Sunday, 15 May 2016

Jess Gillam, Rhapsode?

Jess Gillam, Rhapsode?

Jess Gillam and her performance tonight in the final of the BBC Young Musician 2016 has inspired me to Blog again. She has introduced to me, a new dimension in my thinking about art and the role of the Rhapsode. And just what is genius.

Jess, kept looking round and engaging personally with the people of the BBC Symphony Orchestra as though she was bringing them and its Conductor and the Composer along with her. Seventeen year old Jess.

To me, a musically uneducated being, Jess is contributing to destroying the barriers of class in art, be it music, visual or otherwise. She is building bridges.

All of the young musicians in the final are superb and deserve to win. But Jess, I suspect, will never succumb even if she does win. An artist.

An image with this blog? No, no image of mine could add to Jess’s art or reflect the tears of hope she brought to my eyes this evening.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Des Kilfeather -Introibo ad altare Dei; Rationale

During August it was a privilege to exhibit for ten days at the Victoria Institute as a guest of Littlehampton Organisation of Contemporary Arts, (LOCA) and the Arundel Gallery Trail. Both organisations exist to help make art more accessible to a wider public audience and provide opportunities for artists, from beginner to established, to show their work and potentially make sales. Large numbers of visitors with varying degrees of artistic appreciation walk the trail viewing art and craft in galleries and people’s homes. The Arundel Gallery Trail is one of the most important events of its type in the UK.

Interestingly it was also my first opportunity to personally discuss the aesthetic behind my body of work –Introibo ad altare Dei with a wide range of people, young, old, never previously thought about art through to artists, art teachers, higher education art mentors and lecturers. For me a fascinating and revealing experience.

The most common question, occasionally challenging being, what on earth is this body of work all about? And can you please point to the metaphorical context so it can be understood? It was also strongly apparent that the demands for explanation appeared directly relevant to the artistic experience of the individual audience member with higher education professionals in particular usually enquiring from a position of conceptual empathy.  But this experience did encourage me to think hard, again, about whether or not the artist should explain or document aesthetic motivation. Some of my most important mentors have given totally opposing views, at one extreme it is wrong to explain and the other no artist can be valid if their art is not fully documented.

So here is my proposed compromise solution. The key to audience interpretation lies in my Amazon eBook paper (–Introibo ad altare Dei; Is artist intention over-ruled by the unconscious self?) statement, “The concept remains in place that audience members will draw different conclusions based on their cultural perspective”. The main influencer for this is Umberto Eco , The Poetics of the Open Work//1962 and his sentence, “Hence, every reception of a work of art is both an interpretation and a performance of it, because in every reception the work takes on a fresh perspective for itself". Controversially some view this as meaning the work of art actually changes as each audience member engages with it.

However, responding to audience enquiries, it seems appropriate to provide some rationale to my thinking and a selection of clues to the multiple metaphors which have a role to play in the work and its interpretation. The figures are two dimensional drawings therefore they do not and can never exist in reality, referring to René Magritte. They are drawn from the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK and Queen Elizabeth II. Considerations are my own Belfast Catholic cultural indoctrination, Hanoverian historical context, Church of England, London, Rome, Florence, sexual identity, marriage, Personal Ordinariates, male domination of religion, religious domination and abuse of our world, Carl Jung, the collective unconscious, quantum physics, time, dimensions and art. All underpinned with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and the title of the work appropriated from the first page of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

World Cup: Brazil, Chile, Italy and Philosophy

What a disaster! Brazil and Chile head to head on penalties. I have “never” followed soccer, but Dr. Ed Winters convinced me there is a philosophy of football and it is of major importance in our world. When Ireland and Britain were finally out I got behind Brazil and Chile, (both lovely deserving cultures), and Italy, the remote heritage of my lovely late Mother Pauline Gotto. Brazil and Chile should have fought it out in the final; the commitment of both of them tonight captivated even me, a sceptic who usually avoids football at any cost. Brazil as world cup host deserves a break and it would be great to see them take the cup, in my humble uneducated opinion.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Artist Intention: Plato's Ion and the Unconscious Self?

-Introibo ad altare Dei.
An extract from my Artist's eBook The Ethic Aesthetic perhaps illustrates where my thinking is coming from?
If you can decipher my handwriting that is?

The eBook is available from Amazon.
Reviews on Amazon are most helpful and appreciated, positive or negative!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

James Joyce's Dubliners, a Visual Response & Contemporary Contextualisation. The Artist's Intention.

James Joyce's Dubliners
A Visual Response
Contemporary Contextualisation

The Artist’s Intention


These are abstracts from my research notes in support of the Dubliners traveling exhibition and are intended to provide an insight into my thinking. It is anticipated that there will be strong disagreement with many of my conclusions.

This body of work comprises hung prints from scanned watercolour paintings, montage, collage, a video sequence and the artist’s book James Joyce Dubliners – A Visual Response, in an Edition of 15. The body of work continues to be Work in Progress.

An overview of the work can be found via this link: under the Events area on that page.

It is not my intention to go into detail on the “aboutness” of each of these works. My intention as an artist is to provide some information, a series of clues perhaps, that will assist the audience to address the work and use the clues to refer to their own individual reality.

For information on my most recent Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man work, please refer to my website.


Father Flynn died July 1st 1895. The day of the 1690 Battle of the Boyne and William Prince of Orange’s victory over Catholicism.  This fact indicates the complexity of Dubliners, sometimes referred to as Joyce’s Ulysses apprentice piece.

Paralysis and epiphany are probably the most important features of Dubliners. The word paralysis was actually used only once in the book in the first story The Sisters, but Joyce himself stated that Dublin “the city seemed to me the centre of paralysis”. The Gnomonic Clue to James Joyce’s Dubliners. Gerhard Friedrich. The John Hopkins University Press. (

But Joyce is about complexity and metaphor, the word paralysis would also almost certainly be used as a metaphor,  perhaps this can also be illustrated by Father Flynn’s symptoms of mental illness, most recently attributed by some to be symptomatic of syphilis and that “paralysis was often used synonymously, at that time, with paresis (general paralysis of the insane)”.  Paresis and the Priest. James Joyce's Symbolic Use of Syphilis in "The Sisters" BURTON A. WAISBREN, M.D., F.A.C.P.; and FLORENCE L. WALZL, Ph.D. (


Another introduction to the darkness of Joyce’s thinking and the use of Gnomon. The boy (narrator) and friend Mahony encounter a “queer old tosser” on the banks of the river Liffey.

Of course in my opinion the word “queer” is unlikely to have been a reference to homosexuality from these boys, even in my childhood in Ireland we had no perception of the existence of homosexuals. However the same could not be a said for Joyce himself and he was fully aware of all human traits, far beyond his age.

This story has gnomic references to child abuse and masturbation, never stated but clearly implied, as well as references to Catholicism and the religious undercurrents that contributed, and still contribute to the paralysis of Ireland.

Throughout my paintings in the Dubliners body of work, the use of red pigment indicates some darkness or sinful thought or action.

Story 3 – ARABY

The boy (narrator) and his coming to terms with the mysteries of Mangan’s sister, the object of his fantasy and sexual awakening. As so often with Joyce and in life the fantasy proves to be just a fantasy and life grinds back to reality and normality.

Disillusionment, religion and political idealisation. Araby is the name of the market, suggesting Middle Eastern glamour and wonder, but which in “reality” turns out to be seedy and not so attractive.

Story 4 – EVELINE

The young woman trapped in a life of drudgery and possible abuse is seduced (not physically sexual) by Frank the sailor to run away with him to Buenos Aires.

Similar to Araby, this is about fantasy, breaking away from a life that is unbearably dull, but concluding that it is only a fantasy with the young woman deciding not to board the ship at the last moment as Frank sails away from her. Leaving her condemned by Joyce to possibly lead the life of a virgin Nun.


Jimmy Doyle gets out of his depth with the Englishman Routh and European friends. He fails to hold his own during a heavy drinking session and looses all his money playing cards.

Allusions to the futility of the cause of Irish Nationalism and the general paralysis of the Irish and the backward state of their country.


Corley shows Lenehan the gold coin that he has probably encouraged the maid to steal from her employers.

Implies the poor state of Ireland and the Irish people. The two gallants are obviously educated middle class men, but they are weak and caddish.


Polly the boarding house daughter’s candle has blown out and she seeks out Mr Doran to see if she can light her candle from his.

Dublin society and Ireland trapped by it’s own duplicitous standards of morality. As Mrs Mooney seeks to entrap Mr Doran into marrying Polly.


Little Chandler, following a drinking session with London based friend Ignatius Gallagher has an epiphany, the realisation that his life is worthless. Consumed with frustration, anger and jealously Chandler broods on his failure to capitalise on his superior intellect and rage is triggered by the bawling baby son in his arms.


Farrington, the man, with an “Ulster” accent once again experiences an epiphany about his inadequacy. A heavy drinking session leads to him viciously beat his son despite his son pleading with promises to say a Hail Mary for him.

Story 10 – CLAY

Maria, spinster and catholic laundress in a charitable protestant laundry business is everybody’s perfect woman. She used to nurse Joe when he was a child and visits his family regularly.

The Dublin by Lamplight laundry is thought to have been a home for reforming prostitutes but there appears to be no suggestion that Maria was anything other than a deserving good catholic girl in need of a position and somewhere to live.

Maria reflects on the marriage and men that never were, apparently in the most innocent way.


James Duffy conducts an lengthy affair of the heart with Mrs Sinico, a married woman, but breaks it off after Mrs Sinico attempts to move towards a more physical relationship.

Some years later James reads that Mrs Sinico has turned to drink and died, killed by a train. He is disgusted that she committed suicide and questioned why he had ever had a relationship with a person of such weak character. Soon after however, the epiphany was his realisation that he was the reason for Mrs Sinico’s death. He is haunted by her image.


Betrayal, and Charles Stewart Parnell. Pok, is considered to be Joyce reflecting on the sound of gunshots saluting Parnell during his burial.

Story 13 - A MOTHER

Mrs Kearney, (nee Miss Devlin), is portrayed as an interfering obstructive mother that is over ambitious for her musician daughter Kathleen. She makes enemies at every turn and is seen to be doing more damage than good in defence of her daughters pecuniary rights.

But many have failed to note that Miss Devlin possibly refers to to Anne Devlin “the hero of Robert Emmet’s failed 1803 Dublin uprising”. “In Ulysses, Joyce mentions Emmet’s uprising, subsequent trial, and execution”.  Robert Emmet’s 1803 Rising and Bold Mrs Kearney: James Jouce’s “A mother” as Historical Analogue”. MARTIN F. KEARNEY.

This would put Mrs Keaney in the position of hero, fighting for what is right against all adversity.

Story 14 - GRACE

Tom Kernan, a catholic converted protestant through marriage, is epitomised as a hopeless case. This possibly reflects the hopeless paralysis of Dublin society and Ireland particularly under the leadership of the Vatican and it’s infallible Pope.

Coerced into a retreat. the confession box and mass, Kernan goes half heartedly through the motions of mending his ways.

Story 15 - THE DEAD

The final and perhaps most complex story.

Contrary perhaps to most views, yes I see Gabriel’s epiphanic revelation, but not of his lack of understanding of Gretta or the shallowness of his love, but the realisation of his own “self pitying egocentric self”.

Gabriel was attempting to understand Gretta’s rejection of him, wondering what he had done wrong, whereas her distress was nothing to do with him whatsoever. The tears are, yes, tears for Gretta but perhaps more; tears of regret at his own selfish egocentric persona.

My painting showing Gabriel with moonlight streaming across his tears cannot even begin to convey the depths of despair of this story. This the final story presents the greatest epiphany in Dubliners, Gabriel’s spiritual awakening and Joyce’s expression that there was snow falling all over Ireland and the Universe.


Paralysis is made over a recent photograph of the Apprentice Boys headquarters in Derry. Splattered with paint the façade is cold and uninviting, however the door is open. On the day I shot the photograph Sinn Fein representatives had reportedly been visiting the hall for the first time ever. Paralysis is a core theme throughout Dubliners, paralysis of Dublin and Irish society. My painting is intended to bring this paralysis into sharp contemporary relief.

It is tempting for the reader to take the broken chalice in Sisters at face value in that this could be considered a great sacrilege. However, I feel that the alter boy referred to, along with the chalice could be a metaphor for child abuse. This would be more in keeping with Joyce’s great intellect. But of course this interpretation has no foundation on my part and would probably be vehemently resisted. Even if it were the case, this would have been too sensitive a topic to be aired by literary critics at least right up to the recent past; as evidenced by Vatican cover ups of that nature.

Refer to Paralysis, paresis and syphilis in the notes on Story 1, The Sisters.


New media and technology processes here provide a metaphor or an intellectual connection between early twentieth century and modern twenty first century philosophies our current reality.

The scanned painting Ivy Days with intaglio overprint refers to Charles Stewart Parnell. Whilst the news cuttings refer to Mrs Robinson and her sexual affair that almost derailed the current Northern Irish peace process. The common denominators being sex, politics and paralysis inflicted by morality. This montage/collage includes a photograph of an important Street Art painting by The Bogside Artists:


Refer to YouTube via this link for notes on Grace, The Trinity and Stanislaus Joyce.

In Conclusion

As in any work of art, particularly where metaphor provides the basic construct, there is a risk that more can be read into the work than actually exists. The “artists intention” can become irrelevant. Why for example should we allow the truth to get in the way of a good fantasy.

Richard Wolheim’s  “Seeing In” provides in my mind a perfect analogy between literary art and fine art. Wollheim in his, Art and Its Objects (1968), proposes that “we see an object in the paint with which a surface is marked rather than simply seeing the marks. This he regarded as a primitive human ability;  it is exercised when we see faces in clouds for example, or as Leonardo noticed, landscapes in the stains on a wall”. Obituary Richard Wollheim, Brilliant philosopher engaged with the interaction of art and psychoanalysis. ARTHUR DANTO, THE GUARDIAN 5/11/2003.

With Joyce there has been and will continue to be endless “Seeing In”, the invention of new, previously undiscovered metaphorical references. No doubt this includes me.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Art Internship or Slave Labour?

As an artist whose aesthetic is driven by ethics, politics and social comment what really maddens me is the number of art Institutions that have money but nevertheless depend on slave labour from Interns. It is important to differentiate between volunteers and Interns even though there can be fogginess in this.

Recently a key Southern art Institution ran a competition for artists to work for a period of several months producing a response to an important artist’s Retrospective. The (Intern) work was to form a new exhibition. It is not appropriate to point fingers as this one Institution does not carry the guilt alone but is symptomatic of systematic abuse in art. Anyway, being the rebel that I am and at the risk of alienating my work and myself I challenged said Institution as respectfully as possible as follows. “What payments will the artists receive and how will expenses be reimbursed particularly as the Institution will be benefiting from the work”. As anticipated the answer came back “no payment, no expenses”. My objections were just ignored and subsequent requests for answers also were just sucked into a black hole.

I am sure plenty of artists on this group will know “who” I am talking about and the Institution itself will know. That organisation has tons of money, their problem is working out how not to waste it, understandably. Getting slave labour from artists is not valid and is abusive. It also reinforces the position of art as a middle class activity of the privileged few who can afford it; another despicable aspect of art in this world.

This blog first published by Des Kilfeather on UK Fine Art Network Group

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Should the UK's rich foreigners give more to arts?

Philanthropic Atheist Part iii
Oil, water colour, indian ink on gesso prepared board
DP Kilfeather 2010

Dame Vivien makes a particularly pertinent point at this time of vicious government cuts. There are rumours circulating about smaller UK public art galleries that are seriously concerned they may not have the financial resources to continue operating into 2012 and may have to close down. Traditional sources of funding are drying up and a vacuum is being created. Dame Vivien is drawing attention to seriously wealthy foreign residents and the UK Nouveau Riche who have disposable assets but perhaps culturally are not well disposed to philanthropy for whatever reason. The reasons may include an unwillingness to take time out from making money to spend money, or cultural barrenness almost certainly through no fault of their own. I believe the reasons apply equally to UK nouveau riche citizens as well as wealthy foreign residents in the UK. 

Part of the solution are the existing and new tax break initiatives, but these have to be marketed to and managed for the prospective donor. But generous tax breaks should not be the main reason for philanthropy in the arts. Call me a Red if you like, but philanthropy should be motivated by a need to put something back into society in return for the wealth provided by that society. My work in progress art project "The Philanthropic Atheist" refers to this and the personal psychological conflicts that the powerful and wealthy may experience.

The government cuts in process are proving to be more divisive than I originally anticipated. This government's policy is going to put access to art even more out of reach to the majority of people in the UK. It is with some trepidation therefore that I am commenting on the need for greater philanthropic contribution; this is, "definitely not me supporting David Cameron's so called big society", but nevertheless adding my voice to the call for those that have taken most from our society to put something back.