Patrick Pye: In gratitude

I met Patrick (pictured here with his wonderful wife, Noirin) at the First Temenos Conference on Art and the Renewal of the Sacred.

Our first agreement (of many) was that the conference title ought to be reversed. The sacred, as such, was never in need of renewal, it was for us to allow the sacred to be the re-newer in and to us. This agreement was reached over tea (and whiskey) at the end of the conference's first day and this late night gathering simply became ritualized over the course of the conference. Patrick, Peter Malekin, then Reader in English Literature at Durham University, and myself assembled over the appropriate liquids in the comfy corner chairs analyzing, celebrating and critiquing the days contributions, discussions and performances of what was, for all of us, a remarkable event. Not least remarkable was that these two accomplished men in their own fields should take into their conversation such a callow youth as I! Equally impressive was Patrick's ability to make definitive statement by asking a question and a sense that you were, however gently, always subject to scrutiny.

Meeting was followed by correspondence (paper and pen virtually always in Patrick's case with occasional unsteady detours into the world of the typewriter) and, after a further round at the second Temenos Conference, frequent memorable visits to his home and studio in Piperstown in the hills above Dublin.

The most memorable encounter, however, was a visit both Noirin and he made to the Republic of Macedonia when I lived there in the mid to late nineties. Macedonia has a high concentration of churches decorated with fresco art from the 10th century to now; and, we embarked on a road trip to visit them - one in the morning, followed by a leisurely lunch, followed by a second, if possible, in the afternoon, followed by a leisurely dinner - Patrick undoubtedly liked his food (and its regularity)!

The highlight was the Church of St George at Kurbinovo.

This unprepossessing building for whose key we had to track down the respective villager opens up into a truly miraculous world. It was a late September afternoon, warm, sunny. We stepped through the door (as in the picture) into darkness before the woman key bearer flung open a side door and the church was flooded with light. We were all flung into breath stopped amazement at the beauty of the place resplendent with its life size saints, Biblical narratives; and, as here, the Annunciation balancing graciously across the arch.

It was wonderful to see this absorbed by Patrick both as an artist and as a believer and as he commented both at the time and latter the play between, and the responsibility of, the two towards each other.

Art delights and it instructs and yet its instruction can only ever be by suggestion: look, see and wonder. Allow it to strike the depths and how it surfaces will depend on the qualities of the beholder and the seriousness of their attentions. Likewise with Patrick's own art - it delights, invites close attention and instructs by seduction never in anyway didactic. It was unfortunate perhaps that recognition in the world of Irish art was impeded by the uninhibited religiousness of many of Patrick's themes at a time when 'art' was trying to be conspicuously secular and distanced from the Church but I suspect, as with last year's exhibition at IMMA, "As above, so below", his reputation will grow. He was a good and important artist in all cases and in his themes and their handling a great one.

It is undoubtedly true that this encounter, and the following year's trip to Thessaloniki and a remarkable exhibition of Byzantine art influenced Patrick's subsequent paintings when, as he had it, they came back to earth! I like to think especially the anonymous artist of Kurbinovo with his extraordinary ability, like his near contemporary Giotto, to blend the hierarchy of the sacred with a then new rounding humanity.

Not unlike Patrick himself - a consistently challenging journey to the articulation of faith touched with a recognition that it is an incarnate one - and that incarnation always comes with a fair degree of foibles, failings and eccentricities of which he, like us all, had his fair allotment. I am deeply grateful to know him and wish him well on his continuing journey into the glory (as foretold in one of his paintings below).


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