Words: Gerry Cody
Photos: Danny Lahart
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.
There is certainly a sadness amongst artist of all genres as Covid has put a horrible pause on film and theatre work. Galleries throughout the country also look on as the ‘closed until further notice’ signs hang on their front doors.
The Observer newspaper called to the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny last week and although the Gallery itself was closed, it was nice to be able to purchase a coffee and sit in the splendour of the beautiful building. Indeed it is becoming quite the spot, with Kilkenny county Library to the front and Barnstorm Theatre Company recently taking up residence in the Home Rule Club on John’s quay.
The Observer met up with Kilkenny native Daithí Holohan to chat with him about his current work and to take a look at the portfolio of one of the city’s best known artists.
A son of Peig O’ Brien from Greenshill and of Johntown’s Eddie Holohan, Daithi has a wide and varied CV. Having attended Kilkenny CBS primary and secondary school he made his first foray into employment as an apprentice goldsmith with Rudolf Heltzel. Traditional values resonated and he spent a year in Connemara studying Gaelic language and culture. He did a pre-diploma course in the National College of Art and Design and then completed his studies in the Fine Art Department under the guidance of faculty head Campbel Bruce. He was awarded a scholarship to Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He taught Life Drawing in Liberties Vocational School. Daithí’s community spirit saw him actively involved in mural projects in Bishop Birch Place, Millennium Court and Loughboy Library. His involvement as Artist in Residence with Kilkenny Collective for Arts Talent was a satisfying and an emotionally rewarding experience.
THE BUTLER GALLERY
Daithí, often to his own detriment, is fully committed to his artistic endeavours. With a substantial body of work, recognised nationally and internationally, Daithí has established himself as one of Ireland’s great talents. Since the 1970’s Daithi has successfully exhibited, bringing his creative pieces to the public.
Daithí is full of praise for the Butler Gallery and one senses his pride at having such a space in his city. “It is a beautiful structure and the designers got it just right with the use of light and the subdivision of exhibition space. There is an energy in the building that makes you feel like you are in a special place and this helps the artists and those viewing the art.”
Evans’ Home came into Council ownership in 1997 and various proposals for a new use were considered before agreement was reached in 2009 to develop it as the new Butler Gallery in a partnership with Kilkenny Local Authorities. The development of a cultural quarter was prioritised as key to the economic and cultural development of Kilkenny City & County.
The Butler Gallery is regarded as playing an integral part in this development for Kilkenny and thus this project received unanimous endorsement by the Elected Members of Kilkenny County Council. It was always important that the building be adapted for an appropriate use and in a sensitive manner.
Daithí also paid tribute to those who tirelessly worked on the project for many years, saying that it can’t have been easy but that it has all paid off with a state of the art gallery.
And what, we asked about his own work? “I have applied to exhibit at the Butler gallery and hope to hear from them over the next couple of months. “It is very much dependant on the Covid situation, which has set everything back, but if all goes to plan my work will be seen here in the not too distant future.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT FOR ARTISTS
Speaking of the future, Daithí seemed upbeat. I think the Arts Council are fighting the fight for all artists and the Governments recent allocation of substantial funding shows that they recognize the enormous work and worth that the arts can bring to society .
And it would appear that Daithi’s hope for good things is well founded. Current Arts Council Director ( and former director of The Kilkenny Arts Festival) Maureen Kennelly said the agency was focused on achieving the best outcomes for the arts in 2021 and beyond.
“The arts sector is facing extraordinary challenges with remarkable strength, solidarity and resilience,” she said. “We will continue to work with the Department of Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, and on Minister Catherine Martin’s Cultural Recovery Task Force, to make sure that the arts play a full part in our national recovery.”
Looking through Daithi’s recent catalogue of work, one cannot but admire the incredible volume of his work.
His still life ‘Pipe Scissors Plant 1985’ is a simple production and tells the story of a man carefully tending his favourite pot plant. But a friend viewing it saw a woman wistfully tidying the house the morning of her husband’s death. This is one of Daithi’s strengths; he allows your imagination to flourish.
As a portrait artist Daithí is exemplary, and is perhaps its foremost exponent. Daithí treats his subjects with humanity and yet there is a depth and subtlety to be observed. ‘Kathleen 1994’ emits calmness, thoughtfulness, and serenity. ‘Shauna 2009’ exudes love, innocence and hope. But in his self-portraits Daithí bares his soul. Through his introspection he facilitates our intrusive inspection. The surreal images reveal the elemental battle of a tortured psyche. These portraits can haunt and fascinated you.
Their honesty demands our reflective respect. Perusing Daithí’s work, one is reminded of Patrick Kavanagh’s short poems:
No charlatan am I
With poet’s mouth and idiot’s eye:
I may not be divine
But what is mine is mine
In naked honesty.
Of late, Daithí’s work has become more fluid and this allows a vibrant intensity explode from his canvas. No longer confined to a single form, the freedom engendered is celebrated in his enthusiastic labours. As he ages has Daithí settled into a calm controlled individual? I hope not! I agree with Fredrick Nietzsche who said “You must have chaos within you to create a dancing star.” With over a thousand drawing in his portfolio, Daithí has bequeathed a galaxy of dancing stars for our discernment and enjoyment.
The French novelist Emile Zola could perhaps have been speaking of Daithí Holohan when he said ‘If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you. I am here to speak out loud.”
Daithí Holohan’s voice reverberates across the land and those of us living at this time are indeed fortunate to witness his genius.