In the preface to his biography of the artist, (Gerard Dillon, An Illustrated Biography, 1994) James White writes of his friendship with Gerard Dillon: ‘He cultivated simplicity and a love of childhood openness and honesty and he was the only artist whom I ever believed was really sincere when he declared that he wanted to paint with a child’s directness.’
Like many influential Irish artists of the 20th century, Gerard Dillon was enchanted with the West of Ireland. But his paintings offer us a very different view of what was in some cases portrayed as an idealized landscape. Dillon utilizes his unique simplicity and directness to record landscapes full of the people of the West, busy accounts of daily life and customs. His scenes, like bird’s-eye snapshots, record his days in Connemara with a lively lyrical narrative, providing a relaxed and informal visual diary. We are introduced to cottages, children, hens, haystacks and currachs; every canvas is spilling with stone walls and sea, and each one is overflowing with the essence of life in the west of Ireland in the mid-20th century.
The present work dates from 1951 and was painted the same year that Dillon had been offered the use of a cottage on the island of Inislacken just off Roundstone, and he invited fellow artists George Campbell and James MacIntyre to join him on the trip. This picture, set in Roundstone harbour in Connemara, depicts two central figures who appear to be discussing the rental of two lobster pots with a local fisherman. A third man approaches laden with a heavy bag. There is an obvious contrast between the three men and the fisherman, and it is easy to imagine that these three men are not locals. The fisherman seems to be flicking a stack of coins from his right hand to his left; as though the deal has been done.
Dillon’s paintings are often auto-biographical, and in Lobster Pots we can envisage that here we have the artist and his friends preparing their supplies for their trip to the island, before descending the steps of the pier, loading the empty currach that awaits them in the water below and setting off to row to Inishlacken. Although there is no documented evidence, it has been previously suggested that the figure staring directly at the viewer is the artist himself.
Dillon had abandoned classes at the Belfast School of Art mindful that they might interfere with his strongly held belief in his artistic vision to always strive to retain and nurture the simplicity and originality in his painting. This vision flourishes in the originality of the present work. For him, the tight-knit community of the West, with its language, traditions and connection to the land and sea, represented something wholly apart from the fast-paced modernity of the twentieth century.
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