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T.P. Flanagan

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TP Flanagan

T.P. Flanagan

for T. P. Flanagan

We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening-
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encroaching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They’ll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.




Bogland by Seamus Heaney

A foreward by Seamus Heaney

Preface by S.B. Kennedy

T.P. Flanagan : from 'Ireland Today: Five painters and a Sculptor'

Aidan Dunne published in The Irish Times 23/07/2003

Boglands (for Seamus Heaney)

by Seamus Heaney
taken from T.P. Flanagan book by S.B. Kennedy, Four Courts Press, Ulster Museum

Ever since I've known him, T.P. Flanagan has been a painter with work in progress and an œuvre in the making and this exhibition pays due homage to his lavish achievement. As an artist, he has gone his own way, explored the Irish landscape and enhanced Irish landscape painting through the discovery and elaboration of an individual style, one that we now take so much for granted that we tend to forget that it had to be invented. But during all that time, Terry has also been very much a personal friend as well as an artistic presence, somebody with his own inimitable blend of humour and cultivation, one of those people who have the gift for bringing company to life and keeping the spirits high. Delicacy and down-to-earthness are equally important elements in his make-up; they are what I cherish in his often hilarious expatiations on art (not to mention artists) and life, and they also inform the confidence and finesse of his characteristic work.

On our walls at home, for example, we have a picture which combines these qualities and seems as spontaneous and inevitable now as it did when we first saw it more than a quarter of a century ago. It is called A Stream through Sand  and was painted in the late sixties, at a time when our families used to spend the occasional intensely packed weekend around Gortahork in County Donegal; we went partly for the gregariousness and the Guinness in McFadden's Hotel, for Scan 0 hEochaidh's seanchas and Lillis O'Leary's cuisine, but also for the refreshment of being exposed to the land and sea and skies of Bloody Foreland; and for the mutual inspiration which all of that entailed.

In the mid-sixties, Terry had often taken me into his studio—which means, with a painter, into his confidence—and given me a kind of informal education in how to see pictures, how to read them, and told me about his debts to recent and remote teachers such as Kathleen Bridle and Piero della Francesca; but now, a few years later, he was showing mc that in his case too the old command to go to nature and be taught by the experience was the primary one. On the shore, on the roadside, behind a turfstack on the bog, his sketch-pad would be out and with a few quick strokes of the pencil and a few stolen glimpses to check the shapes and the light, the impulse would be well on its way towards its transformation. He taught me to see blackness in brightness, for example, and every time I look at the sinuous dark line he made of that stream through sand, the excitement of his insight returns.

Our friendship had begun under the approving eye of Michael McLaverty who told Terry about my poems while I was teaching at St Thomas's; and very shortly after that we became colleagues when I went to lecture at Trench House. Terry was an art lecturer at St Mary's, the sister college, where my wife Marie had been a student a few years earlier and had benefited from his wonderfully liberating teaching, so all of us—Terry's wife Sheclagh included—gravitated towards one another's company naturally and increasingly; and since the first flush of our relationship happened to coincide with a particularly creative moment in the cultural life of Belfast, I continue to think of the Flanagans not oniy as artistic personalities in themselves but as sponsors of an opener, fuller, freer, richer life.

Through his childhood connections with Lissadell and the Yeats country and because he had written poems of his own before we had met, Terry brought a romantic even bohemian element into play wherever he went; here was somebody who had served his artistic apprenticeship in a caravan with Basil Blackshaw and had once looked at the vorld—as instructed by Cohn Middleton—upside down, backside in the air, head between the legs, on a cliff top in County Down. Somebody who was equally at home painting the erotics of a hawthorn hedge or the stand-off of an episcopal visage; somebody who had worked in the Lyric Theatre and had been a friend and a protégé of John Hewitt, before Hewitt had been sent to Coventry. Sheelagh too had been an actress with the Lyric, had played in those important early productions of Yeats and brought the glamour and gossip of theatre alive in a very vivid way. It was a blissful dawn to be alive in and I cannot help recalling it with pleasure and gratitude on the occasion of this retrospective exhibition, which salutes and celebrates the growth and consolidation of T.P. Flanagan's work as an integral and historical achievement in Irish art.

That growth has been subject both to the accidents of history and the inner laws of a temperament. On the whole, the Flanagan sensibility inclines to the lyric and the opulent; he is in tune with the notion of an earthly paradise and hence the radiance of the painting is entirely this—worldly. Romantic it may be, but what it calls to mind is more the fluvial intimacies of Corot than the sublimities of Caspar David Friedrich. The topographical element was there from the start, the early, amorous relationship with Sligo and Fermanagh presaged the mature, comprehensive treatment of ampler and more stately locales, and always there has been that necessary painterlv hedonism. The hedonism, of course, is in the doing of the picture itself. What is equally necessary for achievement is intelligent dedication between times, a critical balancing of self—knowledge and self-challenge, a long maturation of the sixth sense in the critical intelligence. At every stage of development, the artist's alter ego will cry out, like the ghost of Plato in Yeats's late poem, "What then? 'What then?' What this exhibition shows, however, is that T.P. Flanagan, like the master who speaks in that same poem, can boast that he too has 'something to perfection brought'.

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by S.B. Kennedy
taken from T.P. Flanagan book by S.B. Kennedy, Four Courts Press, Ulster Museum

In preparing this text I have received help from numerous people. In particular I must thank the artist and his wife, Sheelagh, for the considerable time and hospitality they afforded me and for answering, without reservation, my innumerable questions. I am also indebted to them for providing access to private papers; without their help my task would have been impossible. My thanks are also due to Dr Seamus Heaney for contributing the foreword to this hook, to the Earl of Belmore for allowing me to include his appreciation of the artist's work, and to the artist himself and Mr J.K. Jamison for providing notes on selected works of particular interest to them. My colleagues in the Ulster Museum have also rendered invaluable help, notably Martyn Anglesea who, with the assistance of Anne Stewart and Mary Dornan, prepared the catalogue section, and Bryan Rutledge and Michael McKeown who took virtually all the colour photographs which illustrate and enliven the text. Thanks are also due to all those, in both public and private capacities, who during the course of research gave access to their collections and, of course, to those who have lent pictures to the accompanying exhibition. The exhibition itself has been enthusiastically supported by Lynn Stinson in the Museum's Conservation department, by Roy Service and his colleagues in Design, Sandra Neill and her colleagues in Marketing, and by Sylvia Frawley and others in Registry. My thanks are due to them for their assistance. It is my privilege to welcome this, T.P. Flanagan's first retrospective exhibition, to the Ulster Museum. On a personal level I have long admired Flanagan's work; indeed, as a young curator he was one of the first painters I came into contact with. On an institutional level, it is our pleasure to host the exhibition and in so doing to honour one of our most talented painters. S.B. KENNEDY Head of Fine and Applied Art, Ulster Museum, August 1995.

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Five painters and a Sculptor'
Taken from 'Ireland Today, Messums of London publication 2000

T.P. Flanagan… He has always been known as 'Terry' Flanagan, was born in 1929 and brought up in Enniskillen. He began studying art under a local teacher, Kathleen Bridle (1897- 1989), before going to the Belfast College of Art. On leaving the College he embarked upon a teaching career and thereafter worked both as a teacher and a painter for many years, in turn influencing a generation of Ulster painters. His work has been exhibited widely in one-man and group exhibitions in Ireland and abroad and he is one of the most celebrated painters of his generation in Ireland, at his ease working in both watercolours — of which he is a master — and oils. An academician of the Royal Hibernian Academy and a Past President of the Royal Ulster Academy, he has received numerous commissions and other awards for his work.

Flanagan's subject-matter ranges over many genres, but he is happiest as a landscapist, particularly when painting his native County Fermanagh and the neighbouring County Sligo, where his technique and manner are perfectly fitted to capturing the soft atmospheric light of Ireland's western seaboard. Characteristically, even in oils, he retains the watercolourist's clear, luminous palette, the paint being briskly applied with little over-working. As a younger painter he concerned himself with the physical structure of the landscape, often examining small areas of the terrain — Boglands (for Seamus Heaney), 1967, and A Stream through Sand, 1969, exemplifying this period — but later, in composite, non-representational pictures — Gortahork 2, 1967 (Ulster Museum) — he explored our perception of the landscape and ideas of how 'place' becomes important to us. More latterly, however, the mood and atmosphere of the scene, rendered in representational terms, has come to hold his attention.

Flanagan is a compulsive painter, his sensibility, in the words of his friend Seamus Heaney, with whom he has at times worked closely, inclining 'to the lyric and the opulent'. He is in tune, says Heaney, 'with the notion of an earthly paradise and hence the radiance of the painting is entirely this-worldly ... and always there has been that necessary painterly hedonism'

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Aidan Dunne
published in The Irish Times 23/07/2003

T.P Flanagan's is a remarkably focused talent, and an exceptional one. He is a brilliant landscape water-colourist whose place in Irish art history is assured on the basis of the body of work he has made to date....

Born in Co Fermanagh, he also spent a great deal of time during his childhood in Co. Sligo in and around Lissadell, and these linked landscapes, together with the rather different physical environment of Co Donegal, form the core of his subject matter. His work has a very precise sense of place. He is thoroughly at home in low-lying, soft, watery Fermanagh, and in the dense romantic woods of Lissadell. His evocations of these close-up worlds of impossibly lush growth, tangled vegetation, glimpses of water and warm, moist air are atmospherically precise.

They are also amazingly understated. Flanagan builds up his pictures in subtle, tonal washes. Brian Kennedy, ( art historian ), comments on his calligraphic brushwork. It is calligraphic to the extent that he seems to busily write much of the substance of the images in fast, urgent thickets of brushstrokes. But the subtlety of tone, composition and colour mean that all of this activity amounts in the end to scenes of calm serenity.

We get a tremendous sense of the dappled light, the labyrinthine spaces and expanses of water. All the detail is there, but it never overwhelms the poise of the overall composition.... Flanagan tends to use oil paint in a highly personalised manner and very effectively.... Arrangements of abstract calligraphic marks are somehow transformed into highly structured accounts of landscape.


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(All images and website content © Flanagan Art, Estate of T.P. Flanagan 2013)