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Jack Rutberg on Patrick Graham

Patrick Graham's unprecedented impact in Ireland has frequently been noted. More remarkable however, is the fact that in an unparalleled period of art world celebrity promotion from the art centers of Germany, Italy and of course New York, Patrick Graham, a somewhat reclusive artist working in Dublin, has progressively made a dramatic impact outside of Ireland. To further confound this scenario, Graham's reputation has progressively spread in America prior to his works being exhibited in the "obligatory" New York arena. Even so, he has attracted the attention of some of the leading art critics and historians, colleges and museums.

Patrick Graham was born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland in 1943. His remarkable talent for drawing was realized as a small child. At 13 years of age, Graham apprenticed to an artist in Mullingar. Unbeknownst to the young Graham, his mentor submitted his drawings to the local education authorities. He was promptly awarded a scholarship for which he was too young to qualify. At age 16, he legitimately accepted a 3 year national scholarship to the National College of Art in Dublin, later rejecting one offered by the Royal College of Art in London.

At college, Graham was met with tremendous adulation, received from a quickly formed following. The burden of his "unearned gift" bore heavily on Graham. At that time in Ireland's academic environs, the notion that art as a vehicle for contemplation and personal expression, was not yet considered. Graham continued to receive accolades, all the long battling with himself and the "emptiness" of his art as mere facility of hand and craft. It was upon his first exposure to the works of Emil Nolde in a small exhibition in Dublin, that Graham was riveted by the notion that an artist had license to express so personally.

Graham's personal battle intensified as his conflict about Nolde's work opposing the tenets of academia deteriorated into a dramatic war for sanity and survival. That lasted a number of years. During that period Graham reached depths from which few emerge.

An important turning point came in 1974, with the public re-emergence of Patrick Graham in a solo exhibition entitled "Notes From Mental Hospitals and Other Love Stories". From this point emerged the evolution of a new expression in the art of Ireland.

Graham's paintings convey a strength through form and composition which give way to an amazing fragile quality. They have none of the posturing seen in the "new expressionism" of the 1980's. They are not consumed with the large gesture. Rather, their strength rests in their ability to speak in a private whisper.

Perhaps one of the most overworked descriptions of an artist is to make reference to "an artist's artist". Graham, however, has brought a new dimension to the description. In each of Graham's exhibitions in Los Angeles, artists were conspicuously counted among those purchasing his works. In his 1989 exhibition, nine works were acquired by other artists; surely an unprecedented statistic in any gallery's history.

To state that Graham's paintings have had a unique effect on those who have truly engaged them would be an understatement. It has been a wonder to me to observe admirers so deeply moved while engaged by a Patrick Graham exhibition; some literally to tears. It reaffirms what art can do and should do, and it is a privilege to be allowed to play a very small part in that process.

--Jack Rutberg

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