Set in a wild, remote landscape, on the west coast of Ireland, Cill Rialaig is a pre-ramine village that clings to at steep slope 300 feet above the sea on the old road that leads to Bólus Head. The restored stone cottages of the village, which now support residencies for visiting artists, are about as far west as you can go in Europe without falling off. From this rugged coast the island rock of Skellig Michael is visible, some eight miles out into the Atlantic, where pre-Augustinian monks once built their beehive huts. This is a landscape permeated with history and memories. It was here that the poet Sue Hubbard and the painter Donald Teskey met and initiated a collaboration that resulted in this book.
The Idea of Islands comprises a suite of fifteen emotionally incisive poems by Sue Hubbard and eleven powerfully atmospheric drawings by Donald Teskey RHA.
Responding to her experiences of Cill Rialaig, Sue Hubbard explores in her work both the dark and the light within human experience. She evokes the perceived and the actual world through a careful attention to the detail of things - be it nature, the incidental or the everyday - and attempts to give voice to our deepest emotions and our sense of inchoate spiritual longing. Her subjects are those of love, loss and memory. She writes of our vulnerabilities, so often concealed, and through their disclosure suggests the possibility of renewal. Donald Teskey's large-scale drawings of the Cill Rialaig terrain are no landscape idylls. This body ot work, complementary to the poems, powerfully evokes a vivid sense of that remote and harshly beautiful place, confronting us with the raw forces of nature at the inhospitable edge of the world: the bruised and weathered architecture of the coastline; the ocean, foaming and restless; the cliffs, dark, ancient and enduring; depictions of a dynamic landscape at its most elemental.
‘Poet and artist collaborations are generally more exciting than novelist/artist
ones, if only because the artist in the latter tends to be regarded primarily
as an illustrator. That is distinctly not the case with The Idea of Islands where the dark, painterly, drawings of Donald Teskey and the atmospheric, but
sharply observed poems of Sue Hubbard add up to something more - more in fact
than a kind of joint-reportage on sense of place. The sense of place here is
also the place of body and mind where, as one poem puts it, "we feel ourselves
/ to be made from earth / our cells are filled with water". Life and place
move around and within each other becoming each other's memorable conditions.’
‘Cill Rialaig is at the edge of the beautiful and atmospheric southernmost
peninsula of Kerry. Sue Hubbard writes her spare poems about a harsh winter
pilgrimage there, testing the body and mind to its limits. Donald Teskey depicts
the landscape surfaces of the place in magnificent drawings. 'Now His Days'
and 'Light Breaks Celestial' pick up the words of the poems, but the pictures
could be of nowhere else. This is a magical, searching book.’
‘What Donald Teskey and Sue Hubbard have produced in The Idea of
a marriage of shared lyric sensibilities and their own harmony of ideas that
serves to sustain this coupling of word and image. A perfect marriage it is
too, and those sensibilities are acutely attuned to the distinct and atmospheric
qualities to be found out at the "edge of the whip-lashed Atlantic".
The imaginative responses of both artist and writer are perfectly complementary.
When the poet describes the sea as being "black as a saucer of spilt ink",
the painter renders it so with all the power and drama (and dark foreboding)
that the sea itself often yields. Like the islands themselves, bare and austere,
Teskey's evocative, beautifully textured drawings and Hubbard's sequence of
reflective and highly visual poems stand unadorned but infused by the
same sense of mystery that emanates from these desolate outposts. This double
focus accumulates into a vividly thematic book that, in the making, has resulted
in a fine example of the craft of book-making.’
The Idea of Islands will be published by Occasional Press in 2010.
Throughout that year an exhibition of the original drawings for the book will tour Ireland and England. At the openings of some these exhibitions Sue Hubbard will be reading from her poems.
The candle in its glass stutters,
reflected back fourfold
in the panes of this small window,
though tonight there is no moon,
only an endless sea black
as a saucer of spilt ink
and waves crested with white horses
stretching into the far distance like light
streaking the surface of a dark negative.
I know that out there
there is not nothing;
for my mind recalls the idea of islands
and how in the
early morning mist
high above the boiling sea
suddenly as quicksilver
to reveal a radiant light.
Though I have been here before
I now understand something of
the compulsion of departure and return,
how love must be a surrender,
a letting go of that dark grieving
lodged in marrow bone,
and how life is only this moment
at midnight: a guttering candle
and a terrible wind
howling across a strait of wide water
like something lost in the anthracite dark,
beating its way home in the battering rain.
Sue Hubbard is a freelance art critic, award-winning poet and writer. Her art writing career has spanned more than twenty years. For ten of them she wrote regularly for Time Out, moving on to The Independent on Sunday, The Independent and The New Statesman. She has written numerous artists' catalogues and contributed to a wide range of art magazines and has taught and lectured in various art schools. Twice winner of the London Writers' Competition, she has won many other prizes including third prize in the National and the TLS poetry competitions. She has published two poetry collections: Everything Begins with the Skin (Enitharmon) and Ghost Station (Salt) and her work has appeared in many anthologies, including 20 ot her poems in Oxford Poets 2000 (Carcanet). The Poetry Society's first Public Art poet, she was responsible tor London's largest public art poem at Waterloo and was writer in residence at the De La Warr Pavilion during ArchiTEXT week. Her first novel, Depth of Field, is published by Dewi Lewis and her short story collection, Rothko's Red, by Salt.
Donald Teskey was born in Co. Limerick and came to prominence as an artist
through his skill as a draughtsman during the 1980s. Since 1992 he has crafted
out a substantial body of work as a painter of the landscape and more recently
the ruggedness ot the western seaboard. Sometimes working on a very large
scale, his images reflect his response to the formal el¬ements of composition;
shape, form and the fall of light. The results are powerful images of instantly
recognisable parts of the Irish landscape with large abstract passages and
surfaces which articulate the relentless energetic and elemental force of
nature. He is a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy and Aosdana. He is
represented in major collections including the Arts Council of Ireland and
Irish Museum of Modern Art.