Villanova, PA – They're called 'The Quiet Men', five Irish artists with the streets of London, England, beneath their feet, but with their identity yet rooted in Ireland. They, along with their families, followed millions of their countrymen in emigrating to England, their closest neighbor, to find opportunity. A large proportion finished their journeys in London, where many found themselves on society's margin in a mutual mistrust forged by the long and tortured history between the two nations.
These five London Irish painters loudly broke their quietude in 2009 with a rousing collective exhibit of their works evoking the outsiders' life in England's capital city.
That exhibit debuts in the United States in August at the Villanova University Art Gallery. “The Quiet Men – London Irish Painters” opens Friday, August 20. An artists’ reception will take place Friday, September 10, from 5 to 7 pm in the Art Gallery in The Connelly Center on the Villanova University campus. London Irish artist Brian Whelan will discuss the works in a presentation beginning at 4 pm. Both events are free and open to the public. The exhibit continues through October 6.
“The first major contemporary London Irish visual art exhibition to explore the experience of Irish immigrants to Britain in the 20th century,” is how London's largest gallery described one of its top attractions of 2009.
Of the five Irish London painters, three emigrated from Ireland; one was born in west London of Irish parents; while the fifth, a third generation Irishman in England, works and was educated in the capital city.
The 1960’s, when all the artists in this exhibit were building new lives in London, became an especially difficult time for Irish immigrants hoping for work and acceptance by English society. During this time, immense pressures were put on the immigrant Irish communities in the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).
'The Troubles' between England and Northern Ireland were escalating. The ethnic and political strife that followed would become 30 years of intermittent violence and suspicion that spilled over into the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere. More than 3,500 lives would be taken.
Bernard Canavan, born in County Longford, Ireland, attended Oxford College of Art and found work as an illustrator, cartoonist, political satirist, set and poster designer, and history and art history teacher.
“His series of striking pictures focus on the hope, loneliness, passion and bravery of the Irish migrants,” writes reviewer Trevor O'Sullivan of Canavan's paintings in 'The Quiet Men' show.
Dermot Holland was 21 when he left Dublin for London more than a half century ago.
“While Dermot Holland the Irish immigrant is not the outsider he was fifty years ago, Dermot Holland the artist who stands aside, stubbornly clinging to traditional forms, certainly is,” writes British blogger Stephen Newton of his uncle's art in the west London exhibit. Working in charcoal, pencil, paint and ink, Holland's work focuses on “the addict, the busker (street performer), the bus queue.”
Painter Brian Whelan is the London-born son of Irish parents. His bold, large-scale paintings are of the church, the pub and the turbulence and chaos of city life. His work, observes London Irish poet Horgan, “is of the medieval jester. He goes to dark, grim places, places that in the modern world we like to pretend don't exist and then when he gets there he cracks jokes.” Noted British art expert and Carmelite nun Sister Wendy Beckett sees Whelan as an “astonishing artist who is drawn to themes of the utmost profundity and yet treats them with a whimsical originality that is surprisingly affecting.”
The late Daniel Carmody, born in Galway, arrived in London at age 17, and found work as a laborer and bricklayer. He discovered his need and subsequently his gift to paint years later while doing brickwork at the home of a London sculptor.
Prolific, largely self taught and seen by his peers as a brutally honest artist, Carmody was a resistant student. Mostly, he painted directly from the pain of his early years in London. “Daniel Carmody is probably the only artist who authentically manages to capture the rawness and soreness of being Irish and living in London,” wrote a reviewer.
John Duffin, award-winning painter and printmaker, the grandson of Irish immigrants, hails from Barrow-in-Furness about 220 miles north of London. Many of his sharp and vivid cityscapes look down with the effect of creating “a dislocation of reality, as if observing with a detached eye . . .” While his cityscapes may be distanced, his portraits are close up and personal.
“John Duffin's work is bold and powerful, speaking of direct human experiences in the urban world of the modern metropolitan cities,” writes critic Nicholas Isherwood. Exhibited in Europe and North America, Duffin has had numerous one-man exhibits. He has been honored by the Royal Society of Arts, The Royal Society of Painter Printmakers, and the University of Wales, among others.
The Villanova University Art Gallery is open every day from 11 am to 11 pm. For more information, please call (610) 519-4612. Exhibited works may be previewed on the Gallery’s website at www.artgallery.villanova.edu.