On The Way Home
Oil on Board
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On The Way Home, exudes Markey's distinctive, naïve, expressionist, melancholic style. The composition includes many distinctive features of Markey's work, notably the white gable ends with no visible windows on the white cottages, the women with no visible facial features wearing dark shawls, and the sailing boats with dark brown sails. Typical of his Irish landscapes 'On The Way Home' is cold, damp and misty reflected by the flat, muted palette of grey, blue, green and white.
Markey painted with house paint and old brushes on board or card and this gives his work an honesty of who he really was and what Ireland was really like then. His pictures evoke a time of story telling, knitting and fishing. Markey painted from his mind, his imagination, he brought through the feeling of isolation and simple life within the homes of a bleak landscape. Hard times but simple times. Times we have forgotten or are too young to know.
Markey is regarded along with Jimmy Bingham and Dan O'Neill as one of the great Northern Master's of Irish Art.
Board length 89 cm., 35 in., Height 61 cm., 24 in.,
In a polished walnut, bevelled frame, Length 102.50 cm ., 40 in., Height 71.50 cm., 28 in.,
Markey Robinson was born in Belfast in 1918. He grew up in a society divided against itself in the post war period following World War One. By the time he was a teenager, the great depression had cast an economic pall across the face of America and Europe, and the rise of Fascism had imperiled the hopes and aspirations of a generation. The times were hungry, fragmented and uncertain, and it was against this backdrop that the young Markey attempted to assert his burgeoning, artistic sensibility.
With virtually no formal art training, save for some drawing lessons received at Perth Street School, the young Markey set his sights on becoming an artist. Along the way he would ply his trade as a welder, toy maker, decorative glass maker, in addition to trying his hand as an amateur boxer. He would also spend time at sea. One of his earliest successes came when a painting of his showing the affects of a German air raid on Belfast took the attention of Mr. P Brown, Chairman of the Civil Defense Authority. He acquired the picture entitled 'Bomb Crater in Eglinton Street' and would later present it to the Ulster Museum where it became part of their permanent collection. Other successes followed in the same year of 1943 when Markey showed his work in the seminal Exhibition of the Living Art in Dublin and at the British Civil Defense Art Exhibition in London. Doubtless Markey was encouraged by the attention his art was receiving at this time, and his work continued to develop in the post war era.
With the cessation of hostilities in Europe in 1945, Markey was free to travel abroad in pursuit of fresh inspiration. Paris so long the center of the art world held a special attraction for the artist. Though the city would eventually bow to New York as the acknowledged Mecca of artistic experimentation, Paris would forever hold its status as one of the great art capitals of the world, and Markey felt accepted there. However, he never strayed from his homeland for long, and throughout the coming decades he would exhibit at the Royal Ulster Academy and the Royal Hibernian Academy. In addition to the landscapes and seascapes of the Mourne Mountain region and the coasts of Galway and Donegal which formed the core of his artistic output, Markey began to paint sailors, ballerinas and clowns invoking a brighter palette to match the waywardness and theatricality of his subjects. Independent in mind and spirit, he was perceived by his contemporaries as being somewhat of a mystery man. Undoubtedly this same independence was one of the main reasons why his work did not come to the attention of an international audience sooner. Markey was not one to tout his own talent, nor did he fall in easily with another's plan for him. He was too independent a figure to chart a straight and narrow course, and any gallery's marketing plan which relied on his active support was doomed to failure. Nevertheless, despite many who dismissed him, Markey continued to mature as an artist even whilst being marginalized.
During the 1950's & 1960's, his work was primarily exhibited in Ireland and Britain with a small coterie of admirers taking note of him in Paris. Beginning in the late-1960's, the Oriel Gallery in Dublin began a concerted effort to promote his art both at home and abroad. From this period onwards his paintings began to find favor with collectors in the United States. Various international exhibitions of his paintings took place in Washington, Montreal, Tokyo, Geneva, Philadelphia and London. Like all brief accounts of the life of a painter, it is impossible to give credit to all the people who helped advance his reputation. Suffice it to say that valiant efforts were made by a number of art historians and gallery owners in Dublin and Belfast to bring his name to the attention of a wider audience.
Markey in later years often spoke with affection and longing for the Balearic Islands, and many of his landscapes are overlaid with the mantle of Spanish life. Hints of Aztec and Inca culture are similarly discernible in his work. Various subjects from Celtic, Arab and classical antiquity also people his pictures, as do depictions of religious iconography such as the Virgin Mary and Jesus. By the nineteen eighties Markey was reaching the apotheosis of his style, and in achieving at last a complete maturity, he repaid his debt to the artists from whom he had earlier borrowed. As he walked the streets of Dublin with a small, hand held trolley in tow, it seemed that only a few were aware that a great master moved among them.
Markey was an artist of the people, though he remained largely anonymous amongst them. He sold every picture he painted, yet lived in humble circumstances. His view of the world was by twists and turns both apocalyptic and childlike. He was on friendly speaking terms with the flower ladies on Grafton Street, the art dealers on Main Street and the dispossessed poets on any street. By the end of the 1990's he had returned to the city of his birth. He continued to paint, but as the decade neared its end, his strength was failing him. In 1999, he was found dead in the hallway of the house where he had gone to spend his last days.
If style is the signature of an artist, then the name of Markey will be significant in the history of twentieth century art. Few artists are as instantly recognizable or as completely memorable as he. Whether the painting is a still life, a landscape or a figurative study, the mark of the artist is indelible. Indelible too is the impression that lingers long after we have turned our attention away.
oil on canvas
The Solomon Gallery
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