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Art as contemplation of the holy

Second Reading

Second Reading
Fr Kevin Hegarty

Richard King’s painting of the Nativity scene first appeared in the Capuchin Annual of 1967. Richard King was born in Castlebar. His father was a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary. His uncle was the sculptor, Brian King. Richard inherited the artistic gene.
He attended the De La Salle College in Castlebar before the family moved to Westport in 1922 where he completed his education with the ‘Christian Brothers’. Mayo left a positive mark on him. To his childhood he attributed his love of nature, his religious instinct and his passion for fishing.
When the family moved to Dublin in 1926 he began architectural studies at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. Austin Molloy, a tutor at the college, discerned that Richard’s talent lay in a different artistic direction.
He introduced him to Harry Clarke, the premier Irish stained-glass artist of the 20th century. Clarke invited him to join his studio. Under his guidance, Richard developed a deep interest in religious symbolism, Celtic design and vibrant decoration. He was also influenced by the French artist, Georges Rouault, who depicted traditional Christian themes in a modernist style. On Clarke’s premature death due to tuberculosis, he became chief designer and manager of the studio in 1931. In 1940, he set up his own business in Dalkey.
King was a versatile artist. He was a regular contributor of paintings and drawings to the Capuchin Annual, an Irish journal of history, art and theology that was published between 1930 and 1977. His most memorable contribution was a series of striking portraits of early Irish saints.
In the 1930s and 1940s, he provided designs for 12 Irish stamps. Most noteworthy of them was a hurling one to commemorate the golden jubilee of the GAA in 1934 and one to mark the new Irish Constitution of 1937.
He is, however, best known as a liturgical artist. The theologian, Paul Tillich, once wrote that it is ‘the task of the Church architects to create places of consecration where people feel able to contemplate the holy in the midst of their secular life’. As a creator of stained glass and religious paintings King devoted himself implicitly to his aim.
He created over 60 stained-glass windows in churches, mainly in Ireland, but also in England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand and the US. There were also Stations of the Cross in oils, enamel crucifixes and murals.
His Stations of the Cross in Swinford Catholic Church are a vivid expression of his artistic sense. Here he was especially influenced by the Spanish artist El Greco, and the afore-mentioned Georges Rouault, both noted for their dramatic representations of Jesus Christ.
The ‘Stations’ convey starkly Christ’s physical and psychological suffering as he endured his passion. They give a close-up view, vigorously expressed by the use of strong contrasting colours, such as reds, blues, yellows and whites.
King died on St Patrick’s Day in 1966. His final commission brought him back to his native county. It is a window in St Patrick’s Church, Newport, entitled appropriately ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’.
Happy Christmas to all readers of The ‘Mayo News’.