Dermot Seymour — Des Bêtes et des Hommes
Des Bêtes et des Hommes
Past: March 23 → April 27, 2012
The recent history of the island of Ireland has been dominated by the years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Dermot Seymour grew up on the Shankill Road, a predominantly loyalist working-class area of Belfast, and was a young teenager when violent conflict flared up in 1969. The artist’s works from the 1980s and 1990s, at the height of the Troubles, form the crux of this exhibition at the Centre Culturel Irlandais.
One of Ireland’s few visual artists to respond directly to conflict at the time, Dermot Seymour developed a personal style of photo-realism; he found that a formal concept of the use of paint didn’t capture the kind of detachment he was searching for and that photography didn’t capture the “magic and the horror” he was living through. Incongruous juxtapositions and views of animals, lone or lifeless figures, British, loyalist and republican symbols combine to chronicle the “bizarre and deadly circumstances of life in the place” (Seamus Heaney, Northern Irish poet and Nobel prizewinner). Seymour sees similarities between his approach and the Latin American tradition of magic realism.
Ireland’s rural identity is a strong part of the collective consciousness and territory and borders are of primary importance in Northern Ireland. In Seymour’s paintings, the land is at once the subject and the background; equally, his animals seem to have strayed into the picture space to become silent witnesses to this battle of religious and cultural identities. Helicopters and cows are recurring icons — Prepare to meet thy God (1981), Marty Mallon 1.5.81 (1983), The Russians will water their horses on the Shores of Lough Neagh (1984) — and both assume specific roles: the helicopter connotes British military force and surveillance; the cow seems to symbolize the steadfast Irishman, bound to the land, yet attentive to the intrusion above.
Despite their hyper-realism, the works are far from being facile or partisan depictions. Indeed, Dermot Seymour has stressed that they should not be seen as an illustration of any political symbolism. They are an artist’s bewildered response to the political and religious fundamentalism experienced (and often engaged in) by thousands of ordinary people in Northern Ireland.
Since moving to the west of Ireland in 1991, Seymour’s imagery has become more concentrated on sick or isolated animals which appear under menacing and luridly colourful skies. They reflect the artist’s continuing preoccupation with the idea of the sickness of the land and the precariousness of this peripheral part of the world: Some marginal, subsidized, peripheral cohesion in the disadvantaged fringe of Co.Mayo (1992).
Dermot Seymour was born in 1956 in Belfast where he studied art and design at the University of Ulster. His work has been included in many group exhibitions, notably, On the Balcony of the Nation which toured the USA during the early 90s and The Fifth Province — Some New Art from Ireland which toured Canada from 1991 to 1993. He has had numerous solo shows from 1980 up to the present day in New York, Berlin, Belfast and Dublin.
This exhibition is organised in collaboration with Jim Smyth, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast. The catalogue that accompanies the retrospective exhibition “Dermot Seymour Fish, Flesh and Fowl”, from which the works on show at the CCI were chosen, features an essay by the Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney.
Opening Thursday, March 22, 2012 6:30 PM → 8 PM
5, rue des Irlandais
T. 01 58 52 10 30 — F. 01 58 52 10 99
Tuesday – Saturday, 2 PM – 6 PM
Late night on Wednesday until 8 PM
Sunday, 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Closed Mondays and bank holidays