Abstract expressionism and the harmless house painter

I bumped into my neighbour recently. He was covered in paint and waving his arms about aimlessly like a bookie in a maggot farm.

What the fuck is wrong with you? I inquired without much neighbourly empathy. I never liked him anyway.

I’m worn out, he shouted. Worn the fuck out.

Are you now? I snidely remarked, since I know for a fact he never worked a day in his life. Worn out, by Jesus?

I am, he panted. I am for sure, and it’s all the fault of that witch, the Truffle Cream Woman. The evil sorceress.

Surely you mean the Red Woman? I suggested.

Oh, if only it was as simple as dealing with the Red Woman, he replied with a ghastly stare. If only I hadn’t given my home over to the horrors of food colours.

What? I was shocked. You don’t mean ..?

Yes, he said, holding the back of one hand against his fevered brow. ‘Tis true. I forsook the world of men’s colours and invited in the Truffle Cream Woman.

Poor wretch, I shook my head. There was nothing to be done for him now.

Are you saying the walls are covered with Crème Brûlée?

I am, he sobbed. I am. I am. I am!!

The food colours. That which no man understands. The fearful food colours, now all over this poor man’s house.

Lemon Crush.

Wild Sage.

Soft Mocha.

Abstract expressionism

You mean there’s no longer any red or yellow or green or blue?

No, he wailed. Nothing but salmon and avocado. Porridge, Halibut and Prawn Vindaloo. Muted Rhubarb.

Dear God. It was worse than I thought.

Are you saying there isn’t even a touch of white in your home?

Not even a bit, he sobbed. I thought white was white, but no. Now all the ceilings are Natural Calico or Almond.

What have you done to resist this? I demanded. Come on man, don’t be a worm all your life!

Ah, he groaned as he lay back against a rock. It’s easy for you to talk. So easy.

I could see the strength was deserting him and for the first time I began to feel a little sympathy.

Here, I said. Have a swig of this Caribbean Porter, brewed by one-legged hipsters from Shoreditch.

You’re a good man, he murmured. A good man.

After a long hard slug of Caribbean Porter, the light returned to his gaze and he fixed me with a glittering eye. I did my best, he whispered. I did my best but it wasn’t enough. I needed art-work to set off the bland colours but I couldn’t afford it so I ...

Tell me! I caught him by the lapels and shook his withered frame. Tell me, damn you! What did you do?

I went, he coughed a long, agonising choking rasp. I went to Guineys and I bought …

What? I demanded. What did you buy?

I bought some pre-stretched canvases for €4 each. And then I went out to the shed and I found some …

Dear God. What was the wretch going to say next?

… some half-used cans of paint. Men’s colours. Red and yellow and blue and green.

The Devil you say? I was taken aback.

So I splashed the paints all over the canvas from Guineys and I made patterns and then I splashed them some more and then I rode a bicycle over them and then I threw them at a wall. And then I put salami on them and flung them to the dog.

You poor man, I said, overcome with pity for my neighbour even though I never liked him. You seem to be suffering from a severe case of Abstract Expressionism Fake Painting Syndrome.

Not at all, he replied with a grin. I’m just worn out from counting my money. Sold the whole lot to the Tate Modern for €50 million. Now if you wouldn’t mind fucking off, that would be great. I never liked you.





Irish Political Allegory painting banned from exhibition in Cork School of Music

Joe McNicholas painted a picture called An Irish Political Allegory, much in the manner of Bruegel or Bosch. A nightmarish vision of post-crash Ireland, a confection of vignettes depicting assorted prominent figures from Cowen’s Thinker in the foreground, framed by rusty scaffold poles that look like nothing so much as the barrels of tank guns, to Jim Larkin far off in the distance, his arms still raised to the heavens in a futile gesture of hope. Larkin singing in the rain. In the middle distance lurks Da Bert, crouched in his cupboard and wearing his trademark potato-head grin amid the dystopian destruction of a modern Guernica, but what’s that tiny tableau at the window in the top left?

Joe McNicholas - Irish Political Allegory

Look closer. Is it Mr Haughey unclothed and conjobbling with a young lady? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Who can tell?

It’s only a minor detail, or perhaps it isn’t, if you happen to be the director of Cork School of Music, Dr Geoffrey Spratt, who decided that aspects of the painting would be too distressing for sensitive eyes, and pulled it from the exhibition Spring Notes, currently showing in CSM. Art, after all, should never be challenging or upsetting, but of course, it wasn’t Dr Spratt himself who made the decision.

No indeed.

He banned the painting following what he called a significant number of complaints from parents and staff members, though history does not record precisely how significant those numbers were, since Dr Spratt was disinclined to reveal the actual number of sensitive souls.

Now, what was it about the picture that the significant number of parents and staff members objected to and wished to shield from the eyes of their under-18 students?

Was it the obscene depiction of a starving Madonna and Child, desperately trying to warm themselves at a street brazier?  No.

Was it the sight of hollowed-out husks of empty houses? Not that either.

Joe McNicholas HaugheyApparently, the thing that was going to ruin the lives of the sub-18-year-olds for ever more was a small cartoon-like image of Mr Haughey with his shirt off in close proximity to a lady similarly unclad.


You could see how Cork School of Music was rocked to its foundations by the scandal and why Dr Spratt responded with such speed to the complaints of appalled staff and parents, especially when there was a significant number of them.

Down with that sort of thing.



Cowen Nude Pictures – Investigating An Artist



Cork School of Music removes painting of bare-chested Charles Haughey after parents object


Michael Curtin — novelist, storyteller and decent man

If Michael Curtin happened to arrive for morning coffee, the chances were he’d ask one question.

Do you know what I watched on telly yesterday?

And the answer is Yes. Yes, Mick, I know exactly what you watched yesterday. You watched the 569th re-run of Shane, just in case there was a blade of grass you didn’t notice on the previous 568 viewings.

Michael Curtin

That was Mick Curtin, author of six fine novels, a hilarious man with a fine dark sense of humour and a keenly-honed sense of everyone’s absurdity, including his own. A man with an artist’s eye and a deep instinct for the written word. A man who, better than most, far better than me, could deliver the dry one-liner with a straight face.

A storyteller sans pareil, not only in his books, not only in his talk but even in the way he held himself, Michael Curtin spellbound all who worshipped at the shrine of his sardonic genius for many reasons, but most of all because Michael Curtin was the master of the pause, the finest and least attainable of the storyteller’s many skills.

Mick Curtin knew how to inhabit a silence like few other men. Enveloped in the peace of his soundlessness as he scanned the racing pages, you never felt awkward. You never felt the need to blurt out some meaningless commonplace because you knew that Mick would sooner or later produce a nugget of wisdom.

Now, it’s true that occasionally the nugget needed a little contemplation to dig out its inner meaning.

I wish they’d turn down that fucking music.


Is your car outside?

But just as often, he might offer you an insight into the mind  of his publisher friend André Deutsch, or he might wish some misfortune on the head of Louis Van Gaal. He might tell you who stole the Bateman Cup. He might just sit and stare and that was good too.

He’s gone from us now and his passing was unobtrusive which is not how we might have wished it.

He slipped away in the night to the endless sorrow of his family but in a parallel universe wouldn’t we wish that the great Michael Curtin had gone out with a Tommy-gun, battling the Feds in the street outside his beloved Nancy Blakes?

Come out now, Buttsy Curtin with your hands in the air.

Never! You’ll never take me alive!

A burst from his Tommy-gun. A hail of lead, one final tragic embrace and Buttsy breathes his last in the arms of those he cares for most as the Feds remove their caps in respect for the Last Outlaw.

Never mind. The alternative is just fine as Michael rides out on his horse towards the Grand Tetos in slow pursuit of Wilson the killer gunslinger.

Shane’s memory will be avenged even if it takes Mick a thousand years to track down Jack Palance and we’ll be with him every step of the way.




A writer out on his own

Limerick printer’s gift of ink


Michael Curtin books


Censorship Board bans first book in 18 years

On the face of it, there’s nothing to dislike about the decision by the Censorship of Publications Board to ban a book entitled The Raped Little Runaway.

It’s revolting.

Who could possibly oppose the banning of anything so vile?

Well, hold on a second. That question carries so many hidden implications that we need to dig deep in order to find the answer and we need to start by asking why we should ban anything, especially these days when everything is available on the internet anyway.

But more pertinently, who is to say what material should be suppressed? Who should we appoint to protect us from indecent or obscene material and in what way are these people better qualified than other adults to make such judgements?

The current board is composed as follows:


Shane McCarthy, a solicitor in County Cork.


Noëlle O’Connor. Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Studies. Course Director for the B.A. (Hons.) in Business Studies with Event Management Programme in Limerick Institute of Technology.

Sinéad Prunty. Barrister and law lecturer.

Philip Moynihan. Former Chief Superintendent in an Garda Síochána.

Georgina Byrne. South Dublin County Librarian.

Well and good. All of these people seem to be fine, upstanding citizens, but I still have one question.

In what sense are any of these people better equipped than I am to judge what is suitable reading material for me as a mature adult?

In what sense will I, as a mature adult, not be able to see that The Raped Little Runaway is a vile piece of work and reject it accordingly?

In what sense do I, as a mature adult, need a censorship board of people who are no better qualified than I am to tell me what I can and cannot read?

Yes, of course we all feel repelled by publications such as the one described, but it’s hard to see how censorship is the answer. After all, it isn’t so long ago in Ireland when most of the world’s greatest authors were banned by the very same censorship board, turning this country into the cultural equivalent of Enver Hoxha’s Albania. That’s the danger when you appoint five arbitrary individuals to decide what their fellow citizens may or may not read.

James Joyce, Brendan Behan, John Steinbeck, Graham Greene and F Scott Fitzgerald have all been banned by the censorship board and even today if you were found in possession of a banned publication, True Detective for example, you would be liable to a fine of €63.50. If anyone could be bothered to charge you, that is.

Disgust and revulsion are in the eye of the beholder, and the beholding eye of Ireland has shifted its focus considerably since the days when Brendan Behan proudly declared himself the Leader of the Banned. We are no longer the paternalistic society founded by the wealthy professional Catholic elite who put through the 1921 revolution. We no longer take our cues from priests or the Legion of Mary and we no longer pass our laws according to the diktats of the conservative rump, as last year’s Marriage Equality referendum proclaimed to the world.

We are adults, and as adults we are perfectly capable of judging for ourselves what to read and what not to read.

The current members of our censorship board seem to be perfectly rational, balanced, trustworthy individuals, even if they are underworked. The last time they were called together was when they considered a complaint about Alan Shatter’s dreadful but hardly pornographic novel, Laura. But it’s telling that they had to convene at all just because some crank took issue with the written word.

Sadly for the reading public, Shatter’s novel is still at large. Thankfully for literary freedom, it can still be purchased in the shops.

Do we really need five people imposing their personal views on us when we’re well able to form our own opinions? It’s easy to be smug these days, but institutions live on unless they’re actively abolished and who’s to say that a censorship board of the future might not choose to ban thousands of books again, just as they did in our not-so-glorious past?

It isn’t fantasy. They did it already and those antediluvian attitudes are still here in the form of the Iona Institute, still in denial and still bemoaning the democratic decision of the Irish people to legalise same-sex marriage.

Imagine if these people somehow got a stranglehold on the censorship board.

For every revolting paedophile who’ll never get his book onto a shelf, there are a hundred Hemingways, Joyces, Edna O’Briens, Steinbecks, Behans all of whom cast a light into the dark oppressive shadows of Ionaland.

Let us never go back to those days. The politicians are agreed – unusually for them – that the censorship board is an anachronism that needs to be abolished. Let’s knock it on the head now and let’s agree that the Irish people are grown adults perfectly capable of judging for themselves what’s fit to read without the help of five random people who are no better qualified than anyone else.






Love Letters from Limerick charity auction

Don’t miss this opportunity to acquire a unique piece of art while also helping a good cause.

love letters from limerick auction


Love Letters from Limerick – an international festival of sign-writing and traditional hand lettering

Have you heard about this?

Love Letters from Limerick, a festival of traditional hand lettering and sign writing, features the work of sign artists from Ireland, Britain, Spain and the USA.

Conceived and devised by our own Tom Collins, a  sign artist among sign artists, the festival runs from 10th September to 2nd October and there’s something in there for everyone.  If you want to see master sign-painters at work, go along to Fab Lab on the 11th, 12th or 13th September  and let the magic wash over you. Submit yourself to the  wonder of it, enjoy, learn and mingle with the best in the business.

Tom Collins gilding

You have live exhibitions by Peter McCullen, Sean & Kayleigh Starr of Starr Studios, Simon Robinson, Ashley Willerton, Vanessa Power, Tobias Newbigin and maybe a few friends.

You can expect contributions from Annie AtkinsGed PalmerJosh Luke, the exquisite Louise FiliRotulacion A Mano, Robert Gamache, Liam Dillon, Jack Hollands, Joe Lane, Gerry Fitzgibbon and Gary Godby.

There’s a movie screening on the 13th September in the Belltable, or whatever they’re calling the place these days. That’s at 7pm. Sign Painters, directed by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon.  Don’t miss it.

There’s a live display for Culture Night on the 18th, and a talk on the 24th at Mari’s magnificent cheese emporium  with wine and stuff.

Now, here’s an important bit, so pay attention. On the 1st October, there’s an auction of the pieces produced during the festival, all individually handcrafted by some of the top names in the business, and all the profits – ALL – are going to support the Corbett Suicide Prevention initiative, a great bunch of people. Let’s get that helicopter out of the air folks.

Here’s the website. Check it out and get to as many events as you can.

This is not the kind of thing you’ll see every day, and besides, they’re all really nice people, so go along and get to know them.

They don’t bite or anything. Much.






Royal de Luxe in Limerick

Here’s a few pics from the weekend’s Royal de Luxe extravaganza in Limerick.


Royal de Luxe Limerick

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As always, feel free to share and re-use.

Arts comedy

Isn’t It About Time The Monty Python Lads Just Stopped?

All right.  I know.  It’s hilarious, that sketch from At Last, the 1948 Show.  The four Yorkshiremen are fucking hilarious, or at least, they were, 47 years ago but please, come on.  When I were a lad, my father used to come up from pit and kill folk who tried to tell Monty Python jokes.

What the fuck?  Arguments.   Silly walks.

It was funny.


It was funny, but what is it now?  Well, it’s gone far beyond undead since they achieved that status 30 years ago with the Secret Policeman’s Ball.   This must be the most successful formerly-groundbreaking comedy act in history.

I know what they did was great.  I know, but please, could they just knock it on the head now?

This comedy show is deceased.   This is an ex-act.

It’s sad to see what used to be a bunch of guys subverting the tired old norms becoming torch-bearers for tired old norms.


Robin Williams

I was not going to write about Robin Williams, because I thought I might feel like a little bit of a hypocrite, since I never cared for him as an actor, but on reflection it doesn’t matter.

robin williams

He was a rapid-fire beggar of approval, an always-on entertainer, no matter what it took.  If he thought laughing was your thing he gave you laughing, effortlessly pulling sharp observations and spiky little one-liners from his bottomless bag of theatre business.  If he thought crying would suit you  better, that’s what you got: schmaltzy tears, straight from old Hollywood, complete with the violins and the brave, manly smile.

I don’t think there was ever a single second in Robin Williams’s life when he was not on the stage, even when his only audience might have been himself, though that’s not in any way to doubt those who have spoken of his personal kindness.  It is possible to be genuine and to be acting at one and the same time, paradoxical though that might sound.

We all do it to some extent.  Personally, I’m a devil for talking to myself, playing out various scenarios, and that’s because I’m a verbal sort of person.  No apologies there.  But for a man like Robin Williams, blessed with such an extravagant array of gifts, life must have been an everlasting childhood sweetshop, a paradise of role-playing, most fitting for someone who never truly grew up.

They say he suffered from manic depression, but I don’t think the common understanding of that term explains where Robin Williams found himself.  We all experience depression from time to time when things go disastrously wrong, and even when we have no cause to be miserable, sometimes we just wake up feeling like shit, but that has nothing to do with bipolar syndrome as I understand it.   There’s no need to rehearse the cliché that so many creative people are manic depressive.  I don’t know if there’s any research to support that, but it seems obvious that a man as driven as Williams, with an intellectual volcano that never paused from erupting new ideas, would flourish at a time of extreme elation and flounder when he found himself in a trough.

How deep that trough became, how impossible its walls were for him to climb, became clear yesterday when he finally decided he had enough.  What a terrible thing to go so far, to imagine that there’s nobody you can reach for, or am I completely wrong about this?  Is it simply that you know there are people you can reach for, but the alternative seems less painful?

I wasn’t a big fan of his acting because I found it too sugary and too sentimental for my personal taste, but I was a huge admirer of his style, his delivery and his energy.  There’s no denying that the man was a creative genius.

What a shame he decided that the laughter wasn’t enough to dull the pain.


Nomshtock? Ah, Shtop!

Half way through the evening, I get an attack of festivinifiniphobia — the irrational fear at a festival that you’ll run out of drink before the night is done.

I turn to my travelling companion: Will we wander in to Kenmare and shtock up on wine, just in case?

Tis all right, he says.  I shtashed a shpare box of wine in the Beasht, by which he means the ancient camper van we’ve travelled in from Limerick, including a hair-raising Alton Towers-style lunge across Moll’s Gap, the passage through the mountains between Killarney and Kenmare with room for approximately no vehicles to pass.


Molls Gap

Ah shtop!

We have the van, we have the dog, we have the wine, we have the attitude.  We’re fucking hippies, apart from the tasty Hafners sausages that we use to prove that nobody else here is a hippie either.

We have a nice little barbecue set up beside the camper, and a sizeable stash of ethnic beer, cos, you know, it has better energies.  Aternative Eastern beer.

This is Nomshtock, the nicest, most laid-back festival you will ever in your entire life attend.  As my companion remarked, Have you ever been at a festival where you offer somebody a beer and he says, No thanks, I have one already?  But thank you anyway.

Yeah.  It’s that kind of thing.

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I love this.  I love the fact that I just heard some of the finest musicians I’ve ever heard, and I’ve never heard of them before, to my shame but that’s how it goes.  The world is so full of talented, interesting people, there is no time.

I love the fact that all the acts are playing in a cow-shed.  I loved this fella’s gig.   Stuart Wilde.  There was something about the syncopated style that reminded me of other musicians over the years, and when I bumped into him later, I asked him.  There’s always a caveat with this sort of thing because musicians can often resent complete strangers comparing them to other musicians, but he suffers from no such insecurity.

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Yeah, Stuart  says.  Jacques Brel was a huge influence on me.

Yeah, I say, and we settle into a chilled feshtival-shtyle nodfest, largely because I’m too drunk to engage in a detailed conversation about anything.

It’s all very chilled and laid back, in an old farmyard with people doing interesting people things and dogs doing the usual dog things, and maybe the other way round too for all I know.

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Actually, everyone is playing in a cow-shed, which is kind of nice, including this bunch, Yearning Curve, who echo my sentiments precisely.

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But the crowd that captivated me most of all, and I admit this was only a quick, one-night foray, were the twin sisters who call themselves Twin-Headed Wolf.  (The girls explain that they are actually triplets but one of them is imaginary).

These people are special, I promise you.

These people will be headlining something very big before very long.

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These girls are great.  Trust me.

Anyway, as usual in festivals, and especially a Feshtival, the night goes on inexorably and eventually we end up taking bad pictures at a huge fire-pit while talking complete bollocks until eventually I get a sudden dose of sensibility and I say Fuck this.

Why?  Is it because it’s all terrible?  Jesus no.  It’s because if I stay any longer I’ll start talking even more unutterable shite than I normally do, and at this hour of my life I’ve learned that it’s best to withdraw in good order.

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It’s better to endure my travelling companion laughing at my pathetic attempts to climb into the luton above the driver’s cab, even though he realises full well that I might fall and break my leg in nine places.

But I don’t punch him, because it would interefere with the energies of this calm and peaceful place, and also because I’m far too drunk and I’d probably miss.

But it’s good to know that Ireland is still full of kind and decent and well-meaning young people.  This sort of thing is as life-affirming as you can find.