Daithí Holohan – Reflections on a life

Daithí Holohan at St Canice’s Neighbourhood hall

WORDS: Gerry Cody

Photo of Daithí Holohan at Community Hall by Pat Shortall

“In spite of everything I will rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing”

These words of Vincent Van Gogh echo across the years, showing the consistency of the artistic temperament, and today they encapsulate the life of Daithi Holohan.

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 Campbell Bruce. He was awarded a scholarship to Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He taught Life Drawing in Liberties Vocational School. Daithi’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.

Daithi, often to his own detriment, is fully committed to his artistic endeavours. With a substantial body of work, recognised nationally and internationally, Daithi 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.

I recently studied his catalogue of work and was amazed at the diversity of his art.

His still life ‘Pipe Scissors Plant 1985’ is a simple production and to me 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 Daithi 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 haunted me, fascinated me.

Their honesty demands our reflective respect. Perusing Daithí’s work I am reminded of one 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 Daithi 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, Daithi has bequeathed a galaxy of dancing stars for our discernment and enjoyment.

Perhaps it is understanding that Daithi has mastered. Speaking of his daughter, Shauna’s pragmatic decision to forego her artistic leanings to pursue a career in accountancy Daithi’s smile breaks into a laugh: “If the art is strong it will find a way- but I just want her to be happy”. Observing Daithi over the years I watched as gallantly he has battled and subdued destructive demons. I watched his committed political position almost ignored. I watched him produce a succession of authentic work that brought him much satisfaction and little reward. Through all the trials and tribulation, through all the praise and acclaim, I wonder did Daithí ever know happiness. As he speaks once more of his daughter Shauna, the austere persona relaxes and his smile radiates. Comprehension dawns! Shauna is what makes him happy.

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.”

Daithi Holohan’s voice reverberates across the land and those of us living at this time are indeed fortunate to witness his genius.

Daithi Holohans exhibition ‘Reflections on a Life’ runs at St Canice’s Neighbourhood hall from August 10 to 20.

The Launch of ‘Reflections on a life’ is on August 10 at 7.30p.m. All welcome.


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