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Normality Explodes In New Dawn

by John Fitzgerald

A sample of Lorna Donlon’s award-winning work

Kilkenny edged a little closer to normality at the weekend, undaunted by the naysayers and a few billowing black clouds that tried to block out the sun.
After months of cruel lockdown, the city celebrated its world-renowned Arts Festival in style.
Restrictions hadn’t entirely gone away, with masks still in evidence, ‘sentries’ on duty at pub and café entrances, and the general wariness that has become part of our lives during the Pandemic.
But optimism was back, with musicians strumming, fluting, and singing in the streets and vibrant exhibitions mounted in buildings across the city.
Preparations were underway for a host of dramatic and literary events.
Outdoor dining blossomed, combined with an abundance of impromptu art appreciation as crowds converged to soak up the joyous and exuberant atmosphere.
Kilkenny Castle looked resplendent amid the revelry, its luxuriant lawns serving as a showcase for crafts people who have made their mark in recent decades.
Eye-catching panels revealed the depth and variegated range of their achievements.
Among those honoured was weaver/textile artist Lorna Donlon whose career abounds with Kilkenny connections.
She taught weaving for 10 years at Grennan Mill Craft School in Thomastown and worked as a tapestry weaver, textile artist and archivist in the prestigious Tony O’Malley Studio.

Apart from occasional flashes of inspiration, she derives her ideas from odds and ends she collects, including plant extracts, scraps of paper with poetry scribbled on it, abandoned tools, and fragments of laboratory equipment.
Anything can ignite the creative process, and the results have drawn plaudits worldwide.
Her work has been exhibited in Ireland and internationally for the past 30 years.
Though committed to her art, Lorna recently added another string to her bow when she graduated from UCD with a First Class degree in Cell and Molecular Biology.
Admirers of her work wonder how this new influence will show in her weaving and textile compositions.
At the castle’s Rose Garden Corridor I met Mary Hickey, a local artist whose work has won accolades from across the divide that supposedly separates patrons of traditional and abstract art.
She works with oil, acrylic, watercolour and photography.
Her paintings depict or conjure up a vast array of subjects and themes, ranging from water lilies and sunflowers to dream sequence impressions and the visual equivalent of music.
Her sumptuous paintings are always a feast for the eyes and I especially liked her Moonlight over KIlkenny Castle, which has the lunar orb shining like a celestial flash lamp over that jewel of the city’s heritage.
It has a wistful, otherworldly ambience to it, redolent perhaps of a toy castle in a fairytale.

Moonlight over Kilkenny Castle (Mary Hickey)

Mary has exhibited widely in Ireland and abroad and she’s delighted to be back in Kilkenny for the festive buzz.
The Butler Gallery has many delights, foremost among them a stunning collection of works by Tony and Jane O’Malley.
Deemed one of the all-time greatest artists of the 20th century, Callan-born Tony’s legacy is kept alive by his loving wife, a superb and critically acclaimed artist in her own right.
In addition to some of the better known abstract works by Tony, the gallery displays early drawings and paintings of his native town such as Saturday Evening, Bridge Street (1950) that have historical as well as aesthetic value.
The varied collection shows the key influences on Tony art, especially via the lush canvasses inspired by his stay in the Bahamas and the medieval stonework of Jerpoint and other ancient sites.
Canadian-born Jane has distinguished herself internationally as an artist, and her work touching on her relationship with Tony and their life at Physicianstown outside Callan holds a special place in the hearts of locals.
It was a big talking point on Friday among visitors when I called to have a look.

Christmas Day, Physicianstown, 1997. Oil on board. (Jane


Clodagh Holahan’s sculptures on steps of the Upper Paddock Garden, Thomastown.

Clodagh Holahan’s sculptures on steps of the Upper Paddock Garden, Thomastown.[/caption]Elsewhere in the county the arts were flourishing too. Thomastown has its own festival, and it’s great to find that Clodagh Holahan, who was an art teacher in Callan for decades, has two exhibitions.
Her must-see prized bronze sculptures will be on display at the Upper Paddock Biodiversity Garden, and a second display,
The Year That Was in It, can be seen at the Darwin Room at Thomastown Community Centre between 11am and 6pm each day up to August 15.
As the title suggests the exhibition will reflect her work in the course of one of the craziest, most challenging years in all of our lives.
But the Pandemic didn’t hold Clodagh back. Inspiration never deserts this prolific artist, who has co-authored books on art, craft and design that are used in secondary schools.
Clodagh avails of just about every medium: Pencil, pastel; crayon, inks, water colour; or combinations of these.
For the past four decades her compositions have been turning heads in galleries from Callan to Vladivostok.
Apart from the ones I’ve mentioned, there are many more cultural gems to savour over the coming days in the city and county.
Unofficial fringe activities and alternative festivals add to the fun and the sense that Kilkenny is emerging from a mini-dark age of Pandemic into a new dawn of celebration and achievement.

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