Seán McSweeney 1935-2018


“There are paintings here that give us the whole world rather than a section of it.”

Helen Vendler

Seán McSweeney’s exquisite depiction of the shoreline and bog pools that surrounded his Sligo home are some of the most inventive and evocative landscape paintings of the last forty years. His profound understanding of the bogland, flora, tides and climate of this small corner of Ireland endow his paintings with an incredible, brooding power as if the paint itself was fused with the brackish water and the peaty film that floats on its surface. In the winter there are storms so severe that the sea bursts in, taking over the foreshore and filling the turf holes of the bogland with salt water pools; in Spring the coast transforms into a wild garden of bog cotton, yellow irises, orchids and dwarf trees.  Accompanying these seasonal changes are the dramatic contrasts in light from the dark, sonorous twilight of winter afternoons to the shrill, dazzling summer sunlight. McSweeney could distil all these various elements into paintings that border on pure abstraction in their simplicity, often reaching the essence of the place in a few marks. 


In his foreword to McSweeney’s 2011 exhibition at John Martin Gallery, the poet and novelist Dermot Healy (1947-2014) conveyed the precision of McSweeney’s brilliant evocation of the Sligo shore. “You can hear the crack of the waves in the comes the wash of water from out there in the unknown; blue hits the green; the field is frightened by the wind, night falls with a soft thoughtful brushstroke as the dark slowly creeps into memory. The pools fill with waters from abroad. Homecoming is both rage and peace as the tides come and go. White froth drums into the subconscious. As you watch his paintings you are both coming and going. The whip of time enters the eye.”.


Seán McSweeney’s paintings are held in the collections of the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, The Ulster Museum, Belfast and The Arts Councils of Ireland and Northern Ireland.


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