Kevin and the Sunflowers

2009 – Acrylic on Panel – 62 x 59 cm

Private Collection

I’ve long been making works about Saint Kevin and the Blackbird, and though I regularly set aside the theme as others take priority at the easel, I have yet to feel that I’m done with the subject. Kevin haunts me and there’s no getting away from him. Over the past weeks new ideas about the anchorite saint and the trusting little hen-blackbird have again been absorbing me. I’ll be posting shortly about new paintings that are in development, and in preparation for those, today I’ve compiled a series of images by other artists and illustrators… found during a trawl of Google…  who’ve been drawn to the story.  Wherever possible I’ve attributed the artists.

Saint Kevin and the Blackbird in a 13th century manuscript.

Saint Kevin’s Bird by Leo Higgins.

Artist unknown.

Artist unknown.

Two images of Saint Kevin by printmaker Catherine Ryan.

Illustration by Doug Montross.

Aviaries by Yvonne C. Murphy, with a cover image taken from my Saint Kevin and the Blackbird painting Paper Garden.

Paper Garden

2011 – Acrylic on Panel – 31 x 63 cms

Private Collection

24 thoughts on “haunted

  1. I love this, and also have a very strong connection to the Heaney poem. If you are interested, I will shortly be able to share a work, partly inspired by it!

  2. I was just today saying–somewhere–that we have done so much together that you are in my mind a great deal. Looking at these, remembering the show, I keep thinking that perhaps I’ll have to make a Kevin story for the little Clive in my head.

  3. I love Kevin and the Sunflowers so very much, everything comes together in this painting in the most extraordinary way and I find it very moving; I’m not sure exactly why, but it takes me back to being a little boy again, in a good way, I think it must be something in the simplicity of that bond between Kevin and the bird

  4. An image of Kevin was one of the clearest things I remember from the Aberystwyth exhibition Clive. There’s something about the intensity of that blue that sticks in the memory. What an interesting insight into how we react to the same stimulus in a multitude of ways.

    • Hello Lesley. Good to hear from you again. (Things have been a little quiet at your blog recently, and I was wondering whether to write to you to check that things are OK.)

      I’m pleased the ‘intensity of blue’ stuck in your imagination. I endlessly experiment with colour in order to crank up the observer’s response, and blue comes in so many forms to tinker with. Red too, another of my favourites.

    • Mine too, LBT. It came back for the exhibition last year, and I used to stand in front of it when I could… whenever the gallery was thinly populated, as it’s a tad embarrassing being seen in front of one of your own works… to enjoy it for a little longer.

      It had been barely dry when it left the studio to be framed, and then it went straight to the Martin Tinney Gallery where it sold. Had I made enough work at that time to hold it back to live with a little longer, I would have kept it by me for a while. But of course there is never enough work when a show is about to open… it’s one of the laws-of-life… and so it had to go. It’s the largest of the Kevin and the Blackbird paintings, most of them having been rather small and intimate.

      I owe you a long e-mail, and apologise for having been so tardy about it. So much to do and too little time to do it all in.

  5. Fabulous, fabulous images! Many years ago I went to a yoga class where the teacher told us the story of St Kevin and the blackbird and encouraged us to seek that same sense of stillness with purpose, connected yet selfless. Seeing your image, Clive, makes me want to go back to that class…but alas it is no more.

    The first ‘artist unknown’ looks very like work in a book of Polish Folk Art that I have.

    • I love the Heaney poem so much, and every time I read it I find new pathways into creativity. It’s why I keep returning to this subject.

      I agree with you Shellie about the woodcarving, it does have a European folk-art quality. Polish or perhaps Czech. And you know how much I love all that stuff! My work on book-covers this year has been much influenced by the traditions of Polish book design.

  6. Dear Clive
    yours is a beautiful painting. I’d never heard of the story of St Kevin nor the poem. Thank you so much for the introduction. Coincidentally blackbirds have been on my mind. I found Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen ways of looking at a Blackbird. Now thinking about people’s relationships with wild animals.

    • Hello Patricia. I’m glad you like the painting. I don’t know ‘Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird’, but now I shall go and check it out. Thank you for the tip.

      The relationships that are reported between people and wild animals are never less than interesting, though one might wish that generally mankind did better in terms of responsibility to what is held in trust. The folklore of saints provides particularly rich pickings for artists, and as well as my affection for the story of Kevin, I return often to the legend of the Breton blind saint, Hervé, and the wolf that accompanied him after having killed his dog.

      I’ve just been admiring that beautiful ceramic hare on your blog!

  7. This is a wonderful collection of the saint; I am woefully ignorant of St. Kevin, aside from your incredible depictions of the soulful fellow. Curious so many of the works you have selected are by anonymous artists. Are they “folk” reactions to the narrative; pardon my ignorance but is he saint of a particular region? Clearly I have research to follow up on.

    I am particularly attracted to the prints by Ryan, her use of positive/negative space is very nice. I admire the sense of the cave, the tight quarters.

    Well now I must get a better understanding of St. Kevin, eager to meet your newest incarnation.
    Take care,

    • Kevin is an early Irish saint and the stories about him clearly fall into the realm of legend. Given that the story about the blackbird is so affecting I’m rather surprised that I’ve found so little contemporary art inspired by it. The source of all my own work on the subject is the poem by Seamus Heaney, and you’ll find it HERE. Prepare to weep!

      I think the two sculptures are contemporary, and it’s my failing not to have found makers that I can attribute them to. If anyone has any ideas, I’d be obliged if you’d contact me with names.

      • Oh my god, that is incredible. Wow, what powerful imagery , no wonder you cannot keep the saint at bay.

        Heaney is amazing, love him.

        Thank you for the intro. I know I have seen your depicions, perhaps read a bit in your monograph, but the poem, now that sears it in.

        • I’m glad you enjoyed it. This is a perfect example of why I’m more often inspired to painting by poets, rather than by artists. And although I came to Hervé by way of statues of the saint in Brittany, the work I do now is largely inspired by The Boy and the Wolf, the poem Callum James wrote as a response to my early Hervé and the Wolf paintings.

          • I get that. Initially I was incredulous, as I am so image driven; but upon thinking about it, the written word is our guide.

            Completely off topic, the following is a passage by Rilke that has been haunting me, I love “don’t let yourself lose me”. I love the idea that we hold the divine within. Anyway, like I said off topic, but I think it is lovely and I wanted to share it with you. LG

            Go to the Limits of Your Longing
            God speaks to each of us as he makes us, 
then walks with us silently out of the night.
            These are the words we dimly hear:
            You, sent out beyond your recall,
 go to the limits of your longing. 
Embody me.
            Flare up like a flame
 and make big shadows I can move in.
            Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

            Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
            Nearby is the country they call life.
 You will know it by its seriousness.
            Give me your hand.

            Book of Hours, 1905, R.M. Rilke. Translated by Joanna Macy

            • Can I add my thanks for these timely words and images too. I am leading part of a conference in a couple of weeks with the title ‘Christ be our light’ and was looking for inspiration for a photographic workshop I am leading. I had been looking at the nature sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy and these words are just what I need to tie the workshop together to inspire others to go out and create then phtoograph and leave all to return to nature.

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