SEAMUS HEANEY LEFT us exactly a year ago – 30 August, 2013.
World leaders, literary luminaries, and the people of this island joined in mourning our most beloved poet.
To commemorate the anniversary of his death, An Post earlier this week unveiled these beautiful tributes to the Nobel Laureate.
In that spirit, TheJournal.ie asked artists from Ireland and beyond to share work inspired by Seamus Heaney, and their portraits of him, and to offer some thoughts on the man himself – one year on.
Renowned Dublin artist Maser tells us that, like most kids, he first encountered Heaney “for the Junior Cert.”
When he saw that the poet’s last words had been, in a text to his wife Marie, “Noli timere” or “Don’t be afraid” – he saved that day’s newspaper and stored it away.
They were powerful words.
I held out painting the piece until late winter. Maybe it’s the bad weather and short evenings, but it’s a tough and lonely time for a lot of people.
I feel it’s necessary to spread a bit of hope during that time.
‘A charming, sexy, mischievous, lovely man’
Seamus Heaney was held in universal admiration – reverence, even. But illustrator and cartoonist Annie West saw something else.
She reflects on how she came to portray Heaney in a pair of illustrations.
I met Seamus a few times. He had that way of talking to you, while standing in a hall packed with his enthusiastic and determined admirers, as if you were the only other person in the room.
Seamus was a charming, sexy, mischievous, lovely man.
At the opening of her “Yeats in love” exhibit in Galway in 2009, future President Michael D. Higgins himself suggested she take on another Irish Nobel prize winner. West accepted the challenge, and began researching.
Picking up tiny stories I’d heard like bits of string, I slowly put a couple of drawings together.
In one, Heaney sits in his study, tadpoles on the windowsill, a “squadron” of adoring women looking through the window – reading the Ben Sherman shirt catalogue.
In the other, Heaney the venerated and celebrated literary titan, sits with a quill and ink, fighting his way through a Sudoku puzzle, with the caption “We live in an imperfect world.”
‘The actual Seamus Heaney’
It doesn’t get more revealing, or exciting for an artist, than the rare moment when a subject stands next to their portrait.
It makes it all the more special that Northern Ireland-based artist Colin Davidson’s portrait of Heaney was the last the poet sat for.
Davidson shared the poignant moment on his Twitter account last April:
Here’s the finished portrait of Seamus Heaney (with the actual Seamus Heaney).
It will be displayed as part of the “On Home Ground” festival in Magherafelt, Co Derry, beginning on 11 September.
‘A genuine and unassuming man’
Painter Stephen Bennett, based in Ardara, Co Donegal, remembers meeting Heaney at the McGill Summer School in Glenties, some years back.
He had that same down-to-earth look which draws me to a lot of the people I paint.
I very much enjoyed working on the portrait and I hope my portrayal captures the feeling I got, of a very genuine and unassuming man.
‘I can’t read his poems without being changed in some fundamental way’
Catherine Edmunds, an artist and writer based in the North East of England, was inspired to do this pencil sketch of Heaney about a month after his death. She explains his appeal as a poet:
It’s not just his lyricism and earthiness.
It’s the way I cannot read any of his poems without being changed in some fundamental way, and that is the mark of a great writer.
‘He could transform the elements of everyday life’
Ray Pelesko, from Somerset, New Jersey, only became familiar with the poetry of Seamus Heaney while working on this commissioned sketch.
I found his writing to be quite moving and powerful.
There was a sense of authenticity that really spoke to me. I liked how he could transform the elements of every day life into something more beautiful.
Here are some more portraits by artists from around the world, all of whom share one thing – a love of the late, great Seamus Heaney.