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Work of the Week | 11 January 2021

CAG.835 Louis le Brocquy, Image of Samuel Beckett, 1994, oil on canvas, 92 x 78 cm. Purchased, the Artist, 1994. © the artist’s estate.

‘When you are painting you are trying to discover, to uncover, to reveal. I sometimes think of the activity of painting as a kind of archaeology - an archaeology of the spirit.’ — Louis le Brocquy, “Notes on painting and awareness” (1979)

For this WORK OF THE WEEK, let us sift through Image of Samuel Beckett (1994) by Louis le Brocquy.

From the middle of this stark canvas a ghostly head emerges. Sparse hints of blue, red, brown, and green emerge from a deeply lined face and represent the only colours in this field of white. Suggestions of swept back short hair, thin lips, and blank eyes form the main features of the subject’s long, narrow face, which seems to dissolve at the edges.

This is one of the artist’s celebrated Portrait Heads and depicts his friend, the Irish writer and Nobel Laureate, Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). Rather than presenting the viewer with a photo-realistic likeness, le Brocquy instead attempts to reveal the inner spirit of his subject. This, by his own admission, is not an act of creation, but one of discovery as he evokes Beckett’s essence.

Speaking with George Morgan in 1992, Louis le Brocquy (1916-2012) noted that ‘Clearly, it is not possible to paint the spirit. You cannot paint consciousness. You start with the knowledge we all have that the most significant human reality lies beneath material appearance. So, in order to recognise this, to touch this as a painter, I try to paint the head image from the inside out.’

Image of Samuel Beckett (1994) by Louis le Brocquy is displayed on our Gibson Landing (Floor 1).

Tune into The Arts House with Elmarie Mawe on Cork’s 96FM and C103FM every Sunday morning as Conor Tallon chats with assistant curator Michael Waldron about each WORK OF THE WEEK! Listen back to this week's chat here:


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