Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957)

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For no other reason besides being as a picture on my phone, I’ve chosen Jack Butler Yeats, the Irish oil painter, as my first sprawl. Famous not only for winning the Silver Medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics (for the first piece set to be reviewed), but also having a high achieving ‘Apprentice Mage’ brother.

‘The Liffey Swim’  – 1923. 


The sense of sedately waiting energy is irresistible in this painting. From the off there is exertion everywhere, but also wonderment, with the crowd angling our eye in with their own leering contortions –  all of us aching to spy the wave like swimmers. Yeats sets the baby grey of the men’s caps at a similar hue to the rushing earl led of the water; everything is moving, yet still there is real dignity.

What’s fantastic is the fact that the race is clearly towards the end, but not at the final hurdle. Victory feels close by. I often feel this when I watch certain sports, such as Golf or Formula 1, those sports so big they demand hundreds of separate crowds, all of them capturing their own special moment, which to the actual participant, is a blur.

So here we are, nearing the last stretch. The crowd layering off into the squinting distance, toppling endlessly over each other. The beautiful pressed window like smudging, casting them forever into a massed distance. Almost as if the crowd themsleves are the real spectacle before the busy Liffey.

In the distance over, bridges can be seen with a bus slowly crossing the front. The water for the swimmers is thick, murky and unforgiving; before them a sky chaste awaits.

Grief’ – 1951. 



This remind me a lot of this by Bruce Nauman – ‘No’

I had a real guttural response to this thing, elicited not only by the sentiment, but also the mix of colors. Whilst the monotonous palate of Nauman helps to echo his intended desolation sense, here the insipied encroach of the almost sunbeam yellow really confused me at first. With so much discordance, the major key brushstrokes felt cowing.

Within the sketching shapes however, I found stability though simplicity. Looking closer to the skeletal outlines I saw hints of fingers and held weapons, following them round to the beautifully splurged horse in the middle of it all.

War is an easy thing to sense with no context, I see a really well defined armament of sorts for example on the left ridge of the far right building, a precise weather vane, a real detail amid the chaos that may be a product of the mere disorientation the picture brings the viewer. What is undeniable is the soldiers, an endless burst of blue permeated occasionally by red, the only real rupture of monotony being blood itself, a further shedding of color.

But not all color prevails here, with the black splatt coming face to flare nostrils with the horse. This yawning chasm of darkness with its own shades of further opaque within its opening.

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