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March 19, 2007 | by  | in Visual Arts |
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Martin Doyle

ROAR! Gallery
March 8-24

With St Patrick’s Day on at this time of year, you would expect a lot of local artists to touch upon this Irish cultural icon. Local artist Martin Doyle, who has a real quirky style, has been part of the local scene for over 30 years. He first made an impact back in the 70s as a cartoonist for Salient during its radical heyday.

With Paidraig, Doyle’s goal was to show St Patrick in a way that he is not commonly viewed by modern society. Going back over 1500 years to the time of St Patrick, chronicling important chapters in St Patrick’s life.

With a bold style using lots of bright colours, his works almost have a cartoon like quality, which didn’t surprise me given his artistic roots.

One immediately stood out: ‘A new life coming’ shows the period of his life when he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland from his home at Banna Venta Berniae in Sommerset. He worked as a shepherd for six years before escaping, after his spiritual faith helped guide him to a ship some 200 miles away.

“I was then barely sixteen. I had neglected the true God, and when I was carried off into captivity in Ireland, along with a great number of people, it was well deserved. For we cut ourselves off from God and did not keep His commandments, and we disobeyed our bishops who were reminding us of our salvation. God revealed His being to us through his wrath; He scattered us among foreign peoples, even to the end of the earth, where, appropriately, I have my own small existence among strangers.” – From Confessio

This image of his journey is striking as it is reminiscent of medieval art, in particular the Bayeux Tapestry from the 11th century that chronicled the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The image looks just as it would have been depicted by someone a long time ago, but with modern colours.

Doyle’s piece ‘At the Wood of Foclut’ is a simple but powerful image of a young man coming out of the forests with his flock of sheep. St Patrick has an almost defiant expression and air that suggests some kind of mystical maturity. The thing that really struck me was how powerful such simple images can be.

“But after I had arrived in Ireland, I found myself pasturing flocks daily, and I prayed a number of times each day. More and more the love and fear of God came to me, and faith grew and my spirit was exercised, until I was praying up to a hundred times every day – and in the night nearly as often So that I would even remain in the woods and on the mountain in snow, frost and rain, waking to pray before the first light. And I felt no ill effect, nor was I in any way sluggish – because, as I now realize, the Spirit was seething within me.” – Confessio

The most visually striking image ‘A moment of exasperation’ is an intense interpretation of a crazed-like St Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. This is the only painting that is not suggested by writings of St Patrick, as the idea of a Bishop purging a whole country of its snakes, asps and vipers seems like a Hollywood fantasy, even though it’s actually the key visual image lodged in normal Church tradition.

Doyle painted the scene as it once appeared to his childhood imagination. “It’s as if he himself were ‘spitting tacks’ or ‘venom’ (but for good cause). The phlegmatic phrase ‘getting it off your chest’ springs to mind. However, stained glass windows in churches tend to depict Patrick as an austere bishop and the snakes as thin little things under his feet. My approach here has been, if we’re doing snakes, let’s do snakes…”

Martin Doyle’s art – as evidenced by Paidraig – is intense, as is the artist. Heavily imbued with philosophy, it grabs your attention, and almost in a rhetorical fashion, shouts at your senses and emotions it’s deep messages.

When talking to Martin I had no idea what his spiritual beliefs are, but he obviously has real heart and that is what I respect in an artist.

As he summed up the notion of ‘doing snakes’, “What does it symbolize? Cleansing? Purging? Clarifying the mind? Wrestling with internal conflicts? Getting rid of unhelpful beliefs? Overcoming temptation? Self-assertion? Not being afraid to share your opinion with others? Sorting your life out? Removing danger from the land? Engagement with natural or subconscious forces to make a better world?”

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