“Life Above Everything” – Lucien Freud and Jack B Yeats

Back in 2016, the Irish Museum of Modern Art secured a five-year loan of 50 works by Lucian Freud. To house these works, the IMMA set up the Freud Project in the Garden Gallery in the grounds of Kilmainham Hospital, which has previously been used for temporary exhibitions. The project involves presenting

a series of different and exclusive Lucian Freud related exhibitions, with a new programme of events and openings each year. 

IMMA website

I went to see the inaugural exhibition in this series in March 2017 and enjoyed having the opportunity to view 30 of his works. This week I’m back over in Ireland with work and caught the early boat over on Sunday to spend the afternoon visiting the IMMA as I hadn’t been there for a while. During my visit I decided I’d take a look at the latest Freud Project exhibition – Life above Everything: Lucian Freud and Jack B. Yeats – which, as is clear from the title, features works both by Freud and one of my favourite Irish artists, Jack B Yeats. As is usually the case with these types of exhibition, no photos were allowed, so the images in this post are taken from other sources.

Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website (Jack B Yeats paintings)

The IMMA website describes the objective of the exhibition

Exploring the affinities and interconnections between these two artists, this exhibition draws the work of these two stubbornly individual painters into dialogue, placing them side-by-side for the first time in 70 years. While Lucian Freud’s work has been exhibited in the past in group exhibitions alongside other artists from the ‘School of London’, Life above Everything is one of the few exhibitions to date in which Freud has been shown with a single other artist.

IMMA website

Jack Butler Yeats was the brother of the famous poet, William Butler Yeats. He was born in London and spent his childhood between London, Dublin, and Sligo, eventually returning to live permanently in Ireland in 1910. He began his artistic career, in the 1890s, as a black and white journalistic illustrator for various publications before eventually becoming a professional artist. He initially painted in watercolour, but about 1906 he began painting regularly in oil. His early paintings were rather conservative in style but in the 1920s there was a major change in his approach. He started to use bright colours and he began to paint with extremely free and loose brushstrokes with the paint thickly applied. The paintings became much more interesting, over the years becoming more and more abstract and Expressionist in style.

Although Freud and Yeats could both be considered as figurative painters, their styles were very different – particularly when referencing Yeats’ later works. So pairing the two artists in this way isn’t a particularly obvious thing to do. But it was interesting to have the opportunity to “compare and contrast”.

Apparently Freud

had a lifelong interest in the Irish painter’s work, holding a deep admiration for its force and energy. He did not cite Yeats as an ‘influence’ but instead seems to have felt a common purpose with his originality and independence, his continuous searching observation, and his sense of the connection between painting and life. A pen and ink drawing by Yeats, The Dancing Stevedores (c.1900), hung beside Freud’s bed for over 20 years.

IMMA website

The exhibition includes 33 paintings by Freud and 24 by Yeats on two floors of the Garden Gallery, with a good selection of drawings and works on paper by both artists in the basement.

Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website
Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website

I’d seen most, if not all, of the works by Freud previously during my visit to the inaugural exhibition back in 2017 – and Manchester City Art Gallery had loaned a painting I’ve seen many times before, Girl with a Beret (1951-52). However, although I’ve seen the sizeable collection of Yeats’ paintings at both the Irish National Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, I was particularly keen to have a good look at his works included in this exhibition, most of which I’d never seen before. Many were from his later period painted in his wild, colourful expressionist style where the figures of people and horses are almost just suggested. I wasn’t disappointed.

Paintings I particularly liked included one on loan from the Tate

The Two Travellers 1942 Jack Butler Yeats 1871-1957 Purchased 1946 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05660

the curiously named ‘Left, Left / We Left Our Name / On the Road / On the Road / On the Famous Road / On the Famous Road / On the Famous Road / Of Fame.’ and several paintings which included horses, a favourite subject of the Irishman, including The Flapping Meeting (1926) and White Shower (1928).

I doubt I’d have paid the entrance fee to see the Freud paintings again, but it was worth it to see those fantastic paintings by Jack B Yeats.

Wolfgang Tillmans – Rebuilding the Future – at the IMMA


After passing through the Mary Swanzy paintings, which I enjoyed very much, I went to look at the Exhibition of photographs by the German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans which occupied the whole of the East wing of the Gallery.

According to the exhibition guide he’s

 one of the most accomplished and widely celebrated artists working today, recognised for major contributions to the development of contemporary photography in terms of subject matter, production, scale, presentation and methodology.

He doesn’t specialise in one style but his work encompasses landscapes, portraits, street photography and abstract images. They come in different sizes too, ranging from very small to gigantic, as can be seen in this photograph (it’s a little weird photographing photographs!)


Rebuilding the Future comprises over 100 works and captures Tillmans’ unique way of working. This new exhibition for IMMA mixes works from throughout his career and in numerous formats, installed in IMMA’s galleries in direct relation to the physical spaces and atmosphere of the museum. 

He built in reputation in the 1990’s while he was in Britain with photographs documenting the London club and gay scenes but he’s moved on since then.

One of the first image I saw was this large photograph of the sea looking towards the land. Printed in monochrome and quite grainy, it was almost abstract in nature


Some of the other works that caught my attention


One of his portraits – this one of the singer Neneh Cherrie


A wall of photographs from the London music scene


A couple of the individual photos


Mary Swanzy the IMMA


After a busy day on Saturday,I was up early the next morning to drive over to Holyhead to catch the boat to Dublin as I’m back over working in Naas this week. The boat arrived at the port just after midday, so I had an afternoon to do a few things rather than just spend the whole day travelling.

I decided I’d drive over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art out at Kilmainham as I hadn’t been there for a while and I quite fancied seeing the exhibition of work by the German photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans. 


To reach the Tillmans exhibition I had to pass through several rooms devoted to the work of an Irish artist, Mary Swanzy . She was born in Dublin to a prosperous Protestant family – her father was a distinguished eye surgeon – and grew up around Merrion Square in the south side of the city but during her long life relocated several times and travelled widely. From viewing the exhibition it’s clear she was an accomplished artist, but isn’t well known, no doubt because she was a woman. As she herself is quoted as saying on the exhibition website

 ‘if I had been born Henry instead of Mary my life would have been very different’.

It was the last day of this exhibition and it was clearly popular with the Irish public as it was very busy and the catalogue had sold out. She was born in 1882 and worked right through to her death in 1978. She trained in Dublin and then in Paris and was influenced by the styles that emerged during the early 20th Century. So it was interesting to see her work having just visited the Fernand Léger exhibition at Tate Liverpool the previous day as both artists are particularly known for their Cubist and Futurist paintings, but also created works in other styles, such as Surrealism.

In her early work in Paris, she adopted a Post Impressionist style, as in this portrait of her sister

Portrait of Miss Muriel Swayzey (1907)

She later adopted the Cubist style

Young woman with white bonnet (1920)

Besides portraits, her subjects included landscapes and flowers

Cubist landscape (1928)

In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, she left Ireland travelling through Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Hawaii and Samoa. One of the rooms was devoted to paintings from this period, which have similarities with Gaugain’s work from his time in Tahiti.


Afterwards she moved to London before relocating to Dublin at the start of WW2

Her style changed over time, becoming more figurative and in some cases adopting the Symbolist

This is portion apart (group of sorrowing women) (1942)
Potato Famine (1940)

Female nudes with horse and viaduct (1930’s)

After the war she returned to London. The works from her later years, displayed in the final room, are quite different and difficult to classify. Many of them feature caricatures of people and animals. As the exhibition guide tells us

This strange assembly of characters make the images appear like scenes from the world of science fiction rather than deriving from an art historical lineage

Revolution (1943)
Reading employment offer column (1972)
Opera Singer (1944)

One of the paintings from the 1940’s was a portrait of her sister. Quite different to the one she’d painted early in her career, really illustrating the evolution of her work.

Portrait of Muriel Swanzy Tullo (1942)

Coastlines at the IMMA


I could have stayed longer in Galway but I had some work to do in Naas on the Wednesday so on Tuesday I took the train to Dublin followed by the bus to Naas. But I decided to break the journey and call into the IMMA to have a look at their Coastlines exhibition.

Drawing on the paradox implicit in the word ‘coastline’ – for never has a coast followed a linear course – the title of this exhibition throws a line around a 12 month programme of changing displays of artworks and archival material that will explore our sense of place, perception, representation and memory.

The exhibition occupies the majority of the gallery space in the East Wing of the main building. Exhibits include works by a diverse range of international artists including Bridget Riley, Richard Long and Dorothy Cross. I have to say I found the connection with “coastlines” somewhat tenuous in some cases, particularly in the first few rooms. But it was an excellent exhibition with a good selection of art. So here’s a selection of favourites.

The very first room had Op Art works by artists including Bridget Riley on show and also this untitled 3D work by Alexandra Wejchert


In the next room, a work by Patrick Heron Emerald with Reds and Cerulean (1972)


Frequency (2004-5) by Anita Groener


Moon and Hill (1972), one of several works by Gerda Froemel, a sculptor I discovered during a previous visit to the IMMA in 2015 when they had an exhibition devoted to her


Kilkenny Limestone Circle – unmistakeably by Richard Long


Land Fall II (2005) a dramatic, stormy sea by Donald Teskey, an Irish artist from County Limerick who specialises in seascapes of the west of Ireland


By the same artist, a series of sketches from 2004.


Munla Soghlualste (1972), another sculpture by Gerda Froemel


Ebb Tide, Lissadell (undated) by T P Flanagan


Lake and Blue Mountains of Connemara (c1935) by Paul Henry


The last two rooms in the exhibition really stood out. The Paul Henry painting was displayed in a room where the floor was covered with a large scale map of the Arran Islands (which are in Galway Bay, not far from where I’d just been staying and are also somewhere I want to visit)


It was difficult to portray in a photo as was the main work displayed in the final room – Tabernacle by Dorothy Cross.  It’s a multimedia featuring a structure constructed from an upturned curach (a type of boat used in the west of Ireland, particularly Galway, the Arran Islands and Connemara) a wooden shed together with a video of the sea shot from inside a cave near the artist’s home.


I thought it was an impressive work, evoking the atmosphere of the west coast of Ireland.

The exhibition runs until the end of September and I expect I’ll be back to take another look when I’m over in Ireland later in the year.

Institutional Ghost at the IMMA


The Courtyard Galleries at the IMMA are currently showing an exhibition of work by the Brazilian artist Jac Leirner. The IMMA website tells us that the exhibition

comprises of exciting recent and new work made in response to the architecture of IMMA

and that

Since the mid-1980s, Leirner has collected the temporary and incidental products of everyday life, tapping into what she has described as the ‘infinity of materials’. Stickers, rulers, plastic bags, business cards, cigarette ends and even bank notes make their appearance in her work, removed but not entirely dislocated from their original function.

I saw a work by her during my visit to Tate Modern in JanuaryLevels (2012), a simple work consisting of eight differently coloured spirit levels lined up end to end. A case of “Modern Art? I could have done that” – the answer, of course, being “but you didn’t think of it”. The same points could certainly be made about the Dublin exhibition.

This work displayed at the IMMA is also constructed from spirit levels – 32 of them.


Another spine (2017)

There were also three works made from rules. This one was my favourite


Tools (2017)


I rather liked these simple squares  made from 297 cigarette rolling papers stick directly on to the gallery wall.


Skin (Rizla Liquorice), 2013. Cigarette rolling papers

Attached by their edges they were loose enough to flutter due to the air movement in the room.

This work consists of a long length of electric cable with a plug at one end and an electric light bulb lit by the main current at the other. It’s looped up and down to form a large rectangle on the gallery wall.


Special Light (2017)

This was probably my favourite work, though – Cloud (2017),


which is made from airport luggage tags – the title of the work no doubt referencing their previous use on bags stored in the holds of aircraft.


I thought it was an imaginative use of the used tags to create an effective sculpture.

Lucien Freud at the IMMA


At the end of last year the Irish Museum of Modern Art opened an exhibition featuring fifty works by Lucian Freud which have been lent to the Museum’s Collection. The loan, from a number of private collectors, includes thirty paintings and twenty works on paper comprising nineteen large-scale etchings and one early drawing. To house these works, the IMMA have set up a new Freud Project in the Garden Gallery, which has previously been used for temporary exhibitions.


The IMMA’s website tells us that

During this unique five-year project IMMA will present a series of different and exclusive Lucian Freud related exhibitions, with a new programme of events and openings each year.  All 50 works will be on display across this first year. Subsequent exhibitions will include works and new commissions by other modern and contemporary artists in response to Freud, and will reveal exciting new perspectives on this major artist today.
As I’m back in Ireland working this week, I caught the late morning fast ferry from Holyhead so I could spend a little time having a look at the exhibition.

As with most temporary exhibitions, especially those featuring loans from private collectors, photographs were “verboten”. Here’s one from the IMMA website, though, a self-portrait.


Reflection (Self Portrait) (1985) (IMMA website)

The exhibition occupies all three of the public floors of the Garden Gallery. Paintings on the ground and first floor with prints displayed in subdued light in the basement.

The exhibits are mainly later works from the from 1970 onwards, and so reflect his style from that period. Like many artists his approach changed over the years so the exhibition doesn’t give a full reflection of his work. Also, although Freud is well known for is paintings of nudes (which pull no punches painting people as is rather idealising their bodies), there are only two in the exhibition. (I felt a little uneasy that one of the nudes was one of his, albeit grown up, daughters).  In both cases this is because the exhibition is made up of loaned works and so is limited by what the owners had available and were prepared to lend to the IMMA.

The majority of the works included in the exhibition are portraits. Freud painted people he knew and the subjects in the exhibition are family and characters from around London. They included his daughters and grandchildren, the “Big Man” – a bookmaker from Ulster and his son, a Covent Garden newspaper salesman, an antiques dealer and former jockey. “The Big Man” appears in several paintings His son, appears with his father in Two Irishmen in W11 (1984-1985) when he was 19 years old and then a few years later in Head of an Irishman (1999).


Two Irishmen in W11 (1984-1985) Source Wikiart

Another Irish character, Pat Doherty, is the subject of Donegal Man (2006), a later, companion piece: Profile Donegal Man (2008), a portrait fragment and an etching (and the plate for the etching is also on display). There were also paintings that featured animals – whippets and horses. Probably related to his “interest” in gambling – also reflected in his portraits of the “Big Man”.

One of my favourite portraits was Man in a Check Cap (1991). The subject is Mick Tobin, a retired boxer who sold newspapers outside Covent Garden underground station. He has an interesting “lived in” face which I think Freud captures really well.

There are two unfinished works on display which provide an insight into how Freud began his work,

drawing in the forms in charcoal and moving outwards from a central area, often the eyes. (exhibition guide)

During his later period he used a thick “impasto” to create the texture of the skin. looking closely at the paintings I could see  indistinct blobs of thickly applied paint with a relatively limited palate – white, grey, brown and fleshy tones. The exhibition guide tells us

Freud’s choice of palette was always muted and earthy; he never used saturated colour, considering that it conveyed an overtly emotional significance that he wished to avoid.

As my son once said when looking at some of Monet’s later paintings – “close up they look like a mess” but stand back and they merge into a coherent whole.

Another aspect of his work is that they are not completely naturalistic. Proportions are not always accurate. This is particularly noticeable in The Pearce Family (1998) of portrait of his daughter Rose Boyt and her family where her husband’s body, particularly his arms, are out of proportion. He also adopted some “multiple viewpoints” in some of his paintings including the portrait of the Pearce family.

I’d never seen some many paintings by Freud collected together in one place and this was a really good opportunity to gain a better understanding of his work, albeit covering only a limited period. It will be interesting to see how the IMMA develops this project over the next few years.

“If the Ground Should Open” at the IMMA


Another journey over the Irish Sea to spend a week working in Ireland. I caught the fast ferry from Holyhead that would get me over to Dublin for 2 o’clock and planned to drive out a short distance for a walk along the coast. But after a rough crossing I arrived to heavy rain showers with bursts of sunshine so decided to change tack and instead drove over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art.


It wasn’t so long ago since I last visited the IMMA and one of the main exhibitions of works from their collection was still running. The exhibition in the other wing had finished and the next one hadn’t been installed. Two small exhibitions, The Plough and other stars curated by Kate Strain and Historica – Republican Aesthetics curated by Sumesh Sharma, had recently opened. I had a look around and although there were some pieces of interest they didn’t particularly “rock my boat” (mind you I’d had enough of rocking boats a few hours earlier!)

The third new exhibition was on the ground floor in the Courtyard galleries (a series of four interconnected rooms).

DSC00630 (2)

Described as a “new video and sound installation” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was created by Jakki Irvine, an Irish born artist and

Her works in film and video, whether in single-screen format or in more complex multi-screen installations, weave together enticing, though ultimately elusive narratives in which image, voice-over and musical score variously overlap, coalesce and diverge.  (Source here)

Although there are some video art works that I have found I liked, in general I’m not a big fan of them. Too often they’re not done well. But that was certainly not the case in this instance.

It’s difficult to describe the work but I’ll try.


In each of the four rooms there were two “boom box” video screens. Music or spoken words were coming from the speakers with accompanying images of musicians playing their instruments, singing or speaking with occasional text. The sound playing and images showing from each “boom box” were different but were all part of a musical piece. It was as if there were 8 musicians spread out across the room. But the viewer/listener, rather than taking this in from a fixed position, could move around the galleries leading to different perspectives of the music and visuals.


There were 11 songs in all, played sequentially. They were inspired by the story of two working class women Elizabeth O’Farrell (a midwife) and Julia Grenan (a furrier and dressmaker), “lifelong companions” who were participants in the Easter rising along with more than a hundred other women who performed key roles as couriers, delivering dispatches and ammunition, and nursing the wounded. The majority of them have been ignored by history. Yet Elizabeth performed a significant role at the end of the Rising, delivering Padraig Pearse’s surrender to General William Lowe on Moore Street under gun fire. She stood beside Pearse as he capitulated in person to General Lowe.

Image result for If The Ground Should Open

The songs are performed by 9 musicians – all women – and reference aspects of the Rising counterpoised with references to meltdown of the “Irish Tiger” economy, in particular, the collapse of the Anglo Irish Bank.

The eleven tracks were composed by Irvine using the canntaireachd system – originally developed as an oral scoring system for Scottish Highland pipes. The basic musical motif in classical piping (piobaireachd) is called ‘the ground’ of the piece, which is then built upon with additional notes and melodies. In If the Ground Should Open… the names of women involved in the 1916 Rising, form the ground. In this way they are performed and remembered, becoming part of the ground we walk on in 2016.  The project was also developed from the leaked Anglo-Irish bankers taped conversations. (IMMA website)

and Jakki Irvine tells us

“the legacy of 1916 is reconsidered in the light of a contemporary Ireland broken by corporate greed. Both the past and the present are reflected through a lens that is complicated, joyful, furious and hopeful”.

I found the work very moving and inspiring, and enjoyed picking up different aspects of the songs as I moved around the galleries.

Unfortunately there are no recordings of the work available – but there will be a live performance in the Chapel at the IMMA in December. I’d love to see this, but won’t be in Dublin. However the exhibition is on until January and as I’m likely to be over in Ireland again before then, and would like to see the Lucien Freud exhibition that opens there at the end of October, there’s a good chance that I’ll revisit.


There’s a recording of the introductory talk by Jakki Irvine on the IMMA Soundcloud channel and an interview with Jakki who talks about Elizabeth O’Farrell, Julia Grenan and the other women who participated in the Easter Rising in the Irish Independent.

The performers are – Vocals Louise Phelan, Cats Irvine, Cherry Smyth, Bagpipes Hilary Knox, Piano Izumi Kimura, Violin Liz McClaren, Cello Jane Hughes, Doublebass Aura Stone, Drums Sarah Grimes.

Drifters Escape


Drifters Escape  2006

This was another work showing in the IMMA Collection: A Decade exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. I liked the colours and the way the paint has distorted and dripped from the bottom of the canvas almost like it’s trying to escape from the confines of the painting.

It’s by the British artist, Alexis Harding. His work

is made by exploiting the incompatibility between two different painting media to create dynamic and emotive compositions. His method involves pouring gloss paint through a perforated trough across a wet oil surface, to create a grid, which is then left to dry. The paint over a period of months is pushed, pulled, squeezed and peeled away, to reveal dramatic scarred and puckered surfaces that when hung on the wall continue to change, and take on their own form, as they slip from the support. (artist’s website)

I’ve seen his painting, Slump/Fear (orange/black), which won the 2005 John Moore’s Prize on display at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool

Maria Simonds-Gooding


Earth Shelters II, 2007

While visiting the IMMA Collection: A Decade exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin last Sunday, I was taken by a number of works by an artist new to me – Maria Simonds-Gooding. They were relatively simple, made from materials including metal, plaster and lacquer.

IMAG4712 (2)

Vegetation and Dwelling Place, 2003 (Crushed clay, fresco pigment, plaster on board)


Water Source III (2010) and Water Source I (2010) – both made from aluminium with rusting lacquer finish

The artist’s website tells us that she was

Born in India in 1939, Maria Simonds-Gooding studied at the National College of Art, Dublin, Le Centre de Peinture, Bruxelles, Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, UK from 1962 – 1968 and has lived and worked in Kerry since 1947. She was elected a member of Aosdána in 1981 and was elected full membership of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 2012.

She tells us

My work is about land, and man’s relationship to it, whether it be in Ireland or other parts of the world. In remote places you will find that the farmer and the shepherd have a particulate intimate relationship with their environment. The challenge the excesses of the elements, using the land in many different ways for the protection of their crops and animals.

Some articles about the artist and her work

Irish Arts Review 2014

Irish Times 2014

Sunday Times

Irish Arts Review 2010

The Passion According to Carol Rama at the IMMA


One of the exhibitions showing at the IMMA in Dublin at the moment, taking up the whole of the East Wing Galleries, is devoted to the Italian artist, Carol Rama. Born on 17 April 1918 she died at he end of last year on 25 September 2015 at the grand age of 97. The exhibition includes work right from the 1930’s when she first started to show her work, right up to recent years.

The IMMA’s website tells us

Ignored for decades by official art history, Italian artist Carol Rama is now recognised as essential for understanding developments within contemporary art. Her influence can be seen in the work of a later generation of artists such as Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker, Sue Williams, Kiki Smith and Elly Strik. Rama was belatedly recognised in 2003, receiving the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, one of the most prestigious international art exhibitions.

Her early works were controversial. Cartoonish surreal “erotic” watercolours of women’s bodies, many of them mutilated. These images were censored as “obscene” by the Italian government of 1945. I found them rather disturbing (the intended effect) and wasn’t so keen on them for both their subject matter and appearance. I didn’t like them, but recognise her right to have created and displayed them.


During her long life her style changed as she experimented with different approaches. So although I didn’t like her early works, and some similar ones produced later in her career, I did like a good number of the works in the exhibition. I snapped a few photos of some of those I did like, although the quality of the pictures isn’t so great.


I liked this political collage, entitled Resistance, from 1944

IMAG4716 (2)

I particularly liked the works she had created using rubber from bicycle tyres since the end of the ’70s. her inspiration for this was her childhood as her father had a bicycle factory in Turin.

IMAG4719 (2)



I also liked a number of her “bricolages” that she had created from he ’60s. Surreal collages incorporating objects such as taxidermy eyes, fingernails, mathematical symbols, syringes and electrical circuits. These were some examples.


The exhibition has already been to the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris (MAMVP), and EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art, and after Dublin will be shown at GAM – Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Torino