artist’s statement






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Words for Cormac Boydell: Launch of New Ceramics & Drawings, Lavistown House, Kilkenny, on Thursday the 8th of August 2013.

I was privileged and lucky to be present when many of these wonderfully realized pieces were just at a seminal phase on the beautiful eastern Aegean island of Ikaria. Myself and my partner Theo Dorgan have been going there for many years. To work and recuperate. The island is named for the boy, Ikarus, who flew too near the sun, who over reached himself in some blue rapture of flight. Dedalus, his father, was the bronze age master craftsman, who fashioned wings from feathers and wax, a contraption to expedite their escape from a bit of mischief down in Crete. He took his son's body from the sea and buried him on the island.

The myth has resonated through Irish literature: Joyce's Stephen Dedalus comes obviously to mind. Dedalus has been a powerful emblem of the artist's engagement with the limits of craft. The island of Ikaria is a good place to meditate on such matters, on failures of the craft as well as achievements, and there is something about the clear light of that place that is conducive to a cold hard look at the craft elements of the making and to distinguishing them from the elusive and essential mystery at the heart of all art. The mystery of transformation.

I say that much of this body of work started on the island of Ikaria; though, that said, which of us can ever know entirely where a piece of work really begins?

The seed could have been a day when the maker was 17 rambling over the head of Howth, where the teenaged WB Yeats put his ear to the ground to as he said listen to the heartbeat of the Great Mother. A magic place, first referenced in our bronze age warrior cycle tales of the Fianna. Howth - once itself an island before the last ice age laid down an esker of gravel to form a causeway across from the mainland of Ireland, the Howth that formed Cormac's early imagination.

Or maybe a day up mountain from the Arches outside Allihies where Cormac and his beloved Rachel have made their home since the seventies. Another powerful place full of what the Chinese geomancers call Dragon Energy, another important bronze age site, reputed landing zone of the Milesians, the eastern Aegean originated tribe who gave us our first recorded poet in the island's tradition, the litanist, the chant maker, our own beloved Amergin. The old copper mines there at Allihies have evidence of bronze age workings and indeed, that area would have been a cosmopolitan centre of trade for the bronze age ancestors.

And it was in Allihies of course that Cormac's work was brought to fruition: in the studio and in the transforming fires of the kiln, more especially in what Yeats called the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

The heart that is the crucible for compassion. Can a ceramic have compassion? Can a drawing have compassion? Yes, I believe so.

I live with a Cormac Boydell ceramic. It hangs over the kitchen sink. It references a shard of willow pattern crockery; the cobalt marks on white,remembering the temple and the bridge from the traditional Chinese willow pattern, the golden rim framing the plate, a touch of luxury and light in the kitchen especially on dark winter mornings, the powerful sense I get from it of the actual hands manipulation of the clay, the work of the body embodied still in its lineaments while I do my own, ordinary kitchen work. What I get from it is a powerful connection to a shard, or fragment of my own childhood, my grandmother's kitchen, her lovely willow pattern platters, themselves scarred and chipped from the work of many hands, from their own endurance through time. At the same moment I experience the presence of Cormac's piece as a really cool contemporary work of fine art that makes my space there aesthetically beautiful. I feel I bask in a compassionate radiance from the work, as if it transmits an actual vibration that I tune into and which makes me feel, quite simply,


I recommend acquiring a piece of Cormac's work: there's a cure for the blues there, and possibly for other ailments as well!

And I know that these new drawings and ceramics will carry the inspiration, the in-breathing of those days on Ikaria last May where this body of work first began to express itself through Cormac's crafty hands. The air was heady with wild oregano and thyme; and so very much of the light and heat and buoyancy of the island are carried through to the walls here. The buzzing of the bees working the sweet honey from the mountain, their crucial transformative work. Intense days of drawing and dreaming, and raising the head to see, sometimes seeming close and sometimes obscured by heat haze, that other island of vision: Patmos, the apocalyptic island of John the Revelator.

Ikaria is a land of hot springs, owls, raptors and wild mountain music. And cats of course, always the village cats. It is the birthplace of Dionysus, the god who embodies our urge to communion with wild nature, another mythic figure who carries a charge of transcendental union with the godhead. It was an important site of worship for the goddess Artemis, the huntress, protector of the wild, of all nursing creatures and creatures in childbirth.

It was a treat to spend time with Cormac and Rachel there at Therma. They arrived on the island like a force of nature themselves. Before I knew what was happening I was in a mineshaft with thousands of bats streaming towards me while Cormac took scrapings from the walls to use as a pigment. That was the marvelous thing about hanging out with Cormac and Rachel - their deep knowledge of creatures and understanding of habitat revealed a new layer to an island I've long loved. Cormac with his background as a geologist, read the island as a thrilling story spanning millions and hundreds of million of years and that insight into geologic time and process opens the island in a new and powerful way. The thing about geologists is they give you a sense of perspective!

These images today open the imagination to the forces and energies of that island, capturing and fixing in time the flux and volcanic processes behind their making. This flight of the imagination which transcends the limits of time and place remind me of the profound and creative identification of land with self voiced by the poet Amergin. His song is the first mention of poem or poet we have in our manuscript tradition here. He hailed from the eastern Aegean himself; his is an ancestral voice that connects us, I like to think to our ancient homeland. When he first stepped ashore in Ireland he uttered these lines which continue to enchant us 5,000 years, give or take a few hundred, after they were first sung:

I am a wind of the sea,

I am a wave of the sea,

I am a sound of the sea,

I am a stag of seven tines,

I am a hawk on a cliff,

I am a tear of the sun,

I am fair among flowers,

I am a boar,

I am a salmon in a pool,

I am a lake on a plain,

I am a hill of poetry,

I am a battle-waging spear,

I am a god who forms fire for a head.

Who makes clear the ruggedness of the mountains?

Who but myself knows where the sun shall set?

Who foretells the ages of the moon?

Maybe buried in our genetic memory - as reliable a guide, I believe, though a matter of intuition, as geologic memory itself - maybe buried there is some deep nostalgia for our eastern Aegean home, for the strong honey, and dance, and its wild mountain tunes that something in us answers to.

We speak of living memory - Cormac Boydell's work can open a channel, sink a plumb-line down into the pre Classical, into the bronze age itself, a high culture moment where craft was art and art was craft and the only weapons were tools. And Dedalus himself was the shop steward!

I love that Cormac can hold all this as living memory. I love that he reflects such deep understanding of the earth and her mysteries in these ceramic shards of our own lovely fractured-world right now. I love the alchemist of glazes. I love the prescience, the foresight, that can foretell what the colours will be. I love these exuberant and dancing marks which feel like a musical score to wild Dionysian ecstasy.

Cormac Boydell, as someone with deep associations to the Buddhist traditions, would understand the concept of lineage very well: all of us artists working on the island today work in the tradition of Amergin. We continue our appropriation of all that we apprehend outside ourselves; we internalize it; and in the crucible of our imaginations and through the honest labour of our hands we transform our journeys in our several and various crafts, to bring the work back to the walls of the galleries, to the spaces where we gather to hear song and poem and story.

To share the delight and the transport, to, as the poet Tom McCarthy says, lay art anonymously at earth's altar.

Paula Meehan