Despite his ‘Portait of the Artist …’ Joyce was no great lover of visual art. He could be downright ignorant about it, in fact, as in his comment, ‘the nails on the wall are quite enough’, or, when he was being painted by Patrick Tuohy: ‘Never mind my soul. Just be sure you have my tie right’.
Going in the other direction, Joyce himself and Joyce’s writings have attracted the professional attention of many artists down the years, not least among them, Henri Matisse. Matisse was actually commissioned to illustrate Ulysses rather than being personally drawn to it, and then chose to seek inspiration in Homer’s Odyssey, never bothering to read Joyce’s novel. That kind of ‘it’ll do’ approach contrasts sharply with the attitude displayed in Richard Hamilton’s exhibition, Imagining Ulysses, at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which reflects the fifty years Hamilton has been occupied to varying degrees with the self-imposed task of representing Ulysses visually.
Richard Hamilton, who, like Ulysses, is eighty this year, is the artist who gave pop art its name when in 1956 he created a collage full of bizarre juxtapositions called Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? depicting a bodybuilder in a sitting room holding a huge lollipop with the word pop writ large. (The product was Tootsie Pop.) Pop art is misunderstood in the history of 20th-century art, in that it has been defined by its depiction of commerce and products (including people), rather than by its more fundamental motivation of addressing the common, the everyday. That’s the philosophical connection with Joyce.
This exhibition, organised by the British Council,
A critic in the Guardian newspaper said recently that
Imagining Ulysses is very much a work in progress, and as much about printmaking processes as it is about Ulysses, which itself is as much about language and writing as it about Bloom and Dedalus in
Bronze by gold (of which we see seven versions), echoes Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and is
Finn MacCool, for the ‘Cyclops’ episode, is developed anachronistically from a photograph of hunger-striker Raymond Pius McCartney to represent the ‘citizen’ who ‘rants against the English oppressors and the Jews from his favourite corner of Barney Kiernan’s low tavern’. How A Great Daily Organ is Turned Out is an arrangement of nineteen hand-sized prints as a newspaper broadsheet representing the ‘Aeolus’ episode, which is set in the offices of the Freeman’s Journal. The images include representations of an ad designed by Bloom for The House of Key(e)s, a childish drawing of Bloom by his daughter that Bloom keeps in his top drawer, and a Tuohy portrait of Joyce’s father here playing Stephen’s father.
Unfortunately, Hamilton has ‘barely considered’ eight of the episodes: ‘My thoughts on Molly’s introspective rambling are beginning to take shape’, but ‘there are large gaps to be filled before Joyce’s cycle, passing from mundane normality to dark night and final peace, becomes apparent in the illustrations’. And, for example, while we do have an image for the opening Telemachus episode, of Buck Mulligan atop the Martello tower overlooking Dalkey and overlooked by the praying ghost of Dedalus’ mother, it is a drawing - the plate for the print has yet to made.
This being a project conceived as a book, we do, however, get one extra, and it so happens, completed work, not corresponding to any of the episodes in Ulysses. It is the frontispiece of
While the ‘illustrated’ edition has never, and may never be published (considering
‘I like to think that the route my venture has taken was served by happy chance; the illustrations became a group of independent prints having their inspiration in Joyce – not bound to the words in a straight-book-jacket, but free to speak for themselves about the experience of learning ways to make images from a master of language.’