By the same sea
By the same sea homes of the Irish Diaspora
An exhibition of paintings by
Custom House Studios + Gallery The Quay Westport County Mayo Ireland 28 September - 22 October, 2023
Orange Roof, 2018. Oil on linen, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 x 30.5 cm).
Custom House Studios + Gallery is pleased to present By the same sea, homes of the Irish diaspora an exhibition of small paintings by New York-based artist Maureen O’Leary. In By the same sea O’Leary takes a single theme—light and shadow on the small homes of suburban Long Island, New York where she lives and works—as the basis for formal experimentation with paint. With an eye towards fauvism, O’Leary’s paintings retain the spatial organization provided by light while introducing experiments with garish color and loose brushstrokes that depart from naturalism. Her use of vibrant colors to show houses in sunlight allow the paintings to hover between abstraction and figuration, as if the artist asks us to consider the very definition of a shadow as darkness. In her paintings of dusk, sky and homes are united in deep blues, a graphic link between buildings and the environment unifying object and place. O’Leary remarks that that she has come to reflect on this body of work as related to her own Irish American ethnicity. “These houses of Long Island are those of the Irish diaspora. All through my neighborhood are Americans with names revealing Irish ancestry. I think often of the metaphor embodied in New York City’s Irish Hunger Memorial: it upholds the symbol of a house, transported stone by stone from Mayo, as the icon of the most tragic period of Irish emigration.” Observing O’Leary’s paintings through this lens of history invites more deeply layered interpretations of escape and rebirth. Long Island homes and western Ireland homes remain, geographically, each other’s first and last points of contact, separated only the by the Atlantic Ocean. These homes form an Irish-American continuum and metaphorical neighborhood. Rambling over hills in neighborhoods for a hundred miles outside of New York City, these modest homes are the effigies of new lives. The small scale of O’Leary’s paintings references the windows of common commuter trains and the contemplation such windows afford people leaving New York City, departing the place where immigration begins and venturing to places of aspiration.
The Basement Window, 2016. Oil on linen, 12 x 14 inches (30.5 x 35.6 cm).
Yellow Shadows, 2018. 14 x 11 inches (35.6 cm x 27.9 cm).
I am the garage door that leaps sea blue white alive with a spirit zest of its own out of my deep shadowed dwelling I am the three windows of the ghosted walls of my house immersed in twilight, whispering of a home within through my mellow orange glows I am a small long alone retreat tilted on a hill nestled below the shaded waves of trees under counter giant waves of sea blue sky I am pure delight in the day vaulting out of my white on white walls surrounded by acolytes of pines and joyous leaf-free branches stretching to the sky
It is as if these houses, captured in these paintings, are alive. Private with secrets. At complex visual play in light with earth, trees, sky. Steeped in sea air. And for some who observe them, subtle resonances may arise of similar sea-near houses of a past on the distant side of the same Atlantic waters that border these houses along north shore of Long Island. These houses—rambling over hills visible from commuter trains—reveal not by design but by surprise coincidence a metaphoric neighborhood emerging in an intangible string of stand-alone suburban houses. Among the diversity of their owners dwell a goodly number of second and third generations of New York Irish Americans whose ancestral roots go back to the peasant cottages of the enchanted, spirit-runaways of the West of Ireland. The owners are professionals who emerged over the decades of the last century from the blue collar Irish-immigrant parishes in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. As they rose professionally, some descendants with these roots became part of a new migration of assimilating Irish Americans, reverse mimicking their migrant ancestors, escaping their inherited confines and the chaos of New York City for northern Long Island. They may well have been drawn unconsciously by the otherworld quality in the aura of the Hamptons. National Book Award winner Alice McDermott, herself part of a family that made this move, weaved precisely such a Long Island house as pivotal in her novel Charming Billy1 — her tale of second generation New York Irish American professionals.
McDermott, Alice. Charming Billy. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.
Those who know the West of Ireland have been struck with a sense that they have seen in these paintings a lost before, in the solitary way light plays upon the homes that stand alone along the coast of the West of Ireland — in a landscape of myths and mysteries and spirits. Those who know that Irish landscape can sense in these paintings a presence of spirits of light at play like the creative mischief from eons long ago in that enchanted land. I too have in the West of Ireland experienced such a world. I knew it in particular as a “door-is-always-open” guest in the home of the late Dermot Healy, one of Ireland’s finest and most surreal writers. His ancient cottage, which he restored on his own, stood bold atop a cliff over the sea in remote wind wild Ballyconnel, Sligo. The stone and sand beaches below the Healy house were constantly attacked by seas in storms. Like a Sisyphus after each storm, Healy fought relentlessly the fists of the sea by hammering the stones into steel ring nets designed to lock them tight against storm mad waves on his beach shoreline. At the same time Healy would look up to wonder relentlessly in the sky of the West where he tracked in complex poetry the movements of migrant geese flying from Greenland, who yearly landed on the field beside the stone fenced plot where he housed his two donkeys. Only a few miles away from the Healy house at the sea lay the grave of William Butler Yeats, and a few miles farther the wild waterfall that Yeats immortalized in his poem The Stolen Child2. Farther south in the West stands the damp dark Galway Norman tower that enchanted Yeats as his chosen summer writing retreat. In Yeats’s Celtic Twilight3 he was taken markedly with the folklore of the West of Ireland. Tales of fairies and banshees were common in that Celtic world and widely believed by the country people. The banshees—unseeable spirits who moaned in the dark outside the window of a country house—were particularly feared as portents of an impending death in that house. One such implicit banshee was dramatized recently in the boney sinister old lady who walked the bleak roads at twilight in the film The Banshees of Inisherin4. Little wonder that twilight along the sea of the north shore of Long Island may waken in resonance a sense of spirit worlds intuitive in these paintings and their metaphorical private world of perceptions—their sense of same sea shared far away with the West of Ireland. It is as if those second and third generations of Irish immigrants who have moved into these houses have moved by intuition toward their roots. And an apt medium for their mind voyage may be in the art within these paintings, or as Alice McDermott stated in an interview: “You don’t look at the past just once, and you look at it with the knowledge of the present, which was the future.”5 In the frame of these paintings of houses, past becomes present becomes past.
2 Yeats, W. B. Early Poems. Courier Corporation, 2013. 3 Yeats, W. B. 1893. The Celtic Twilight Faerie and Folklore. (2011 edition, Dover). 4 The Banshees of Inisherin. Directed by Martin McDonagh. Blueprint Pictures, Film4 Productions, and TSG Entertainment. 2022. 5 Smith, W. 1992. Alice McDermott, Publishers Weekly, March 30. 239 (16): 85.
Storm, 2017. Oil on canvas, 20 x 20 inches (50.8 cm x 50.8 cm).
Small Porch, 2015. Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 cm x 30.5 cm).
Pink House, 2020. Oil on linen, 14 x 14 inches (35.6 cm x 35.6 cm).
Blue Wall, 2022. Oil on linen, 16 x 12 inches (40.6 cm x 30.5 cm).
Dead Tree, 2022. Oil on linen, 14 x 20 inches (35.6 cm x 50.8 cm).
Two Pines, 2018. Oil on canvas, 12 x 24 inches (30.5 cm x 70.0 cm).
Shadow with House, 2022. Oil on linen, 14 x 16 inches (35.6 cm x 40.6 cm).
John’s House, Long Island, 2020. Oil on linen, 14 x 14 inches (35.6 cm x 35.6 cm).
Driveway, 2022. Oil on linen, 24 x 24 inches (70.0 cm x 70.0 cm).
House with Two Pinks, 2021. Oil on linen, 14 x 14 inches (35.6 cm x 35.6 cm).
Two Neighbors Awake, 2020. Oil on linen, 24 x 18 inches (70.0 cm x 45.7 cm).
Neighbor’s Wall, 2018. Oil on linen, 10 x 20 inches (25.4 cm x 50.8 cm).
The Orange Shadow, 2020. Oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches (70.0 cm x 45.7 cm).
From the Kitchen Window, 2019. Oil on linen, 30 x 30 inches (76.2 cm x 76.2 cm).
The Pine Border, 2019. Oil on linen, 20 x 20 inches (50.8 cm x 50.8 cm).
Long Island Street View, 2014. Oil on linen, 12 x 16 inches (30.5 cm x 40.6 cm).
John’s House, dusk, 2022. Oil on linen, 14 x 14 inches (35.6 cm x 35.6 cm).
Yellow Shadows and Red Tree, 2019. Oil on canvas, 18 x 14 inches (45.7 cm x 35.6 cm).
Hedges and Garden, 2009. Oil on wood, 11.3 x 12 inches (28.7 cm x 30.5 cm).
The Yellow Branch, 2015. Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 cm x 30.5 cm).
Night Door, 2015. Oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches (27.9 cm x 35.6 cm).
House and Trees, 2018. Oil on linen, 10 x 8 inches (25.4 cm x 20.3 cm).
Orange Windows, 2012. Oil on canvas, 10 x 20 inches (25.4 cm x 50.8 cm).
The Dutch Colonial, 2017. Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches (30.5 cm x 40.6 cm).
Ranch House, 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 16 inches (30.5 cm x 40.6 cm).
Shadowed Tree, 2019. Oil on linen, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 cm x 30.5 cm).
Trees and a Gray House, 2014. Oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches (27.9 cm x 35.6 cm).
House on a Hill, 2019. Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 cm x 30.5 cm).
Pink Roof, 2016. Oil on linen, 12 x 14 inches (30.5 cm x 35.6 cm).
New House, 2019. Oil on linen, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 cm x 30.5 cm).
Blue Tree by the Wide Roof, 2016. Oil on linen, 12 x 14 inches (30.5 cm x 35.6 cm).
Azalea, 2019. Oil on linen, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 cm x 30.5 cm).
Ranch and Pine, 2015. Oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches (30.5 cm x 35.6 cm).
Big Field, 2016. Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches (30.5 cm x 30.5 cm).
The Shadow, 2019. Oil on linen, 30 x 30 inches (76.2 cm x 76.2 cm).
Maureen O’Leary makes paintings that hover between figuration and abstraction. Her mundane scenes become substrates for experimentation with the application of paint and the evolving notion of what is real. Her work has been exhibited at the Fondation des États-Unis, Ely Center of Contemporary Art, Art Lab Tokyo, Midwest Center for Photography, Artspace, Power Plant Gallery at Duke University, Staten Island Museum, Meadows Gallery - University of Texas at Tyler, and more. She is the recipient of the Harriet Hale Woolley Fellowship from the Fondation des ÉtatsUnis, Paris. O’Leary has published two artist books: Record (2021, Midwest Center for Photography) and Belle Mort (2013, Paper Chase Press) and her work has been reviewed in The Brooklyn Rail, The Washington Post, and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art among other publications. Her paintings are held by the JPMorgan Chase Art Collection, Fidelity Investments Corporate Art Collection, and her books by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. She is a dual citizen of the United States and Ireland and is represented by the gallery Cristin Tierney, New York, New York. Michael Whelan is a poet whose work incorporates themes of spirituality, intimacy and the quest for self-awareness. His book of poems and memoir, After God (2014, Tintean Fein Press), is a poetic story of a lifelong lovers’ quarrel with God. Whelan won first prize in the Leitrim Guardian 2012 Literary Awards and his poetry has been featured as a Pick of the Week by the The Best American Poetry. His poems have appeared in The Wallace Stevens Journal, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, The Coachella Review, The Healing Muse, and The Little Patuxent Review. His prose work has been published in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and online on the Irish Central site. He is a first generation Irish American based in Washington, D.C.
Copyright ©2023 Maureen O’Leary, all rights reserved. ISBN: 979-8-218-20397-9 Design: Cynthia Mason Photography: Michael McLaughlin, pages 6-8, 16, 18, 19; Maureen O’Leary, page 97; and Michael Novacek, page 99 By the same sea is set in Tenon, a sans-serif typeface designed by Signal Type Foundry, Dublin, Ireland. The title is set in Romie, a calligraphy-inspired display font designed by Margot Lévêque Studio, New York, New York, USA. With special thanks to the supporters of Custom House Studios + Gallery Arts Council of Ireland Comhairle Contae Mhaigh Eo (Mayo County Council) An Roinn Turasóireachta, Cultúir, Ealaíon, Gaeltachta, Spóirt agus Meán (Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media), Pobal, Westport Town Council, The Artists Group in Westport