The long avenue stretching away to the Richmond Tower is one reason. The formal gardens, another. A balmy walk across the courtyard, in the presence of that thing in stone that softens when it’s warmed. The light that floods the annexe and touches the paintings and lovely floors, the green, leafy views from its windows. And Patrick Scott: Image Space Light (part I) the exhibition we’d come to see (Part II is at the VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art, Carlow until 11th May; Part I is at IMMA until 22nd June)
Patrick Scott, who died shortly before this retrospective opened, was an architect and designer as well as an artist. I’d somehow missed the extent of his influence on our visual environment. In the first gallery, we immediately recognized a framed teatowel one of us had in her family’s kitchen, growing up – it was the CRC map designed by Scott, featuring Celtic sites. We went on through the room exclaiming at half-remembered patterns, images and colour-schemes (remember CIE trains?)
The next surprise were the early White Stag group paintings. Someone recognised one from having seen it in a house he used to visit as a kid. He remembered a (deserved, he said) beating administered under it, but bore the painting itself no grudge.
The house I grew up in had no art, only religious stuff and those placemats with hunting scenes and Georgian buildings on them, but I was the one who recognised the train window in “Killiney” for what it was – I was on those trains often enough, looking out across the Bay through their racketing frames.
One of the many joys of IMMA is that even when there are a lot of people there, it’s not crowded. It’s easy to be alone with the work, even just for a few minutes. This allows the rare luxury of absorbing colour and line uninterrupted.
Scott’s later paintings are well known, and may even have been what we came to see. The Gold Painting series, the geometrical patterns (especially the Rosc symbol), the Strange Devices and Bog Paintings– all of these are trademark Scott, but it’s the earlier paintings that I’ve thought about since. They have a memorable charm, like the man himself.
When we came out people were filing into the chapel, on their way to a memorial service for Scott. It looked to be a permeable sort of event, the doors left open to light and air on both sides of the building. A small group of relaxed-looking Gardaí in high-viz jackets suggested VIPs. The friend who’d owned – and used – the teatowel, not knowing it’d be famous, told us a story about a Leonard Cohen concert, where she and her son had seen the President and Mrs Higgins let out of their car at roughly the same spot where we stood, looking at the Guards. Her son (a young man), went right over to say hello to Michael D. You can’t do that, she said. Why not? he said, and did. They chatted for a while, my friend’s son, who is very tall, and Michael D, who is not. Where else would that be allowed to happen?
We went our separate ways and later discovered that the President had, indeed, been at the memorial service for Patrick Scott that day, with all the doors left open and visitors wandering around the premises at will: people walking their dogs (on leads) in the gardens and on the avenue, families with children, tourists, and those of us lucky enough to have a few hours to spare and a properly public space where we could spend them.