When I was initially invited by my two friends Paul and Gentian to start this project, it was as a photographer, archaeologist and project manager. At first I didn’t know how it would all work out but it sounded like a fun challenge. One of my first tasks was coming up with a name. Our shared goal was to learn more about Paul Henry and his chosen locations. The resulting body of work comprising paintings and drawings by Gentian and Paul and my photographs would not necessarily be in imitation of the style of the artist therefore requiring the art world label ‘After Paul Henry’, but there would be a connection in terms of subject matter, motivation and location. So I felt that as a project title ‘After Paul Henry’ suitably reflected our geographical retracing of the artist’s footsteps and the reflective nature of our research.
Although I am not a painter like my two APH colleagues and our esteemed subject I have a huge appreciation of the medium and its possibilities, as a means of expression but also as a recording tool. Paul Henry had a style of painting that was very aesthetically pleasing but in my opinion his most successful paintings are those in which his enthusiasm for the subject is tangible. It is as if he delights in his compositions, the colour palette, the application of the paint and his role as a tour guide of sorts.
I naturally took up an administrative and documentary role on our trips photographing with a very broad brush and keeping our fans up to date on Facebook. Now that we have an exhibition looming I feel a certain amount of pressure to look at my own contribution to the project in terms of creative output, or maybe not. Having completed an MA in Art & Process at the CIT Crawford College of Art & Design I find myself working on a number of projects that sit very comfortably in an interdisciplinary space between contemporary art and heritage, a specialism that Paul has dubbed ‘arteology’. With all this in mind my part in our first After Paul Henry group exhibition may not be exclusively photographic, there may also be elements that are derivative of the research and documentation processes.
It is difficult for us not to behave like tourists whilst on Achill because that is what we are. Paul Henry earned the right to be more than a blow-in and in doing so he could focus on his surroundings with greater concentration. In amongst our somewhat frantic and urgent explorations and interactions I did find a few items of particular interest, which I will expand on further in future posts. I was particularly taken with the flat roofs of Dookinella that were built using shuttered concrete, probably in the 1950s or 1960s. The result is a village with numerous examples of hacienda or villa style houses and bunker-like outbuildings, some with sloping roofs and ventilation holes near the eaves. Since the beginning of the project I have had an interest is the work of Grace Henry, more specifically her paintings by moonlight. I made some relatively unsuccessful experiments with digital photography one night in Keel. My next attempt will be with medium format film and this time I’ll try harder to resist the lure of the pub. I am also excited at the prospect of new adventures in Connemara where I expect I will be in search of leaning, weather-beaten trees.
Brian, April 2015