Cornelius Browne’s new solo exhibition at the McKenna Gallery in Omagh was painted entirely outdoors, in all weathers, at all times of day and night, over the course of a calendar year in the small West Donegal coastal village where the artist grew up.
The paintings move from the first day of spring, to the joys of midsummer, the beauty of the harvest moon, culminating in the stark power of wintry seas. For Browne, life and art are closely related – these landscapes are places the painter sees almost every day, and included in the exhibition, for example, is a painting of the artist’s young daughter looking out at a wild sea. Day-to-day life, however, takes places against a backdrop of history. There are several paintings of the signal tower that has been a focal point in this area since the height of the Napoleonic war in 1804. Another painting features the stone-age portal tomb which dates from about 5000 years ago, a reminder of the first farming community that settled in the area.
The exhibition’s title, “An Invite to Eternity,” comes from the celebrated nature poet John Clare, an acknowledgement both of Browne’s humble rural background and the extreme immersion in nature necessary to produce these distinctive oil paintings. Browne began painting landscape at a young age, and his early paintings were encouraged by artist Derek Hill, who also fostered the Tory Island School of painters. A graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Browne later worked for almost a decade at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Today, Browne is a passionate advocate of plein air, or outdoor, painting, teaching workshops and writing articles on the topic. The current exhibition is viewed by Browne as the latest instalment in a lifelong project, rec