Camille Souter at the IMMA

During my first visit to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, way back in 2009, one of the works that caught my eye was this painting by Camille Souter

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Old Wheel Gate Entrance to Estate (1967)

Since then I’ve kept an eye open for her work and was pleased to see that there was a room devoted to her in the IMMA as part of their current exhibition IMMA Collection: Fragments.

Camille Souter was born Betty Holmes in Northampton in 1929. Her family moved to Ireland when she was a child and she has lived there for most of her life. She trained as a nurse in London but took up art soon after. She never went to art college and is self taught. She took the name Souter from her first husband, although the marriage didn’t last long, and Camille was his nickname for her.

Most of her paintings that I’ve seen are figurative but leaning heavily towards the abstract. And her palate is earthy, but not muddy, with splashes of white and bright colours.

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A Toucheen of Snow (1964)

Shannon Series Painting (1980)

The works on display at the IMMA included some earlier paintings from the time early in her career when she lived in Italy in the late 1950’s. They were more colourful and more abstract than the mature paintings.

Short of money, she used inexpensive materials. In these two abstract works from 1956 (both untitled) she’s used aluminium bicycle paint on newspaper and craft paper.

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The newspaper print can be seen in this picture of the right hand painting .

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Untitled (1956)

This painting is also from her time in Italy

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Chioggia (1958)

She’s something of an eccentric character, living on the rather secluded Achill Island off the coast of County Mayo in the West of Ireland. According to this profile of her

She is rarely to be seen at art events and casual callers are not encouraged at her Dooagh retreat. A sign outside her studio says “Working – Private”.

She learned to fly when she was producing a series of paintings at Shannon airport but, now in her 80’s (and still working) she has given that up.

I haven’t seen any of her works over in the UK. The only ones shown on the BBC’s excellent Your Paintings website are from Northern Ireland. The IMMA has a modest collection of her works which can be seen on their website. Others can be seen here.

Castletown

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Castletown House was the first Palladian style house in Ireland. It was built between 1722 and 1792 for William Conolly, who was the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. It’s not far from Dublin and on my route from the city to Clane, where I’ve been staying this week, so after I’d been to the IMMA I decided to make a visit.

I made a tour of the house – self guided as I arrived an hour before the final guided tour. It took close to an hour to get round all the rooms, and I took the opportunity to talk to the room guides to find out more about the house to supplement the information in the guide book. The house had been quiet on a grey day so they seemed quite pleased to be diverted by a curious Englishman.

The main house is flanked with two “service wings” – the kitchens were located in the west wing, which now houses while the stables were in the east wing, now converted into the visitor reception and book shop. The wings are connected to the main building by Ionic colonnades. Following the Palladian tradition, on the ground floor the main living rooms are at the back of the house, which faces north. Quite sensible in the Italian climate – the rooms are not so likely to be overheated by the direct sunlight. But not such a good idea in Ireland. On a cool grey afternoon the rooms were decidedly chilly!

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The front of the house is dominated by the entrance hall which is two storeys high. It has a chequered marble floor and ionic columns. The decor is relatively plain, however.

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The dining room was converted from two smaller rooms in the 1760’s.

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The Butler’s pantry. Food would have been brought here from the kitchens prior to be taken into the dining room

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Round to the back of the house – this is the Red Drawing Room

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Then into the Green Drawing room which, located immediately behind the main entrance hall, would have been the main reception room on the ground floor.

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An impressive Georgian period musical clock

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The Print room

one of the most important rooms at Castletown. It is the only fully intact eighteenth century print room left in Ireland. During Lady Louisa’s time it became popular for ladies to collect their favourite prints and then arrange and paste them on to the walls of a chosen room, along with decorative borders. …….. the Print Room can be seen as a scrapbook of mid eighteenth century culture and taste.

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The last of the reception rooms on the ground floor – the State Bedroom. Here, William Conolly would receive guests during the morning while sitting up in his bed or being dressed – just like Louis XIV at Versailles. Conolly clearly had visions of grandeur.

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Back round to the front of the house and into the the staircase hall. The elaborate rococo plasterwork was created by the Philip Francini, who, with his older brother Paul, had worked at a number of Irish houses including Leinster House for in Dublin and Russborough House which I visited last year.

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Upstairs now and into the Blue Bedroom which is decorated and furnished in Victorian style

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The Boudoir – the lady of the house’s territory!

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Finally into the Long Gallery

one of the most celebrated rooms at Castletown, and is unique in Ireland. Originally intended as a picture gallery …… (it) became a space for informal entertaining unlike the grand state rooms downstairs.

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After looking round the house I decided to explore the grounds which extend south of the house down to the River Liffey and the town of Cellebridge

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An ice house

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A classical style temple

complete with columns removed from the Long Gallery during it’s redecoration in the 1760s. This temple, visible from the from the south front of the house, was erected in honour of Sarah Siddons, the actress.

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The Liffey

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Dark clouds looming!

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A view of the house across the lake

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Raindrops started to fall

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Not long afterwards the heavens opened. Wearing only a jacket I took refuge under a tree while it eased off.

It was getting close to 6 o’clock when the house and grounds were closed, so I headed back to the car to drive the 10 miles or so to my hotel in Clane.

Gerda Frömel at the IMMA

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I’m back working in Ireland this week. As a strong believer in the concept that there is more to life than work, I often try to fit in some sightseeing or “cultural activity” during my trips away and so on Sunday I caught the early boat so that I could have an afternoon in and around Dublin. My first port of call was a favourite, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in the old Kilmainham Hospital.

One of the exhibitions currently showing at the IMMA, in the Garden Gallery, is a retrospective of the work of a German/Irish sculptor Gerda Frömel.

An incredibly well regarded artist during her lifetime, her work is no longer well known and has not been on exhibition since a 1976 retrospective at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin the year after her untimely death. This exhibition seeks to bring new work to light and to reinstate Frömel as a modern Irish master. (IMMA website)

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Gerda Frömel, was an ethnic German who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1931. After the Second World war her family, along with other ethnic Germans was expelled and had to move to Germany. She enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts, Stuttgart in 1948 and later went on to study in Darmstadt and the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where she studied metalwork and sculpture. She married a fellow sculptor, Werner Schürmann in 1955 and the couple moved to Ireland the next year when he took up a teaching position at the National College of Art in Dublin. She lived in the Emerald Isle for the rest of her life.

Schürmann established an art foundry in Dublin and  Frömel’s early work was dominated by bronze castings of animals, human figures and plaques/friezes. The exhibition included a number of these in the first two rooms – the second room being a partial reconstruction of her first solo exhibition based on photographic evidence. Many of the animal and human figures were clearly influenced by the work of Giacometti.

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Tree Heads c.1976 – an abstract sculpture of trees inspired by the heads of her three sons – the title a play on words (image source Crawford Art Gallery Cork)

Later, in he 1960’s Frömel began to concentrate on producing abstract works in stone – marble and, particularly alabaster. Many of these reminded me of some of Barbara Hepworth’s work, particularly with her use of circles representing the moon. It‘s not clear whether she was influenced by Hepworth (I’m sure she would have been aware of her) or whether she arrived at these ideas independently.

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Moon and Hill, 1971, Alabaster. Image from IMMA Collection

The first room upstairs was devoted to he architectural work. She was given a number of commissions to produce large scale sculptures to be displayed outside buildings. The most notable being for the Carroll’s cigarette factory in Dundalk and there was a large photograph of this work on display. The factory is a Modernist building and it was originally proposed by the architect to include a sculpture by Henry Moore, but the client intervened and insisted on a sculpture by an Irish artist. In this case, despite her origins the establishment were prepared to claim her as Irish.

The second room upstairs was another partial reconstruction of an exhibition, this time from 1970, and contained a number of sculptures of ovoid shaped heads carved from stone – alabaster and marble.

In the 1970’s she produced a number of abstract works inspired by the night sky and the Chinese yin-yang symbol. She was producing larger works, using different materials (bronze, aluminium and marble) and techniques.

The final room was devoted to sculptures based on Eve and the legendary water sprite Odine.The latter may have been connected to the loss of her 2 year old daughter by drowning a number of years before.

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Besides the sculptures the exhibition also includes a number of drawings. They were produced by making small marks on the paper, which, rather like a Pointilist painting, combine when viewed from a short distance to form an abstract shape. Some of the marks look as if they were made almost by stabbing at the paper with her pencil – a sculptural approach to drawing, perhaps.

Frömel died in 1975 when, at the relatively early age of 44,  she herself was drowned.

Since then Frömel’s work has largely been neglected. I think there were probably a number of reasons for this. I suspect that one of these was that there was some prejudice against her in the Irish art establishment as a foreigner. The exhibition catalogue reproduces a rather hostile report of a scholarship she was awarded by the Irish Arts Council  and she was later told that she was ineligible for  a Fellowship in Sculpture awarded by the Arts Council as she was a foreigner. But times change and the IMMA exhibition has brought her to public attention in Ireland. It is always pleasant to attend an exhibition “on spec” and discover works I like by an artist I hadn’t heard of previously. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for her work from now on.

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So an enjoyable exhibition with many excellent works. One criticism though is that I felt that the flat artificial lighting in all the rooms (apparently necessary to protect the drawings) did not display many of the works to best effect. It was difficult to make out the figures on many of the reliefs in the second room – directional light is needed for this. And she used alabaster, a translucent material which really needs good lighting show it off, for many of her works and the diffuse artificial light did not do them justice. One abstract alabaster piece displayed in the window was really quite stunning with the light shining through it and that would have been true of other alabaster works on display.

Works by Gerda Frömel in the IMMA collection

Irish Times article

Irish Examiner article

Drawings by Gerda Frömel

Ceramics at Blackwell

Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House near Bowness in the Lake District is one of our favourite destinations for a day out, often combined, as was the case last Saturday, with a trip over to Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal. Both houses are owned by the Lakeland Arts Trust and have regularly changing exhibitions. The shop at Blackwell always has a large range of ceramic works, by a changing roster of artists, for sale and they usually have an exhibition of ceramic works taking place. During our last visit a few months ago they had an exhibition of works by Emilie Taylor and one of the current exhibitions at the house is a small display of works by three leading British ceramic artists – Gordon Baldwin, Alison Britton and  Nicholas Rena -who

all grapple with ideas of form and function within the wider debate of where contemporary craft stands in today’s art world.

The works were all displayed in one room, lit by a strong natural light that presented some problems for photographs.

I particularly liked these two pieces

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The white spherical object is by Gordon Baldwin and is typical of his work

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The work next to it, Blue Bowl by Nicholas Rena is very different. With a completely smooth perfect finish it was hard to resist touching it!

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There was a second, small exhibition of ceramics on the stairs leading down from the first floor to reception featuring works by Edmund De Waal and Hans Stofer. It was curated by Becca Weir who is a trainee at Lakeland Arts and Kendal Museum and she was inspired by Anecdote of the Jar, a poem by the American Poet Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

A book of Wallace’s poems, opened to show the poem, is displayed by a group of circular pots by Edmund De Waal

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There were two other groups of pieces by him.

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There were only 2 works by Hans Stofer on display. They are similar to Edmund Se Waals in that they are predominantly white, but in this case they are not thrown or cast as complete pots, but have been assembled using pieces of found china

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