Painter and musician, Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh lives in Inishowen (north Donegal in the Republic of Ireland) – a magical patch-work quilted landscape of mountains, streams and sea-coves.
No need here to stray very far in search of inspiration, although ideas come to him, more than often, through the filter of a poem or a song-lyric that he happens to be reading at a particular moment, then – eureka! – a visual image reveals itself through the window of his studio!
Music is inspirational too… Schubert, Mahler, John Field, Leonard Cohen… but this is merely the artist searching for a particular mood, or a particular colour, to strike the right keynote as the painting unfolds. Mood is all-important to Ó Dochartaigh… as you will soon see.
Traditional Gaelic songs and poems are especially rich in naturalistic imagery, as indeed are the haikus of the poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh. This remarkable nature poet from the western hills of Donegal has been a deep well of inspiration for Ó Dochartaigh. Ó Searcaigh’s work is the epitome of Kuno Meyer’s oft-quoted statement:
It is characteristic of these (Irish) poems that in none of them do we get an elaborate or sustained description of any scene or scenery, but rather a succession of pictures and images which the poet, like an impressionist, calls up before us by light and skilful touches…
Indeed, “like an impressionist” would accurately describe Ó Dochartaigh’s early student work at the Ulster College of Art, but that impressionistic threshold did eventually lead him through the doors of abstract expressionism, to Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and, ultimately, back over that threshold again into the miniscule and microcosm of the Irish landscape; or, more precisely, to bláth na n-áirní ar an draighneán donn –the blossom of the sloe on the blackthorn hedge.
His first one-man show – Oíche go Maidin (Dusk Till Dawn), Dublin, 1993 – was a triumph; it was also a revelation. Ó Dochartaigh was the first Irish artist to show us that the poets and song-makers of ancient Ireland had in effect been painting the Irish landscape for centuries… but not with brushes… with words and music! The twenty five paintings in the exhibition illustrated this phenomenon at every turn…and very convincingly too.
Since that important artistic milestone, Ó Dochartaigh has had numerous exhibitions throughout Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Germany, Holland, Austria and the USA. Music, poetry and song still occupy the central theme of his oeuvre.
Oisín Ó Gallchóir