Showing now and until 18 April 2009 at ‘Ealing’s flagship cultural venue’ is what claims to be the first major contemporary exhibition to explore the experiences of Irish immigrant artists in London: The Quiet Men.
The five artists represented include my uncle, Dermot Holland (pictured), Brian Whelan (curator), John Duffin, Bernard Canavan and the late Daniel Carmody. (It is a source of regret that the group could find no women to join them.)
One reason an exhibition of this nature has been such a long time coming – Dermot left Dublin aged 21 and has lived near London’s Finsbury Park for more than fifty years – may be that the art of these quiet men is relatively traditional with an emphasis on painting and long-established craft skills.
Proud to know his art history Dermot, for one, is dismissive of Brit Art and the loud contemporary scene, which he seems to regard as an aberration. So while Dermot Holland the Irish immigrant is not the outsider he was fifty years ago, Dermot Holland the artist who stands aside, stubbornly clinging to traditional forms, certainly is.
Another inevitable contrast with the now establishment YBAs is the Quiet Men’s ability to offer art that captures scenes – pubs, launderettes and orderly bus queues – from lives lived over some decades. And memories of an impoverished Ireland with no jobs and no benefits. Religion also figures prominently, with Dermot’s contribution including an updated crucifixion.
Often Dermot’s art seems most concerned with spectators. In his rock concert and pub scenes the apparent stars of the show are almost whitened out (under the gaze of too bright lights, perhaps) while we are drawn close to examine a crowd filled with individuals.
While the group does occasionally fall into the trap of offering us nostalgia for much harder times, Dermot has not been afraid to tackle tougher subject matter. His glue sniffer series is inspired by an incident in which he stumbled across solvent abusers at a party at a squat. Associated with punk, glue sniffing entered the popular imagination in the late 1970s when many everyday items, like correction fluid and highlighter pens, contained toxic chemicals and some kids would sniff anything in search of a high. Glue sniffers were said to reside in the council estate next to my primary school and we children imagined them as werewolf like creatures who would attempt to force you to inhale and so become one of them; destined to wander the estates of north London in a zombie like state. Anyway. By accident or design, Dermot seems to capture all this.
It goes without saying that The Quiet Men is well worth a trip out to west London.
The Quiet Men, PM Gallery & Pitzhanger Manor, Walpole Park, Mattock Lane, Ealing, London, W5 5EQ; 11 March-18 April 2009; Tuesday-Friday 1-5pm; Saturday 11am-5pm; trains & tube to Ealing Broadway; admission free.
The Quiet Men will travel to Spain, Philadelphia and Chicago between 2009 and 2011.