The Donegal-based artist and musician, Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh, has had exhibitions throughout Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, Holland, Austria and the USA. Music is a persistent theme in his work: ideas come directly to him from the experience of listening to music. But he also trawls the words of songs sometimes, or reads poems, in search of the right stimulus.
As a singer of Gaelic songs – from the living sean-nós tradition – Ó Dochartaigh has found easy access into a landscape peculiar to the Gaeltacht. The songs of the Gaeltacht, he discovered, are full of beautiful lines describing simple, diminutive, colourful aspects of a wild and rugged terrain washed by the waves of the sea, dewy with streams, lakes and waterfalls and overgrown with heather, fern and gorse. In these songs, only the minuscule aspects of the surroundings are celebrated: the blossom of the blackthorn, the dew on the morning grass, berries growing along the hedgerows, etc.
The largely anonymous poets and “song-writers” of the sean-nós tradition – the people who actually made the songs – were, in Ó Dochartaigh’s view, visual artists of a kind. They knew this landscape intimately and they “painted” it lovingly with words and music rather than with brushes. Painting with brushes, of course, has – in the past at least – been the privilege of the wealthy: sean-nós, on the other hand, is the expression of the dispossessed and under-privileged.
Ó Dochartaigh is really the first Irish painter to recognise this phenomenon and the first to make paintings based on sean-nós songs.
His first major one-man show was a revelation to many. It was called “Oíche go Maidin” and took place in the Duke Gallery in Dublin, in 1993. An appraisal of his work was published in the Maynooth College year-book “Bliainiris 2000” in which Méabh Ní Chléirigh also assessed the works of Louis le Brocquy, Brian Burke and Seán McSweeney.