Art and Fish
(National gallery of Ireland)
Simon entered the gallery together with no fewer than three large groups of primary school girls. Giggling, squealing, pushing; their teachers straining to maintain order. One group wore tartan skirts, another wore tracksuits of royal blue and the last were in grey cardigans and slacks. As they entered the vestibule all together there was a moment when the three groups intermingled in seeming chaos, but then separated like so many distinct shoals of fish.
Thus, they swam the morning long, throughout the galleries and halls, occasionally hovering before paintings deemed worthy of consideration by their smiling, earnest teachers.
He remembered this unchanged ritual from the days of his own youth. A ritual, like so many school customs, with the noble intention of stimulating curiosity and enthusiasm in the hearts and minds of the young, yet in reality, sure to have quite the opposite effect. The bored expressions on the children’s faces were a constant and uncomfortable reminder to Simon of his own half-hearted presence in the gallery; the presence of a professional artist on vacation in a great city with too much time to kill and no excuse not to visit its national galleries and museums.
Then it happened:
Simon found that he had drifted into the neighbouring Yeats Exhibition, and in spite of himself he was instantly hooked by its presentation of the evolution of Jack B. Yeats’ genius and his work. Traversing along the limped, fluid surfaces as they gradually, naturally evolved from grave lucidity to pulsating abstraction, he felt for a moment that his life had begun again. The graphic exposition of the artistic momentum and imminence of Yeats’ painterly development reminded him of the sublime possibilities of art.
One picture in particular seemed to radiate this quality. It was of a window, somewhere in Italy, thickly applied paint, like butter, with a half-inch palette knife. Beyond the open shutters, a warm, summer light, primrose and white.
Standing before it, Simon smiled for the first time that day, virtually squinting at the muted brightness. The daubed light itself seemed to laugh gently, echoing his mood, and then, as he stepped back from the painting, tartan fishes once more engulfed him. A happy, excited shoal now, equally rejuvenated by the peculiar power of these truly great paintings.
Perhaps, in the future, one or two of those little fish would return to this particular ocean by choice? After all, he had.