Not only Forms

Not only Forms – Paintings from the North West Coastline by Gerard Smyth

Light thins out the cold.
The familiar faces of roofs
A bird’s shadow hovers
up the cliff over hanging rock.

In his wonderfully descriptive mood poem, Winter Morning in Ireland, the German writer Peter Huchel catches the mystique of certain aspects of the Irish landscape: In these depictions of North Mayo, Donald Teskey does likewise, conveying the sense of remoteness that belongs to this wilderness of nature, as well as its weatherworn atmosphere and elemental austerity. And by evoking its components; headland, seacliff, bog prairie, storm sky, and a recurring motif that acts as a kind of totem, the lighthouse, he also, in a way, engages in an act of invocation.

Like Jack B Yeats his idiom straddles the abstract and the representational. He has succeeded in marrying the two in an idiosyncratic style that is distinctly his own. But Teskey is an artist who knows when the limits of representation are reached, that something of the mystery of the world has to emerge from the tonal forms and the topographical reference points.
Like Yeats, too, his sensibility is always alert to that mystery, whether it is to be found it in the crepuscular corners of the city or in the land and coastal formations in the area of North Mayo that prompted these paintings. As befits a landline that touches the Atlantic and comes under its sullen influence, the atmosphere here has a brooding quality, one that is starkly replicated in many of these small works.

Along this expanse of coast are to be found some of the outermost reaches on the map of Ireland the periphery of the periphery, a place that exudes a sense of time stretching back way beyond the first tentative signs of any markings made by man. The rock that abounds in this harsh terrain is truly the rock of ages, though its tenure is more fragile that we might imagine as it crumbles and shifts under pressure from the tidal energy that eats away at it.

The supremacy of landscape in Irish art and particularly the raw material provided by the Western seaboard is a challenge to any artist who turns his attention to it. The painter ventures there in the hope that his “moment of seeing” (as Graham Sutherland called it) will be one that bestows on his interpretations the newness of a moment never seen before. And this is Donald Teskey’s achievement in these paintings.

These are not reports from the scenic route, but visceral creations. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the dramatic power of the swirling foam in the sequence of sea-spray pictures and the dark textures of the Broadhaven Lighthouse series. The defiance of the land and sea becomes, in a manner, one of the stimuli for the painter. As does the utter unpredictability: the same scene can change in the flick of an eye. But however it changes it always offers the greatest of gifts that the artist can receive: light and shade.

Another wise poet, the American Chase Twitchell has written:

Poetry is not window cleaning
It breaks the glass.

Painting does the same when it is the expression of the kind of observation and contemplation that Donald Teskey has brought to the landscape of North Mayo.

Gerard Smyth  © 2011 Rubicon Gallery, 10 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland. Tel: +353 1 670 8055