Archive for the ‘donegal’ Tag

The Girl in the Blue Dress

I’m just back from a week in the village of Glencolmcille, Donegal (Ireland) doing a painting class at the Irish college (Oideas Gael). One day there I sat next to a Catweazle-looking fella, an American academic, called Jim Duna in An Chistin (The Kitchen restaurant) and he told me about an artist who had been active locally, a fellow American. At first he couldn’t recall the painter’s name and from the clues he gave I guessed Edward Hopper. It turned out it was one Rockwell Kent. I’m not bad on my art history and that name had never crossed my path.

The next day Oideas Gael put on a screening of an RTÉ documentary from last year about Kent and the subject of his most famous painting, Annie McGinley. After our morning painting session in the village’s National School we traipsed down to the college to watch the film, ‘Searching for  Annie’/’Ar Lorg Annie’ by Kevin Magee. Kevin is BBC Northern Ireland’s Investigations Correspondent and it turns out the Gaelic film is actually funded by BBC Gaeilge and Northern Ireland Screen (which I work with often), through their Irish Language Broadcast Fund.

One of the locations used in the film is a room above the better of the two pubs in Glencolmcille, Roarty’s. The next morning, on the way through the village to the hostel (where I was finishing a watercolour of Glen Head [see below] from the vantage point of their cliff-top lounge) I snuck in through an open door and up the stairs of the pub in search of the room as I knew it contained copies of Kent’s paintings. As I walked into the room there sat Jim at his breakfast – turned out he was lodging there. I had a look at the various pictures, poor copies, but nevertheless with some of the power of the originals.

None of Kent’s paintings reside in Ireland. He painted 36 in the Glencolmcille vicinity in in 1926. The most famous and resonant is this one, entitled ‘Annie McGinley’.

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‘Annie McGinley’ by Rockwell Kent (1926)

The painting now resides stashed away in a private collection in New York. It should be an icon of Irish painting. This reproduction doesn’t really do it justice. The location remains unchanged to this day. The day after the documentary screening some of the people on the Hill Walking course recreated the pose in the exact spot. The cliff-top is a couple of valleys over from the tranquil, resonant glen of Glencolmcille.

The subject of the painting is the eponymous Annie McGinley, a local girl, about 20, daughter of one of Kent’s local friends. Her father kept Kent’s drying oil paintings in his house as the barn where Kent and his new American wife lived was not dry enough. This is Annie’s father carrying his poitín still away at night to evade the authorities, punningly titled ‘Moonshine’.

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‘Moonshine’

The documentary was funny in the way it skirted round the core of the painting. People kept using words like “sensual” and “curvy” when it is clear that the painting revolves around Annie’s bottom. It’s a very sexy image – Kent’s wife would have been right to be concerned. Annie in later life denied even posing for the picture. But as another curvy young woman later said: she would, wouldn’t she.

In my opinion it is the ‘Olympia’ of Ireland.

Edouard-Manet-Olympia 1863 painting

‘Olympia’ – Edouard Manet (1863)

Someone should make it their mission to get the painting back to Ireland and into the National Gallery in Dublin for all to enjoy. It is as much a part of the national heritage as Paul Henry’s ‘Launching the Currach’ (which sat above the fireplace in my mother-in-law’s good room) and Jack Yeats’ ‘The Liffey Swim’ (subject of my recent Picture of the Month).

Paul Henry 'Launching the Currach' painting (c.1910)

‘Launching the Currach’ – Paul Henry (c.1910)

Kent painted a number of pictures during his year in Ireland which could be considered masterpieces. Another one is ‘Dan Ward’s Stack’, men at work during harvest in Glen Lough, an inaccessible valley two north from Glencolmcille, lead by Kent’s friend, Dan Ward (on top, left), neighbours helping like in ‘Witness’ (Peter Weir, 1985, with Harrison Ford).

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‘Dan Ward’s Stack’ (1926)

This one ended up not in the USA, to which New Yorker Kent returned after his Donegal sojourn, but in The Hermitage in Moscow. Kent, something of a lefty, was invited to Moscow to be the first contemporary American artist to have a solo show in the Soviet Union. He left 80 canvases to the Russian state after the exhibition, including this one. The Rusky’s loved it for its depiction of collaborative work. Kent’s socialist leanings got him into trouble with the US authorities, got him hauled up in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee under McCarthy (whose mother was from Co. Tipperary), and generally stifled his career. Hence my not having heard of him.

Now my guess of Hopper was not that far wide of the mark. Rockwell Kent was born in June 1882 in New York (of English descent). Edward Hopper was born the next month, July 1982, also in New York. The other painter who came to mind on first seeing Kent’s work was Nicholas Roerich who was born 8 years earlier in St Petersburg, in October 1874. Roerich I first came across in a little museum dedicated to him way up Manhattan island, on W 107th St. The style of Roerich’s landscapes and skies are very reminiscent of Kent – or vice versa. Similar palettes and graphical technique.

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‘Path to Shambhala’ – Nicholas Roerich (1933)

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‘Monhegan, Maine’ – Nicholas Roerich (1922)

So Roerich was doing very similar landscapes at much the same time.

Interestingly Roerich is described as a “painter, writer, archaeologist, theosophist, philosopher and public figure” – Kent as a “painter, printmaker, illustrator, writer, sailor, adventurer and voyager” – both seem to have been multidimensional characters. Much like Richard Burton, the subject of my last post.

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‘Railroad Sunset’ – Edward Hopper (1929)

I’ll have a poke around to see if Kent, Hopper and/or Roerich crossed paths as they were all clearly active throughout the 20s.

It’s not too often I come across a painter as good as Kent out of the blue these days so I feel blessed that Glencolmcille chose to reveal him to me.

Here’s one of the poor copies from the hallway beside the room above Roarty’s

copy of annie mcginley painting by rockwell kent

And here’s one from the bar below

copy of annie mcginley painting by rockwell kent

Also in the bar below was this photo linking me back to home

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On the right is Shane MacGowan, later genius songwriter of The Pogues. He spent his early childhood in Co. Tipperary. On the left is a local from Glencolmcille. Brent Cross is in my manor in London.

Here’s a woman on cliff-top sketch I did my first day in Glencolmcille, before coming across Rockwell Kent

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Malin Beg, Donegal

It’s above Tra Ban (Silver Strand) in the next village from GCC. The crouching woman is a fellow painter, Pamela from Eindhoven, Holland, taking a photo with her phone to use back in the studio.

This is my watercolour painting of Glen Head from the hostel vantage point

Glen Head Glencolmcille watercolour painting by adam gee

Glen Head, Glencolmcille

This oil, by Kent, is probably just over that headland

"Irish Coast, Donegal," Rockwell Kent, oil on canvas, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Russia.

‘Irish Coast, Donegal’ – Rockwell Kent (1926) [The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Russia]

Kent became very enamoured of Donegal and the Glencolmcille area (as well, I suspect, of Annie McGinley). It weaved his magic on him – he was living in Glen Lough to which no roads lead (til this day), no electricity runs, some kind of Eden. Farmer Dan Ward lived down there with his wife. They survived in the wild landscape and trekked into church on Sundays. Kent tried to buy their farm when they became too old to run it. He couldn’t get over to Ireland to make the purchase because the US government withdrew his passport because of his left-leaning sympathies. He took them to court and eventually won. Regained his passport. And secured a victory which has held – the US authorities are not allowed to withhold a passport in the way they did with Kent right until today.

The magic worked on him and it did on me. I found the whole experience meditative. I have never had the opportunity to stay put in one place and paint it over and over from a multitude of angles. The afternoon after completing Glen Head above I went for a walk with two new friends, Micki a muralist and graphic designer from Ohio and Colm a retired economist from Dublin, around the religious sites of Glencolmcille associated with St Colm Cille/Columba, one of the three patron saints of Ireland. As we were walking through the landscape below Glen Head, near the ruins of St Colm’s chapel, I realised I recognised particular rocks and patches of land from having painted them earlier. It was a deep, focused relationship with a place the like of which I haven’t experienced before.

watercolour painting of glencolmcille by adam gee

A God’s eye view of Glencolmcille – a watercolour painted with reference to Google Maps on my phone, my last picture of this trip

Coincidences No.s 266 and 267

8/9/17

I am walking down to the bus stop to go to a meeting in Camden Town. The meeting is about a website I commissioned some  years ago on behalf of Channel 4 and the Arts Council called Quotables. This prompted me to think about the colleague I worked with at the Arts Council who I haven’t been in touch with for over a year, wondering how she was.

I’m in the meeting at Camden Town about an hour later and an alert comes up on my phone screen – an incoming email from that very person.

Derek Hill by Cecil Beaton photograph

Derek Hill by Cecil Beaton (courtesy of Glebe House & Gallery, Co. Donegal, Ireland)

10/9/17

I am working on a documentary at the moment to do with the Mitford sisters, in particular Unity.

I stayed in Donegal during August beside the house of English artist, the late Derek Hill.

I read today that Derek Hill was the person who introduced Unity to Hitler. (I had no idea he had any connections with the Mitfords.)

Coincidences No.s 410-412

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9/8/17 & 8/8/17 Snowflake

I go to meet a detective in the Home Counties for a documentary I am working on. He has given the subject of the film a codename: Snowflake.

One of the Enfants Terribles uses a term I have not heard before: ‘Snowflake’, to mean a pampered modern kid without resilience.

29/7/17 Gee Murphy

We visit the Glebe Gallery beside Derek Hill’s house in Church Hill, Donegal. The visitor just before us, according to the visitor book, is called Erina Mc Gee Murphy – her name contains both my surname and my wife’s. I record the coincidence accordingly:

visitor book glebe gallery donegal ireland

3/7/17 Montana

I meet with a director I am commissioning to do a documentary for Real Stories. It is our first meeting in person, we pop across the road to get some tea, we talk for a while before she pulls out her laptop. Except it is not her laptop – hers is bust, she’s had to borrow her son’s. The documentary is set in Montana, USA. Before she brings out the computer we have discussed both the location and an indie called Joi Polloi.

On the lid of the laptop, among several stickers, is one that reads Montana. This director is based in Sheffield. We have been discussing indie production companies in Sheffield. I mentioned Joi Polloi because I am working with them and have done regularly for a few years. Another sticker on the lid reads Oi Polloi , a small clothes brand (a photo of whose sign I sent a few months ago whilst walking past the Soho branch to the team at Joi Polloi during their rebranding phase when they changed names from Rckt to Joi Polloi – that was my first fleeting encounter with the name Oi Polloi, this sticker was the second).

In the wake of this, exactly a month after the Oi Polloi tea (2/8/17), I visit the new cafe of a friend of a friend in Kilmacrenan, Donegal. This person, the owner of Coffee Time, serves us the day we visit. I’m good on accents and his accent sounds typical of the area, no hint of it being anything other than Irish. After a bit of a chat it turns out he comes from Montana.

coffee time kilmacrenan donegal coffee shop cafe

 

 

The Story So Far

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In the last part of 2013 I take a sabbatical to mark my 10th anniversary at Channel 4 and write five eighths of a factual book entitled ‘When Sparks Fly: the creative rewards of openness and generosity’. I write 9 to 5 every working day during the sabbatical and get five chapters more or less completed.

I document the process from Day 1 to Day 94.

The plan is to try to write the last three when I’m back at work in evenings and weekends. The thing is I value my marriage and I’m keen on my kids. And also I commission 26 series of short form video and 9 pilots in the following 12 months. The best part of 250 episodes. that’s a fuckofalot of work.

A couple of weeks ago I have 7 days holiday left for the year which I have to use or lose so I go over to my favourite place, Donegal. I find empty beaches, the sun splits the sky from the moment I walk off the plane in Belfast till the day I return. I chill and I’m in the mood to write. At the prompting of my venerable & wise mentor, a veteran and very committed documentary maker, I set aside Book 1 for now and move to Book 2. Book 2 is not massively research and interview heavy like Book 1. It is about my day job. I’d had it in mind as a way of clearing the writing pipes.

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So I write the opening on an isolated and very difficult to access beach on Fanad Head, my favourite place in my favourite place. What a beautiful moment suspended in time.

I write the outline by the lake in the garden of artist Derek Hill’s house in Churchill. Intense, fast, no mucking about – in the zone.

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I start the main text on a secret beach up the coast from Port Salon. I have to leg it to escape from charging cows to get to the beach – but it’s worth it. Got it completely to myself.

What’s a rush is that I can just write (unlike Book 1). No notes. No looking up anything. Just tap away at the speed of thought.

And so, as I embark fully on Book 2, the story continues…

[writing location: a train just outside Durham 7.1v.16]

 

 

 

Simple Pleasures from Donegal 4

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My secret beach

Empty beaches. Lough Swilly. Hazy horizons. Traces of everyday history. Meeting strangers. The kindness of strangers. Working on beaches. Snoozing on the sand. Miles Davis’s music. A Kind of Blue nap. Photo exhibitions. Irish words for modern phenomena. European films. BB King & Tracy Chapman singing The Thrill is Gone. The Bridge Bar. Ramelton. Rivers. 

Son of a Beach

Donegal: Day 3

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Headed for Church Hill, the other side of Letterkenny, to artist Derek Hill’s house, which I thought would be an inspiring place to write. Turned out it’s too early in the season for the house or gallery which open toward the end of the month – but I got the expansive gardens all to myself. Lay on the lawn down by the lake to read and then perched on a repurposed mill stone at the water’s edge to write. Managed to put the whole outline together, ready to start writing proper. The lake was beautiful in the Spring sunshine, a slight mistiness at first from the bridge over the River Leannan and then a bright tranquility from Glebe House garden. Not a soul was in evidence all morning. Plus I had the pleasure of some magical synchronicity. I left on a high.

And headed across the peat bogs past Glenveagh westwards. Resonant highway views across expanses of peaty goodness and charismatic mountains. Reached the west coast at Dungloe where I had a pitstop for lunch and indulged in some gift shop browsing, picking up some 1916 centenary souvenirs.

Drove down the coast to Portnoo/Naran, a huge beach overlooking an island which I heard joins the shore at low tide. Watched the strait get narrower and narrower between two sets of breaking waves.

Back to Ramelton with the setting sun behind me tinging the mountains red. Dinner in Letterkenny followed by a nightcap at the Bridge Bar, Ramelton (where unfortunately I’d missed the owner, Brid, who I haven’t seen in a good while now). Epic day.

Donegal: Day 4 – St Patrick’s Day

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St Patrick’s Day in the gaeltacht

Morning at the secluded far end of Rathmullan beach writing the first chapter to the lapping of wavelets. More sunshine across Lough Swilly.

Headed up to the Old Store in Port Salon for lunch with a fine view across the waters of what was once voted 4th best beach in the world.

Then in search of a secret beach (Drumnacraig) whose entire expansive length was empty. I did have to put up with being chased by cows to get there but no pain no gain. Spent the afternoon there until the shadows of the dunes reached me.

Into Letterkenny for an exhibition and movie with Anita & Don at the arts centre. A retrospective of the photography of New York ad man Richard Noble who I had a chat with. Then ‘Tangerines’, a pretty good Estonian film about war/conflict over land. One woman had come in the expectation of seeing ‘Tangerine’ (singular), a film about strippers.

Back with A&D for a nightcap at the Bridge Bar – emerging pattern?

Quel Coincidence!

 

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I’ve been noticing coincidences a lot recently, and noting some of them down. Mainly of the type where you hear a word for the first time in decades and it comes up again the same day.

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But today I had a cracker. I went to Church Hill near Letterkenny to visit Glebe House and Gallery. As luck (or the tourist season) would have it was closed so I contented myself with hanging out in the gardens by the lake, which I had entirely to myself in strong spring sunshine. I laid on the damp lawn and took out my two books. The first one I opened was ‘Human Chain’ by Seamus Heaney, a book of poetry my Other Half gave me for Christmas 2010. I’ve only ever read a couple of the poems so I brought in with me for this Derry-Donegal trip. I read a bit of it last night so it was parked up randomly in the middle wherever I happened to get to.

seamus-heaney

As I opened it and started reading today stretched out on the grass like a dying naturalist I wrote a note at the top of the page in pencil as a souvenir of where I was:

16.3.16 Church Hill – Derek Hill’s

Derek Hill was the artist who used to live in Glebe House and bequeathed it.

The poem I had got to last night was entitled ‘The Baler’, about a mechanical hay baler. When I got to line 19 who, of all the people in the world, is mentioned?

Derek Hill. I’m not sure if it’s the same one but it probably is.

But what I also remembered

Was Derek Hill’s saying,
The last time he sat at our table,
He could bear no longer to watch
The sun going down

What are the chances?

I finish the night before at that particular poem
I decide to go to Glebe House this particular day
I write Derek’s name
The name is printed on the very page

Doesn’t that mean there must be a God? 😉

The NW London – NW Ireland axis

Donegal: Day 1

Had 5 days of holiday to take. Decided to obey the sign above our front door:

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Donegal 1 [day away, or less]

Flew over the Isle of Man, the sun catching the blue-black sea. Landed in Aldegrove. Got my wheels and headed West. Sunshine, against all the odds, illuminated the Glenshane Pass, gateway to Donegal, my favourite county. Took the Foyle Bridge through Derry, a feeling of flying over the river, and once beyond the city of my nuptials took a detour up to the ancient stone fort Grainán Ailigh – the Solarium of the Stony Place, a stone eye catching the sun above three counties. Sitting up on the third tier of the fort I started writing my new book about online creativity, getting the outline under way. It felt like a propitious place – my favourite spot in the world. I enjoyed the contrast between the circle of ancient stones and the rectangle of my Mac Air.

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Grainan Ailigh

Carried on West to Ramelton, to the Castle Grove on the shore of Lough Swilly, the hotel where our wedding concluded on the third day. I had a cuppa in the pale yellow drawing room by the fire of this Anglo-Irish Big House, once home of the Grove family (in living memory of Honour, the elderly former landlady in her own Big House of our friend Anita). On the way over RTE Radio 1 was full of the Easter Rising centenary later this week and the Cheltenham races. A resonant week to be here.

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Donegal: Day 2

Had a run before breakfast and a meditate by a stream on the way back. Chilling you see.

Headed through Ramelton and Rathmullan up the East coast of Fanad peninsula, through Port Salon (now ruined with white bungalows at the North end, once named 4th best beach in the world). With difficulty found the way down to Pollet Sea Arch (the signs have been removed by some gobshite farmer I suspect). By now the sun was out in full glory. Walked down past all the traditional obstacles culminating in a flooded gateway to reach my other favourite place in the world, Pollet Beach which I had all to myself all morning. Wrote the opening of the book. This is an inspiring and productive place for me, to be sure.

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Lunched at Fanad Lodge, an undercover pub just North of the sea arch, run by Donegal GAA supporters. Popped over to the lighthouse at Fanad Head after, then drove round the headland to a beach called An Rinn Bhui (the yellow headland).

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bhui – whin aka gorse

Read ‘Human Chain’ by Seamus Heaney and ‘Where my Heart Used to Beat’ by Sebastian Faulks at each stop – both thoroughly enjoyable. Sunset drive back to Castle Grove, a brief snooze to Kind of Blue (as is my wont) and into Ramelton for dinner with my friends Anita & Don. Got back to Castle Grove to enjoy the kind of starry sky we city folk can only dream of.

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Simple Pleasures from Donegal 3

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Scrambled egg. Meditation. Dappled sunlight. Lakes with a light mist. Writing. Lawns. Sunshine. Azure skies. Peat bogs. The wild West. Connacht. Soup. Purple Snacks. T-shirts. Beaches to myself. Sound of waves. Apples. The Bridge Bar.

Simple Pleasures from Donegal 2

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The Angelus (on Irish radio). The yellow of whinbushes. The sound of a stream. The surprise of seeing the stars in the countryside. White toast. Jackdaws (facsimile document folders). 20C Irish history. Pollet sea arch. Having a beach to yourself. A hot drink when you’re wet. Donegal GAA team. The sound of the sea. Seaweed flowing about in the shallows. Ribbon bookmark in hardbacks. Ramelton. Snoozes. Kind of Blue. Old friends. Church bells.

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