By John Fitzgerald
THERE’S a rare treat for art lovers at the Butler Gallery.
Jane O’Malley has a way of capturing the essence of any subject with the barest few squiggles of ink, pencil, pastel or crayon.
Her vast collection of sketch books and travel diaries reveal a breathtaking range of themes, places, and inspirational sources, and many of her drawings have served as foundations for her celebrated oil paintings.
A selection of this work spanning almost a lifetime can be seen at the exhibition that runs until February 25.
Jane has been drawing since she was a child, honing her skills and artistic sensitivity with breezy confidence over the decades.
Born in Montreal, she left Canada at age 19 and has never looked back, preferring the European way of life and cultural milieu to that of North America.
In 1969 she moved to St Ives in Cornwall, attracted by an artists’ colony in the village.
It was there that she met Tony O’Malley, who had left Ireland a decade earlier to find a more amenable environment in which to give expression to his own extraordinary talents.
Bleak 1950s Ireland wasn’t too favourable to the arts…or artists.
Jane hit it off with Tony from day one and they were married in 1973.
She had heard of the great O’Malley and had viewed a painting of his that beguiled her. But meeting him proved a turning point in her life.
The two worked side by side until the day he exited a world he had enriched by his prolific creative achievements, much of his work accomplished against a background of chronic ill-health during which Jane cared for him and greatly enhanced his quality of life.
Many of Jane’s drawings touch on themes associated with her travels to the exotic Bahamas, Cornwall, and Clare Island, in County Mayo, places she and Tony were drawn to irresistibly.
Though monochromatic, the sketches of spectacular tropical beaches and seascapes allow the mind to fill in the luscious absent colours.
It’s as if the swathes of blank space within the exquisitely applied lines of ink, pencil or pastel hold back the sunny exuberance that might otherwise overwhelm human vision.
The Clare island drawings capture the haunting rugged beauty of the West of Ireland from which Tony’s father hailed.
Of special interest to Kilkenny folk will be her sketches of home life at Physicianstown outside Callan, where she moved to set up home in a former labourer’s cottage with Tony back in 1977.
They bought the house after seeing a faded photo of it on a bleak winter’s day.
They saw immediately that renovation would be necessary, but following tasteful touch-up and the addition of a studio it proved a wonderful haven for the couple.
Since Tony died in 2003, Jane has preserved his memory and his gargantuan artistic legacy, while continuing her own stellar career that has drawn unceasing critical acclaim.
There are sketches showing Tony at work, painting in his studio, of the ubiquitous cats at their home, numerous still-lifes, and of their own loving relationship that even death could not vanquish…for Jane feels the presence of the mighty O’Malley around her as she works in her studio.