PATRICK PYE and his contribution to Irish Art
Patrick Pye was born in Winchester in 1929 and brought up in Dublin where he has lived ever since. In 1943 he started painting at school under the sculptor Oisín Kelly, and where he also made illustrated versions of T.S. Eliot's poems. In 1957 he was awarded a Mainie Jellet Scholarship and began his studies in stained glass under Albert Troost in Maastricht. He was baptised in the Roman rite in 1963. During the 1960s he worked on several commissions for stained glass in churches round Ireland, and at the same time he became friendly with Elizabeth Rivers, the English painter/engraver who worked on Aran for many years. It was ten years later that he himself began etching at the Graphic Studio Dublin though painting is still the main body of his work.
In 1981 he was elected to Aosdána and in 1991 he was elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy. In 2005 Patrick was invested with a D.Phil (hon.causa) by Maynooth University.
A man of deep faith, his work is based on the sacred themes and stories of the Bible. Being often described as a ‘religious’ painter, he has, in a prejudicial way, been placed in the wrong box where his work has lain obscured. Dismissed by an influential critic as having nothing to contribute to Irish art, his work is shunned by collectors probably worried, too, by having to confront their own personal place in a seeming secular world though surrounded by centuries of the traditions and artifacts of the religions. He has made a lifelong study of the three great centuries of artistic accomplishment, the 15th, 16th , and 17th. He is moved by the anonymity of the early Christian painters, and the authenticity that it brings to their work. And this is how we should look today at his own work – outside the box of prejudice. In other words, his work should be looked at for its art’s sake.
His learning from the work of El Greco has been contemporised in his own paintings of the great sacred themes – The Entombment, The Crucifixion, and his Madonna and Child. While the line divides and limits, colour brings together and binds.
Patrick brings a seeming simplicity to his compositions which belies the technical difficulties he overcomes through his ability as a painter. He admires the Italian Primitives for their ‘un-naturalism, their naivety,’ and he avoids the apocalyptic and the pious “If art becomes too technically sophisticated, it loses an element of humanity. I don't like the High Renaissance. Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael are not my friends, though I am impressed by them.”
Patrick is a thoroughly modern painter with a rich, historical background; this qualifies him to relocate the Crucifixion into contemporary Ireland in his great triptych Meditation on the Cross.
What other Irish painter could brings us such a convincing composition of an oft told story with his ESB pylons despoiling the new Calvary, and a rifle carrying soldier replacing the centurion?
His earlier critic has overlooked a most accomplished contributor to Irish art – a painter, an etcher, and a draftsman without whose work any collection is incomplete.