and rejoined his friends and their Irish-language discussions.
     Then he was back, “If we all lift the left front of the car as the tractor pulls it back I think we can get it back on the road without any damage.”  In a minute the tractor was hooked up to the rear bumper, three of the men were standing in the creek ready to hoist the car, and I was seated at the wheel.
     “One… two…three!”  The tractor pulled, the men lifted, and… nothing!
     “The hand brake!" a voice called out, "The hand brake!”  Chagrinned, I released the brake and a second attempt was made. Back, lift, and suddenly my car sat on the road as if nothing had ever happened.
     There was not the tiniest scratch on the car.  A miracle!  I climbed out profusely thanking my saviors. They were gracious and friendly, no sign of “who is this moron Yank?”
     “I want to take a picture of all of you, my Irish angels.” Grinning, they posed in front of the car for a photo I will cherish forever.


     One of them gave me instructions on how to get to the road in the valley. “See where the white van is parked, go down that road to a cottage with new construction across the way, and just past there at the fork take the left fork and then the right fork at the ruin and that will bring you to a road which takes you to your road.  “Do you have that now?”  I nodded, but he repeated the directions again, the cottage, the fork, the ruin, the whole bit.
     I drove away, following the instructions carefully… and three minutes later found myself dead-ended in another barnyard!  God help me!  I carefully turned around in the narrow space and headed back out the lane. Around the bend ahead, coming into the farm, came the very tractor that had just pulled me out of the ditch.  He edged partially off the road and as I squeezed past him, the young man looked down and waved, a broad smile on his face.  I grinned and shrugged.  My humiliation was complete.




February 2, 2015

I was horrified to see that it had been a year since I last posted. I hope to make up for that with regular postings in 2015.

Ramelton Fantasy  This painting is a bit of a departure for me although it is not the first painting I have done of the world through a screen of tree branches.  It's quite large, 4 feet wide, and hidden back there in the mist are two horses.  The tree sits about 50 yards from the foggy shore of Lough Swilly, in Ramelton, a wonderful small town north of Letterkenny in County Donegal.

January 7, 2014

August 30, 2013



Seamus Heaney passed away today.
















As my good friend and poet, Denise Blake, put it, "A gentle man goes to his rest."

A few years back I had my moment with Seamus and I wrote about it.


Seamus Heaney is in the room

On Tuesday the 20th, Karen and I attended a reception and poetry reading by Seamus Heaney and Peter Fallon at Villanova U. A great night. At the reception, my new painting was stuck in the corner but made a dramatic backdrop to the festivities. I was, of course, very nervous that he might just hate the painting... insecurity, thy name is Barrie!

(I've now painted all four Irish Nobel Laureates -- Joyce, Yeats, Beckett and now, Heaney.)

When Karen and I were able to make our way over to and speak with Seamus, I introduced myself as the painter of the portrait, he smiled and greeted me graciously. Karen introduced herself as the "Calendar Girl" because she had corresponded with him over the use of some of his poetry in our Ireland Calendar. Gesturing across the room towards where the painting sat in the distance, he told me he hadn't had a chance to get a good look at the painting, and leaning closer he said, "I didn't want to seem to be genuflecting to my own image."
We laughed and he said, "But I think looking at it with the artist would be acceptable," and he took my elbow and guided me through the crowd to the painting.

When we got to the painting, he was surprised to see that there are lines from his poetry in the painting, and we were just beginning to talk about that when Jim Murphy's voice came over the loudspeaker announcing the beginning of the speaking part of the evening. Thus ended my
tête-à-tête with Ireland's greatest living poet. Karen snapped this photo as the speakers began.

May 2, 2013


I took the coast road West out of Galway and then turned into the interior and came across this beautiful, muscular Connemara pony.  For me, the stone wall and rugged November plant life turned the simple act of grazing into a wild, thrilling thing. Call me crazy but that's the way I sees it.