THE PAINTING possibilities of Co Mayo’s elemental coastline did not inspire the works of Ronan Walsh until he spent time near Louisburgh in 2002. So says Walsh, who has strong familial links to Westport.
In 2002, Ronan Walsh, a Dublin native, spent six months living near Louisburgh while helping to care for his dying father, Owen Walsh, also an acclaimed artist.
During this period, father and son etched deep connections; so much so that for the following years, after his father’s death, Ronan’s romantic and rich expressionism became underpinned by the central image of a white horse.
Why? The answer is simple for Walsh: It symbolised the soul and spirit of his late beloved father.
Significantly, the omnipresence of this mythological, ethereal horse is set in a background that invokes comparison to those signature west of Ireland paintings by Jack B Yeats. Walsh’s work, though, teeters closer to the elusive horizon and that metaphysical world that shimmers on its edge.
The sure-footedness and confidence of his brushstrokes, with his unbridled palette of strong colours, leads the intuitive observer to sense a deeper – inherited – longtime connection and artistic empathy with the wild and free world in which his father was reared.
Moreover, as critic Susan Stairs observes: “What began as a spiritual liaison in the rugged countryside of his father’s birthplace in County Mayo, continues today, having matured with time into a profound relationship that shows no sign of cooling.”
Pithily, Stairs also notes that Walsh’s preoccupation with the horse has transported him beyond expressionism and into the world of abstractionism. She cites his depictions of the Camargue – a wild and ancient breed of horse found in south eastern France – as a case in point.
“With this work he has gone beyond using the horse as purely a symbol, or as solely a tangible manifestation of emotional expression, to using it as the starting point for an exploration in pure painting, a release from form and value to create a response that is purely aesthetic.”
Walsh reveals the horse series was completed with the ‘Camargue’ works – the title of his newly published book of paintings.
Ronan Walsh is now ready to embrace a new subject, and his next series of works may be inspired by the pyramidal peak – Croagh Patrick – that is this country’s ancient icon of spirituality. However, ‘may’ is the operative word. It all depends on whether the tentative connection – only recently felt – can be transformed into that emotional, intellectual and artistic cocktail necessary for his creative process.
“I was particularly taken by the cloud formation on the Reek this morning,” Walsh told The Mayo News on Wednesday last. “ It reminded me of Mount Fuji. I also thought of Cezanne and how he painted Mount St Victoria. I think I’ve made the connection now.
“I did a commemorative show for my Dad, and in one of the paintings, The White Horse from Louisburgh, the Reek is in the background,” he reflects.
Interestingly, Walsh also reveals his belief that ‘Westport audiences are the most visually educated in the world’.
“Over the decades, my Dad used to exhibit back here in Westport a lot, and I believe he really communicated the value of art. Of course, there is also a big artistic community living here in Mayo too,” he continues.
Ronan Walsh lives between Toronto and Ireland, and has exhibited in shows and galleries from France to the US, Belgium to Canada.
The passionate dynamic engendered between the artist, his canvas and brush has been widely recognised.
Paul Duval, Canada’s foremost art critic said of Walsh’s work: “In an era when so much is arid in concept and presentation, it is welcome to discover an artist who has passion for paint and its physical possibilities.”
Essentially it is Walsh’s integrity, unpretentiousness, simple honesty and understated self-belief that defines the palpable sense of freedom created in his art. Then, his fearless yet pragmatic pushing of boundaries unfurls a world of limitless possibilities.
In the words of the artist himself: “Good faith is about not knowing everything.”
‘Camargue’, a book launch and exhibition of paintings by Ronan Walsh, will be held at 7.30pm in the Knockranny House Hotel, Westport, on Wednesday, December 9, next.
Opening remarks by Mr Des Mahon. All are welcome.