Category Archives: Art

Dublin Street Art

These two pieces of street art are located less than 100 yards from each other on North Anne Street in Dublin.

The first is really striking and, in my opinion, a really impressive and effective piece.

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The second is, well, pure Dublin in many ways. The plaster fell off the brick wall in a particular way and someone saw an opportunity to bring a bit of character to it.

It makes me smile.

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Prague Photo

Oops, I only went and left probably my favourite Prague photo out of my post of photos from our visit there last weekend.

This narrow and short street was tucked in behind our apartment and, apart from a lot of graffiti, it contained a photo gallery. Above the gallery door sat a lady, with a bright red heart shining out from beneath her white breast.

It’s visible in the photo, if you click through to the big version and have a closer look.

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A Bird’s Eye View of Dublin

A Bird's Eye View of Dublin

A Bird’s Eye View of Dublin

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So last night I put one of my Christmas presents up on the wall. It is a copy of an amazingly detailed drawing of Victorian Dublin, dating from 1890.

“A Bird’s Eye View of Dublin” was a present from my “Secret Santa” (as is now the tradition among the six Cullen siblings) and the Geographer in our family, Declan.

Amazingly, this panoramic of Dublin was issued as a supplement to “The Graphic” newspaper 123 years ago. Kind of puts the countless churned-out supplements you’ll get in the Sunday newspaper today into perspective, eh?

This drawing is by H.W. Brewer, who (according to the information I have found on Old Irish Maps, where they are selling an original copy of this map) was named by RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) as the finest of all Victorian architectural draughtsmen.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Brewer was also a perfectionist. There is incredible clarity and detail in “A Bird’s Eye View of Dublin”, which the image above does not do justice to. Especially as it was taken late last night under artificial light  – Mr Brewer would not have approved!

As pointed out on Old Irish Maps, this is “an incredibly detailed original topographic panorama, church spires and street-scapes are shown with exacting precision. To look at the scene in High Street, as the eye is drawn from St. Audoen’s to Christchurch is akin to stepping back in time, with the minute detail of each house, window, door etc. delicately rendered”.

I’m writing this post from just in behind the Four Courts, the impressive building dominating this small section of the overall map, which, as well as the Four Courts, shows The Liberties, High Street and Christchurch in the foreground, and stretches out to include the Liffey as it flows into Dublin Bay, with Howth and Killiney also clearly visible in the background.

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How Mr Brewer achieved this fantastical view of Dublin before the age of helicopters and aerial photography has apparently been a matter of some conjecture since it was first produced.

According to Old Irish Maps, “that he invented it all using ground-level sketches and a bit of imagination is highly probable. And indeed would be a correct assumption, except for the fact that five years before this Dublin panorama was completed he produced a “Bird’s Eye View of Liverpool – As seen from a Balloon“, (1885). We guess it will remain a mystery!”

Oh and, on a final note, I have to say, Declan set the bar pretty high this year, as I also got this amazing book!

Chancery Park Fountain

I have been walking past Chancery Park at night for some time now, always looking longingly over the spiky railings as I stroll by.

Chancery Park is a grand title for what is essentially a small garden attached to a building comprising 27 flats (Chancery House), which you can read all about here, in Dublin’s north inner city. It is located just beside the Four Courts between the Luas (tram) tracks and the Quay.

The reason for the longing looks is that I have been particularly taken with the fountain there, which is lit up at night, with The Spire on O’Connell Street in the skyline behind it as you look at it from the Four Courts side (the second photo below).

However, you can never get in there at night as the park is only open a few hours a day and closes very early in the afternoon. This is apparently to do with anti-social behaviour and is mentioned in the piece I linked to above.

The fountain is the park’s centre piece and is surrounded by a few small benches. Several trees are placed closer to the nearby perimeter and that’s it. However, it’s still a very charming park. Albeit, one that I never see anyone in, though again this is probably due to the limited opening hours.

Anyway, last night I stopped looking longingly at the fountain and hopped the spiky railings to get my photo.

Apologies to Dublin City Council.

Earlier yesterday I had bought a tripod to replace the one I left behind at the beach on Christmas Day. It was fun to practice long exposures again.

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“Better” by Janet Williams

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I had the pleasure of taking some photos at the opening of the latest exhibition at the Avenue Road Gallery in Portobello last night.

“Better” is an exhibition by the very talented and very lovely Janet Williams, who is at work during the participatory element of her opening in the photo above.

The exhibition contains two key pieces of work, “Better Faces” and “Better City”.

“Better City” are Dublin cityscapes bursting with colour. “The thought process being, this city can get pretty glum with those grey skies looming over us all, depleting all our energy. Instead I wanted the sky to reflect the creativity, colour and energy people put into this city,” said Janet.

“Better Faces” is a series of 50 portraits of people from her generation whom she feels are making things better for themselves and better for the society in which they live.

“They are all a little disappointed and dealing with the recession in their own way. Everyone I know has made compromises in their life, but they are doing it with their chins up, full of ambition and energy. They don’t need their grey skies replaced with colour, they just need the chance to burst open with the colour that’s inside,” said Janet.

For the participatory piece last night, all visitors to the Avenue Road Gallery were invited to have their portraits taken in the same manner as the 50 “Better Faces”.

“Better” is open until December 12 and if you’re in Dublin you should really drop in. Particularly as the following photos in no way do it justice!

I really enjoyed this exhibition, from the motivation behind it to the finished work. It’s a timely reminder in a post-Budget week of all that’s good about Dublin.

As always at Avenue Road Gallery – the beautiful space run by Jennette Donnelly and Billy Kinsella – I  also enjoyed not just photographing, but meeting and talking to a variety of very talented and interesting people.

You can read all about “Better” here,

To see more of Janet’s photography, follow this link.

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Janet Williams with her piece "Better Faces"

Janet Williams with her piece “Better Faces”

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47 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin

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“Leave Me Shout”

Brazilian artist Nina Franco is a photographer, feminist and anarchist.

“Leave Me Shout” is a series of photographs that examine the representation, repression and beauty of the female. You can read more about the exhibition and Nina here.

From my own perspective, I absolutely love this collection of stunning images and really couldn’t recommend a visit to see this exhibition highly enough.

“Leave Me Shout” was officially opened by artist Sean Rushe at the Avenue Road Gallery in Portobello last (Saturday) night.

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Nina Franco

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Sean Rushe and Nina Franco

Shell Cottage

This is a cottage located in Cullenstown in Co Wexford, a very small seaside spot that was the subject of my previous post. However, I felt this remarkable building was worth its own post.

It is known locally as the “Shell Cottage” and it is a charming, thatched cottage. What really sets it apart though is that it is covered entirely in sea shells – as are all the out buildings beside it.

The wide variety of shells, comprising all sorts of shapes, colours and sizes, were collected, carefully arranged and placed on the cottage by the late Kevin Ffrench, who is commemorated on a plaque on his former home (pictured below).

This is a fantastic piece of design work and must have required extraordinary imagination, skill and patience. It is not only beautiful, but entirely in keeping with the surroundings.

The intricate designs and patterns on the walls of the buildings include the well-known Wexford landmark Tuskar Lighthouse and the “Mexico”, a Schooner which was the subject of an ill-fated rescue attempt that saw nine members of Fethard Lifeboat die in 1914.

Labour of Love

I had the opportunity earlier this year of observing Luthier and master craftsman, James Beatley, at work.

Below are some of the images I took (click on them for the bigger versions) and some questions that James was also kind enough to answer for me to give us a better insight into the process that sees him produce such exceptional instruments at his workshop in his home in Stoneybatter.

What drove you to make your first instrument?

When I was in  my early 20s, I  was playing the tenor banjo. I  had heard about the short scale banjo, which would be better suited to my style of playing. Back then (pre Internet) it was very difficult to find one in Ireland. After a few years searching with no luck I decided to make one. This was a journey which took me three years to complete – the main problem was sourcing  materials. Now it is so easy just Google.

What finally inspired you to make the jump from mechanical engineering to become a full-time Luthier?

There are lots of reasons. Having been making instruments for about 15 years as a hobby I desired to take the making to a higher level. I  wanted to learn more about restoration of instruments too. My job with the ESB  had  undergone a massive restructuring, which would have left me at the same level  until retirement. It was time to go.

How would you describe your working process when making an instrument?

Almost all the instruments I make are after classical Italian makers from Anno 1700.  I  make the instruments  in the same method and use the same tools as were used then. Nothing really has changed except sometimes I would use some modern tools, both mechanical and electronic, to make more exact measurements.  For example, when making a front or back of a violin you would be most concerned with the stiffness of the finished piece, both across the grain and with the grain. I  like to think of this as a stiffness rather than a flexibility. Whatever stiffness you decide on will be  the biggest contributor to the overall sonority of the instruments. Normally this stiffness is felt in the hands by twisting and pressing on the wood and listening to the tap tones. You can guess a tap tone very easily to within a semitone. For example if  I  want the wood to ring at F# I can  be fairly accurate, but the difference could be as much as 15hz from one to another. By using a sine wave generator you can be exact in matching your front and back. Carleen Hutchings (1911-2009) was an American violin maker and pioneer in plate tuning. In the 1950s she  wrote a scientific paper on violin plate tuning using Eiginmodes and Chladni patterns.

What parts of the process you enjoy the most?

It might be easier to answer what parts I least enjoy. This would be the initial preparation of the  wood – flattening  and preparing the centre joints for glueing and squaring up the neck block. After this initial work is done it is a slow labour of love. On completion the setting up and playing of the instrument for the first time is very satisfying.

What are the most challenging aspects?

I think any Luthier will agree with me that varnishing is the most challenging and difficult part of the whole process to master. The problems here are their is only one  good supplier of ready-made varnish for the violin family of instruments and this maker’s varnish does not meet all of the desired qualities. So most makers who know what is required will try to make their own. Personally, I  have experimented with recipes for about 16 years. The varnish  I’m using now and for the last four years is working really well for me.

What is it about the violin that makes it such a special instrument?

I  think because it is  so close to the human voice makes it universally used in all genres of music. Anyone who has tried to learn the violin will tell you it is very demanding and difficult to learn. The fun of learning is in the challenge and you can take it to what ever level you desire. From a physics point of view their are many scientific papers written about how the violin works, they are all probably a little bit right and many disagree and contradict each other , ut one thing is for sure – the violin is a very inefficient  instrument as most of the energy put into the playing is lost in damping etc  90% of what you hear can be directly  attributed to the musician and the rest to the instrument.

Does making instruments give you a different perspective when playing them?

Not really, being a  maker or not  one can appreciate a good instrument. If  I  pick up an instrument which does not work so well or is set up badly  I  won’t want to play it. The same goes for anyone.

Is each instrument unique and, if so, how?

Yes, no two instruments are the same.  Each will have it own voice and  aesthetic values. Making two violins of the same model when finished there are many anomalies between both. No two pieces of wood are the same or have the same acoustic attributes. Every single part of the instrument has an acoustical contribution. The scroll size and design. The density of the fingerboard will have an acoustic resonance which will effect the body mode, which should match the air mode. The overall set up – type of pegs used the bridge blank, tailpiece etc every part has its own acoustic value.  This is why we make to tap tones and not measurements.

Do you feel you are still learning all the time?

Yes  sometimes even doing a job you have done many times before their is a ‘light bulb’ moment. Recently there has been the publication of a book, Restoration and Conservation of Stringed Instruments. This is a collaboration of all the best makers and restorers from around the world.  It’s a massive volume. Since  I  bought it every time I undertake a repair I consult the book to see how other makers approach a particular task.  Often I will adapt my method with ideas from this book.

Whose work are you most influenced or inspired by?

Giussepe Guarneri del Gesú is my favourite maker. There is a beautiful freeness of the use of his tools, evident by the tool marks in his work. These marks also contribute to the aesthetic beauty of his instruments. The purfling of his instruments is poorly executed, but all these little aspects add to the overall aesthetic beauty. His ideas on design for acoustic value were revolutionary at the time. My preference in making is to make my instruments have an aesthetic desirability as well as being of good sonority. The challenge in making an instrument look new and precise is a bit boring for me.

Do you strive for perfection?

You might ask ‘what is perfection?’ If  I am making a copy of a classical Italian instrument I will have to do every repair which has been done to a violin which could be over 300-years-old.  I  will do all these repairs with the greatest of care so yes I strive for perfection. On the other hand. I  may be asked to make a violin as new, but  I must admit to have softened the corners and the eyes of the scroll and rounding off the inside  top of the peg box to give some character to the instrument otherwise I feel the instrument looks boring… am I striving for perfection?!

Do you feel your instruments will form a large part of your legacy? And do you ever think about that?

I do believe I am making good instruments, so good instruments usually fall into the hand of good musicians who look  after them well. My instruments could be around for several hundred years and just like Thomas Perry( 1744-1818), a Dublin maker,  I also brand-stamp my instruments. This stamp will always be there and will be a point of topic. On the other hand, I  had a life-changing moment recently when my computer hard drive gave up without warning. I  lost 18 years of collected data on all the instruments I have made. This would be an archive for future makers or anyone interested. My computer was just out of warranty and  I  had  a back-up hard drive for about six weeks, which I had not used.  Also all my  images of customer repairs and all of my  business advertising, accounts etc were gone. My initial reaction was ‘Fu… k’ , but then  I thought if I had suddenly died in the morning ‘so what’. Would it matter about my life’s long work? I  guess it only matters to me.

Beautiful photos of Dublin

The Irish Architecture Foundation and The Irish Times are running a competition through Flickr to promote a great initiative called Open House Dublin.

People who enter are asked to submit photos (a max of one a day) until the competition closes on October 8. It opened on September 20 and my friend Sophie sent me a link to it yesterday and suggested I enter it, so I did, even if I am a bit late to the game.

I have to say I am way, way out of my league! The work in there is incredible, have a look! here for a visual feast!

All the usual Dublin landmarks (photos have to be from Dublin/Dun Laoghaire) you’d expect in an architecture focused photography competition are in there (lots of Beckett Bridges and Custom Houses etc), but there really are some stunning shots, it’s well worth taking a look.

As I entered yesterday, I’m up to two photos now, one that has appeared on this blog recently and one that hasn’t been on it before (though others of the same feature have). I have posted them below. They are the only two photos so far on my brand new Flickr account.

There is a public prize, for the photo that is “favourited” the most on Flickr and then a judge’s prize too.

But, in all sincerity, while I haven’t a prayer, it’s great to have something like this to enter to see what’s being done out there by others, the extremely high standards people are reaching and – most importantly of all – it’s another excuse to try find time in my increasingly busy schedule to get out and about with the camera, something I am struggling with at the moment, due to the demands or work and life.

Thanks Sophie!

Moore Street Dragon

Fountain, People’s Park, Dun Laoghaire