I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized An All-Seeing Eye

An All-Seeing Eye

Paddy Gillan
Camille Souter: The Mirror in the Sea, by Garrett Cormican, Whyte’s, 337pp (illustrated), €60.00, ISBN: 978-0950641539 Camille Souter has been painting for over 50 years. When she embarked on her career the dominant mode of practice in Ireland was characterised by the academicism of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), which preoccupied itself with landscape, portraiture and to a lesser degree still life. The RHA, founded in 1943, espoused traditional, strictly representational values and held sway in the National College of Art. The Irish Exhibition of Living Art (ILEA), by contrast, was founded in 1943 to allow for a strong Modernist voice that was essentially non-academic. The Independent Artists emerged in the 1960s as champions of romantic modernism and critics of the established Irish art-world order – particularly the Arts Council. Souter did not involve herself in art politics, but happily exhibited with all three groups, two of which – the Independents and the ILEA – no longer exist. Making a living as an artist was not easy in the 1950s and 1960s, and only a handful of artists could devote themselves full-time to art. Patrick Scott, for example, practised as an architect for many years, while the sculptor Deborah Brown worked as an estate agent. Michael Kane was a night telephonist, Patrick Graham was in advertising and Jonathan Wade worked as a labourer as well as painting “pot-boilers” under the pseudonym Lucas Kingsley. Many artists turned to teaching in order to keep the wolf from the door. Some Dublin-based artists frequented McDaid’s and the “Catacombs”, living the kind of life described in Anthony Cronin’s Dead as Doornails. Most however did not, and led exemplary lives of suburban sobriety. Souter preferred rural life, and though shy, is sociable and enjoys a drink. She never experienced chronic poverty but for long periods struggled to make ends meet. Membership of Aosdána helped to ease the financial burden. Effectively self-taught, she was from the outset regarded as an exceptionally mature painter. Her work is small and intimate, and she mainly concentrates on landscape and everyday objects. She has also produced some major series, the subject matter of which includes the circus, meat, fish and aviation; others focus on wounded airmen and the first Gulf War. Her influences are mainly European, as noted by Anne Crookshank in the catalogue of Souter’s 1980 retrospective at the Douglas Hyde Gallery. Artists like Dubuffet and Tapies may well have been known…

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