By Des O’Driscoll
One of the country’s greatest living artists returned to his homeland yesterday to unveil murals that were hidden for more than 20 years.
New York-based Brian O’Doherty had completed the murals in the mid-1990s at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, but they were always designed for temporary display, and his brightly-coloured work had been covered up to accommodate other exhibitions at the Cork Harbour-side venue.
O’Doherty, accompanied by his wife, American art historian Barbara Novak, spoke fondly of his memories of creating the murals, and how he had wanted to honour the thousands of emigrants who had departed the historic quays on which the Sirius is located.
The artist himself, now a sprightly 89-year-old, had boarded a liner for New York from Cobh in 1956.
He described how the Ogham letters that feature in the abstract murals were inspired by learning the medieval Irish alphabet in primary school.
Miranda Driscoll, artistic director at Sirius, had instigated the restoration project three years ago, and the unveiling of the murals is part of a series of events dedicated to the artist in what is also the 30th anniversary of the art centre’s founding.
The painstaking restoration was undertaken by Knox and Knox, a family firm of specialist restorers.
This covering up and re-unveiling of work is also probably appropriate for the Roscommon-born artist who has always toyed with the idea of identity and worked under at least five different alter egos.
The most famous of these was Patrick Ireland, which he adopted as his name in the early 1970s as a protest against the Bloody Sunday killings by the British army in Derry.
He returned to his birth name after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, ‘burying’ the Patrick Ireland identity at a ceremony at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 2008.
A major figure in the Irish and international art worlds, O’Doherty counted such artists as Marcel Duchamp and Edward Hopper among his acquaintances, and his work is part of the collections in such facilities as the George Pompidou centre in Paris and the Smithsonian in Washington.
The restored murals will stay on display at the Sirius for at least a year.
Afterwards, they will be covered as part of the remodelling of the gallery, but in a way that preserves the works behind a safe barrier and makes it possible for them to be shown again at a future date.
For 20 years, Brian O’Doherty’s murals have been hidden away at Sirius in Cobh. A new project is now under way to restore them in time for the artist’s 90th birthday, writes Ellie O’Byrne.