ON March 20, Newmarket-on-Fergus painter Philip Brennan will unveil his 20th solo show, Clarescapes, at the Temple Gate Hotel in Ennis.
The exhibition will be opened by writer and historian Seán Spellissy at 8pm in the Great Hall, where it will be on display until 8pm on Friday, March 22.
Featuring over 40 works, Clarescapes marries together Philip’s passion for nature, birds, landscape and his growing enthusiasm for song and music. Most of the paintings are in watercolour but inks and acrylic are also used.
In the last year and a half, Philip has taken part in several local group exhibitions, exhibiting at the Sweeney Gallery in Kilkee, the Courthouse Gallery, Ennistymon as well as participating in the 2011 Florence Biennale exhibition in Italy.
He started showing paintings in group exhibitions in the late 1970s and had his first solo show in Ennis in 1983. He felt it fitting to return to where it all started, to showcase his 20th solo exhibition.
“Nearly half of these solo exhibitions have been in my native Ennis where I have always got great support at showings of my work. I always find it’s nice to bring back exhibitions to Ennis because when I think back to my first one back in 1983 in Brogan’s, it was a brilliant start. The support has always been great in Ennis,” Philip said.
The current exhibition is called Clarescapes because nearly all of his work is rooted in the county.
“The previous Wanderings and Shorelines exhibitions were intended to give me more scope outside my native county but I found that most of my inspiration was still found in the Clare landscape, history and people,” he explained.
This show includes a wide variety of themes. There are rivers, the seasons, hidden places. Much of Philip’s earlier work was on wildlife themes and this exhibition reflects the continuation of his involvement in the natural world around him.
Speaking about how his paintings have evolved since his first solo exhibition, Philip said the subject matter often draws on familiar settings but he is diversifying his paintings to include other interests, such as singing.
“My early works were mainly based on my life, on the birds and at the time, I didn’t think people would buy those paintings but they did. I was heavily involved with Birdwatch Ireland and I did a lot of bird surveys, which got me around the county into places where suddenly I began to think ‘this would make a great painting’, so that’s why I started painting places like the Bridges of Ross, the Loop Head Peninsula, Kilkee coast, then the Burren naturally came along. I grew up alongside the Fergus and the Fergus keeps returning in different forms in my paintings,” he said.
This show is a mixture of all the landscape scenes he enjoys painting but also includes up to six paintings that feature musicians and singers in session, something Philip says he would like to develop on even more.
“Living in a county where music is so strong and because I do a lot of traditional singing, I couldn’t help but include some paintings of musicians and singers. This is a topic that I intend to develop over the coming years. I would certainly like to paint the ideas that have come up in some of the songs I have written like Tober Taoscán and Inch Bridge, which won silver at the Cavan All-Ireland Fleadh last year. The Burren has been a great focus of interest for me over the years and I love field sketching there. As a result of this, I brought an exhibition of Burren watercolours to the Milwauke Irishfest in Wisconsin in 2007 and have several Burren works in this collection,” Philip continued.
In 2009, Philip recorded a CD of some of his own songs alongside some folk and traditional songs that he enjoys singing. He said he is looking forward to doing a second album over the next year.
“It’s something that I don’t want to rush. I have some new songs written, again about Clare, musicians, rivers, gardens, love, the Irish language. In many ways, the songs and singing run parallel to what I want to paint,” he said.
Of the 45 paintings that will be on display in the Temple Gate Hotel, Philip says up to 43 of them were painted in the last three years, while three of them were featured as part of the Florence Biennale Festival.
Some of his favourites that will be on display include paintings done following two of our coldest winters. In particular, there are two where Philip says he was able to work with the snow. These featured some unusual avian visitors, including a black red start and white-tailed sea eagle, which Philip was able to showcase against the wintry backdrops.
He added that another of his favourites is a painting which was based on a scene in O’Loughlin’s Pub in Ballyvaughan during the Welsh weekend when singers and musicians come over in February.
“Last year, we were there and there was this fantastic light coming in the window and it catches the moment really well,” he said.
Philip admits his sketchpad is never far away and while exercising his vocal talents, he is often sneakily sketching during singing sessions and saving them for paintings.
The exhibition is open from Wednesday, March 20 to 22 and all are welcome.