Barrie Cooke (b. 1931, d. 2014)Dawn/Dusk: Sweeney alarmed (by the Elk)

Size71cm x 71cm
MaterialsOil on canvas
ProvenanceAcquired by UCC Visual Arts Committee with assistance from the Arts Council under joint purchase scheme

In a long career, Barrie Cooke developed a multiplicity of themes, several of which meet in this picture (one of a series on the subject). It represents an episode from the wanderings of Sweeney, the mythical Irish king cast out from his people, best known from Seamus Heaney's Sweeney Astray. He embodies several ideas; the individual isolated from society - but unified with nature; the passing of the Celtic world; the sensibility of the artist. In another series Cooke had been exploring the Great Irish Elk, a link with primordial nature, its evidence preserved in Irish bogs. These ideas of an organic, powerful nature are expressed in an exceptional richness and control of paint and colour wiped and smeared in fluid movements (seen again in Diana of the Tekapo II). The visionary appearance of the elk, left white on the canvas, seems like a pagan precursor to Christ's Transfiguration, its elevated white purity a foil to Sweeney's muddy debasement. 

Text by William Gallagher, from UCC Modern Art Collection catalogue, 1998

Other artworks by Barrie Cooke

The UCC Art Collection includes the following artworks

Diana of the Tekapo II