Art From The Sacred To The Profane: East and West
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Through Conradh na Gaeilge he met May Walsh, a young Kildare woman of independent temperament and left-wing socialist views, who was agnostic. They married in Men of the West , exhibited in , was a benchmark painting for Keating. Drawing on the iconography of the western seaboard, and with the artist and one of his brothers as models, it vividly mythologises Irish rebels. Its sequel, Men of the South , is a better work and a key painting in Irish art history. Painted in difficult circumstances during the War of Independence, it is more realistic in its depiction of hardened, ruggedly unkempt guerrillas.
He embarked on the project, which lasted from to , on his own initiative because he approved of the controversial undertaking. Critics, including the Catholic Church, attacked it as a waste of money, but Keating saw it as vital for national development. Never quite at ease as a landscape painter per se, he nonetheless did something exceptional in his Ardnacrusha and, later, Poulaphouca series, the latter dealing with the building of the hydroelectric generating facility on Blessington Lake in Co Wicklow.
He meticulously and objectively detailed the large-scale industrial alteration of the landscape, concentrating on the engineering processes involved. In fact, it is striking that landscape is always invested with cultural meaning in his work, including his western seascapes. It is never simply an idealised vision of untouched nature.
Review of Art from the Sacred to the Profane () — Foreword Reviews
Both sets of work are in the collection of the ESB. He was elected to the RHA in and later served as its president, a post from which he resigned in , reputedly unhappy with the artistic direction of the organisation. The saga of his teaching career is labyrinthine, with prolonged, bitter infighting and politicking involving his superiors, colleagues and the Department of Education. Against the odds, Keating survived several concerted attempts to get rid of him, including a strong recommendation in the confidential section of the French report, a review of the art school.
He was a professor from and, although he was due to leave the National College of Art and Design in , he stayed six further years and relinquished his studio there only in A substantial part of his income came from portraiture, but he was an uneven portrait painter, as many examples reproduced in the book attest.
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Brian Kennedy has pointed out that some of his best portraits are of people close to him, often in group compositions. And there are some really noteworthy successes, including several studies of May. A lively correspondence ensued, Myles na gCopaleen chipped in and relations between Keating and Louis le Brocquy, previously friendly, cooled permanently.
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When he wrote approvingly of the artist as a rebel, he seemed to have himself specifically in mind as the rebel of choice, and to believe that others should conform to his ideas. Polarised opposition A simple reading of Irish art history in the first half of the 20th century suggests a polarised opposition between conservative representation and modernist abstraction, with Keating firmly in the former camp.
His pictorial allegories are interesting historical documents but they are not great art, and much of his work leans towards the propagandist simplicity of Soviet social realism.
Art from the Sacred to the Profane: East and West (Writings of Frithjof Schuon)
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