Press Clippings





Declan McCormack
Sunday April 13 2003

'OH IT'S so sweet. Cosi dulce [sic]," said the very sweet Valentina who works in Dunne and Crescenzi, the trendy cafe-cum-winery off Molesworth Street. I'm here on the suggestion of Conor Walton, whom I had just met at the Jorgensen Fine Art gallery where he was in the process of hanging his forthcoming exhibitions Plural . From a previous interview, I know that Conor is an Italiaphile [sic].

"Is that why you go to this cafe," I ask.

"No, it's for the coffee," he says with his trademark dry wit. Valentina has been looking at a painting in Walton's sumptuous New Work catalogue. It's a large oil-on-canvas titled Two Loves . The lovers are lying in bed. She is very beautiful in an understated way. She is chastely attired, her lover's upper torso is naked. She seems reposeful, he seems to be asleep, his left hand resting on her right breast. Cute.

Two Lovers, oil on linen, 72 x 36 inches, 2003

"It is really lovely," coos Valentina. I think it's lovely too. It's my favourite painting in the catalogue, and by a blessed coincidence I had no sooner entered the exhibition room ten minutes earlier but I had been dragooned by the artist into carrying a large painting over to it's hanging place. It was that painting. I feel I have a share in it.

The lovers are friends and come from Kerry. He got to know them fairly well after all the sittings, or rather lyings, they did for him. "He was often asleep. They got engaged since. My mother said it was about time." I laugh at this throwback to old-style Catholic morality, all the more ironic because Conor is, in his own words, a "gungho pagan" who chides me for my characterisation of him in my previous piece as "a lapsed Catholic".

I point out that one his current exhibitions is full of allusions to Christianity, along with myriad images from the classics. An emaciated St Jerome shares pride of place with Bacchus, Phaeton, Dionysus, Marsyas and Flora. His aversion to organized religion does not stem from recent revelations about clerical abuse. He can't understand people abandoning formal religion for such superficial reasons. "On the Continent, Catholicism and anti-clericalism happily coexist."

Marsyas, oil on linen, 78 x 72 inches, 2003

Apart from the pervasive scrawny presence of St Jerome, an early Christian "dull scholar", the New Works exhibition is full of many arresting images of young naked men being ripped apart or ripping another man apart. Jack the Ripper meets Dionysius. All his work, for all its cerebral allusiveness, he says, "starts with an arresting image". Given all the flesh-ripping I wonder has he been having a bad time. He reassures me that he hasn't nor that he has become infatuated by old naked men and young men.

"I had intended doing a full-female nude but it fell through." Pity. Last time I met him he was sans girlfriend. He seemed a bit of a loner. This time he seems a happier trooper. And indeed he has a girlfriend, Jane Carney, a mountain-climbing instructor. They've tackled the Alps together. She figures in the current exhibition. He also used her guitar and trumpet - which is a bit rich given that he is a scion of the Walton Musical Instruments empire. He doesn't just borrow faces and musical instruments from friends and family he also borrows from the hallowed iconography. This partly accounts for St Jerome who has been the subject of many famous studies. And images of St Jerome were omnipresent in the Italy nunnery where Walton spent a Summer. This guy does get around.

Gallery owner Ib Jorgensen tells me about his Jutland ancestors and speaks with particular pride about one of them, a "benevolent Christian". That ancestor would no doubt be proud of Ib's kind act in giving over his first floor gallery free of charge to Conor's other exhibition consisting of 38 graphite and chalk head or upper-body portraits of some of the residents of the Simon Shelter on Usher's Island, Dublin. Conor has been a Simon volunteer for the past number of years and spent some of his time there drawing those residents who were happy to be recognised in his work. He worked quickly on the portraits - "drawing is much quicker than painting" - but the results are often compelling. It seems appropriate that the Simon residents who often lead the evanescent lives of drifters should be given a certain permanence of record. Each of the 38 portraits are on offer at €400 which he feels "is probably underpricing them".

It is obvious that he is most concerned - almost to the point of "evangelical fervour" - that the Shelter Exhibition does well. His target is to raise about €20,000 for what he, more than most, knows is an excellent cause. Upstairs the hanging of the New Work exhibition is coming along nicely.

Sile from Jorgensen's arrives. A gentleman has asked them to hold a painting. I just know it's my Kerry lovers. It is. I brazenly ask the philistine question: "How much?" €20,000. "It's worth every penny of it," says Geraldine, Conor's friend, almost vehemently. She's preaching to the converted. I'd pay far more, if I had it. The man is going to ask his wife to have a look first. It's a goner. A shy red mark is put behind the painting. I take a few lingering looks at my engaged Kerry lovers and exit. Now I have only the promised full-female nude to look forward to. Poverty stinks.

'Shelter Portraits' shows from April 15 to 19; New Work from April 15 to May 3 at Jorgensen Fine Art, Molesworth Street, Dublin.

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