These marks in printer's ink
June 6, 2009 2:04 AM   Subscribe

The Táin lithographs In 1967 Louis le Brocquy was commissioned to illustrate Thomas Kinsella's translation of the great Irish prose epic the Táin Bó Cuailnge. The resulting collaborative volume is widely acknowledged as the great Irish Livre d'Artiste of the twentieth century; Le Brocquy's "brush drawings merged seamlessly with the text; stark, fluent images, they expressed with great economy of means an epic breadth, evoking the movement of vast masses of people. Individual participants in the drama were also pulled into close focus."
posted by Abiezer (19 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Slight excess of great Irishness in my post text there; but everyone involved is Irish and it is great. Ahem.
posted by Abiezer at 2:44 AM on June 6, 2009

Thanks Abiezer. Wonderful, intriguing, primitive, surreal.

"It is as shadows thrown by the text that they derive their substance."
posted by peacay at 2:53 AM on June 6, 2009

I didn't know about this before. Thanks - nice post!
posted by paperpete at 3:38 AM on June 6, 2009

I see Wake Forest University's Z. Smith Reynolds Library has a digital archive of Dolmen Press printing blocks. Liam Miller's vision was of course also integral to the creation of the Kinsella/Le Brocquy Táin, not to mention so many other fine works.
posted by Abiezer at 3:59 AM on June 6, 2009

Buy the book.

I actually have a copy of this and have loved those illustrations for years but never knew that they were so acclaimed and famous. Great post.
posted by The Michael The at 4:26 AM on June 6, 2009

I had to get a copy of this book 19 years ago for a college course. It's one of the ones I kept because I was awed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:35 AM on June 6, 2009

The paintings are great, too. Neat post, Abiezer, thanks.
posted by mediareport at 5:46 AM on June 6, 2009

Most excellent post, Abiezer, thank you - this from your first link says it for me:
"In an idiom that can take in its stride hints from oriental art, cave painting, Picasso and other sources he has created powerfully and economically an entire mythico-legendary world.'"
posted by madamjujujive at 6:09 AM on June 6, 2009

Amen. Amazing work from both translator and artist. My favorite part: when Finn lets an old crone have the right of way on a desperately small mountain pass by hanging off the cliff by his toes, only to find she's the mother of two men he killed. She tries to stomp his toes, but he jumps up and beheads her. Staggeringly bizarre stuff.
posted by Football Bat at 7:18 AM on June 6, 2009

Staggeringly bizarre stuff.

Ooh, God, yes -- like Cuchullain's warp-spasm. (For those unfamiliar -- it's a sort of fit that the hero Cuchullain underwent when he was about to really kick the battle up a notch. Think like Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk, but infinitely more surreal.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:28 AM on June 6, 2009

If we are going down the track of Tain inspired art, The Decemberists song of the same name has a music video that has similar lithographic / shadow feel to it. I remember reading a forum post by the guy working on it, and I think the animation style was inspired by these lithrographs.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:18 AM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Add mine to the chorus of thanks for this post!

> Cuchullain's warp-spasm.

We have been lucky with the Táin. Little Cu's transformation is very much there in Cecile O'Rahilly's--excuse me, Sisile Ní Rathaille's--scholarly edition and translation, which I read as a fantasy-engorged teenager (that it, I read the Once upon a time it befell Ailill and Medb translation and stared wistfully at the Fecht n-óen do Ailill & do Meidb edition) many years before stumbling across Kinsella's rendering. Way too often, very old things with surreal incidents like this are clearly just too much for the translators, who go "It can't mean what it says. It must be an extended metaphor for something else. Yeah, metaphor, that's the ticket." Or they assume it will be too much for their audience. And so they proceed to render the something else, to the great loss of the text. Not to mention the loss to the poor reader who can't read the Odyssey directly in Homeric Greek or the Mabinogion in Welsh or the Ramayana in Sanscrit or whatever.

Pamela Reis made this point in a brief letter to the NY Times which has stuck with me for twenty-odd years. "The example of Edmund Wilson who learned ancient Hebrew at the age of 50 and wrote a book about the Dead Sea Scrolls inspired me to start studying that language 2 years ago, as my 50th birthday became imminent. When people ask why I bother to laboriously work my way through the Old Testament when there are good translations, I respond: "Yes, but your sentence says God became angry. And mine says The flames were coming out of God's nose."

posted by jfuller at 8:42 AM on June 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

Fascinating images. Amazing how like calligraphy they are, seemingly so simple and yet very subtly communicative. Amazingly forceful with such economy! Louis le Brocquy describes his paintings as "shadows thrown by the text". That seems so apt.

This one is a mosaic of miniature portraits that look almost like thumbprints, both personal and impersonal, conveying the vastness and diversity of humankind, almost hinting at the pattern of DNA.

I love his Human Image series, his portraits in oils and watercolors.

Had seen his work before in my childhood but had never really known much about the artist. Your excellent post prompted a wonderful exploration of his work. Thanks Abiezer.
posted by nickyskye at 8:52 AM on June 6, 2009

Great post. Like The Michael The, I've had the book for years (I bought it in Dublin in 1975, and had it signed by Kinsella) but had no idea the illustrations were so famous. Now I want to reread it (and dig out my beat-up copy of the original Irish, which I was studying back in those days).
posted by languagehat at 11:21 AM on June 6, 2009

Never heard of any of this before, I'm so glad I clicked on this post! Thanks!
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:51 PM on June 6, 2009

posted by zoinks at 3:15 PM on June 6, 2009

Great post! Thanks, Abiezer.
posted by homunculus at 12:32 AM on June 7, 2009

Post needs a link to Horselips "Dearag Doom"
posted by fcummins at 10:56 AM on June 7, 2009

Dearg Doom. Damn.
posted by fcummins at 11:04 AM on June 7, 2009

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