FEAR NOT gentle reader! We have not taken leave of their senses. Nor have we been passing round the mescaline.
The above torrent of vowels and consonants is one of the 100 letter ‘thunderclap’ from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. It also happens to be the title of a new exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Miceál Noone at the Norman Villa Gallery in Salthill.
The exhibition spans all of Noone’s artistic career, with sculptural works dating from his earliest endeavours to works on paper completed only recently. Many of the works on paper are his personal response to Finnegans Wake, thus the title of the show.
Miceál Noone was born in Ballaghaderreen, Roscommon. He trained as a priest and worked as a missionary in Kenya during the 1970s. He now lives in Salthill with his wife Kathryn and sons David and Anthony.
He dates his artistic awakening to his study of music with Frau Tilly Fleishman in Cork – she was a pupil of Stavenhagen, Frans Liszt’s last pupil. “‘This connection with those of the past is important’,” Noone recalls her saying; “Liszt was a pupil of Czerny, a pupil of Beethoven.”
Miceál later became interested in sculpture “while drawing the Cycladic sculptures in the British Museum.” Later again he studied with Martina Thomson, a potter in Camden Town and the wife of Woodbrook author David Thomson.
Of his recent work he says: “I have gone back to drawing, with wax encaustic - that was the medium of the first icons - and latterly with black india ink on paper. I don’t know where that stuff came from. My sons call it, ‘Dad’s crazy drawings’. But the French artist Dubuffet, I was pleased to discover once in the London Tate, had done something similar. He called it Texturology. A confirmation for me.”
Noone’s sculptures are semi-abstract heads while his recent works on paper typically comprise irregular blocks of waxed red and blue around which he may have inked a line or two from Finnegans Wake – occasionally set to scored music which he has composed himself.
I ask what drew him to Joyce’s daunting masterpiece?
“I think Finnegans Wake is like an alternative bible” he replies. “In the book Joyce deals with the great themes; What’s it all about? Who are we? Where are we? Why are we here? Where did we come from? Where are we going? How did it all go wrong and how can it all be put right? How can the human race be rescued? Then he has these hundred-letter thunderclap words, there are 10 of them through the book, except one of them has 101 letters so if you add them all up you get 1001, like The 1001 Nights, the eternal story.”
Noone outlines how he managed to ‘get a handle’ on the book.
“I began reading Finnegan’s Wake about 10 years ago and initially I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. Then, I recorded myself reading it about two years ago and seriously got into trying to work through it. After a year I recorded it a second time and at that point I began to feel ‘Ah yes, I’ve found my way into it now.’ It was the recording that helped me find that pathway, even still I like to record it, it’s a way of reading it. I know bits of it off by heart now, I say them to myself, like a mantra!”
Noone admits at first he was uncertain about the book’s merits.
“I wondered for a long time was it any good,” he tells me. “Even Joyce’s most ardent admirers at the time were divided about it. His brother Stanislaus thought he had gone wrong with it as did Harriet Weaver, but TS Eliot saw something in it. Now I have no doubt that it is OK, it’s good, it’s true.”
Noting the snatches of musical scores in his artworks, I ask Noone how much music has influenced his visual art.
“It’s had a fair bit of influence,” he replies. “I’m a traditional musician first and foremost, I play the flute. I think some of the most magical music on earth is down in The Crane with the likes of Johnny O’Halloran. I find it amazing the way in a session that they will be there having a bit of a chat then he’ll play a couple of notes and there’ll be no discussion about the what next tune is going to be, it just emerges from himself and the people he is chatting with.
“It’s like the tunes come out of the air, there is this participation mystique and the musicians join in, it’s truly wonderful. I studied with Sean Ó Riada and he was very insistent that Irish traditional music was an artform, not a western artform, but an artform nevertheless.”
Miceál Noone’s exhibition continues at the Norman Villa until Saturday June 15. The gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday 12 to 6pm during exhibitions and by appointment.