Arts and Entertainment

Two gems: Painter and poet marry Ireland and the Northwest

Port Angeles poet Tess Gallagher and Irish painter Josie Gray enjoy a few strokes around Gray’s hometown lake, Lough Arrow (Lake Arrow), in County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland.  - Photo courtesy of Rob Schouten Gallery
Port Angeles poet Tess Gallagher and Irish painter Josie Gray enjoy a few strokes around Gray’s hometown lake, Lough Arrow (Lake Arrow), in County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Rob Schouten Gallery

He caught a trout in Lough Arrow, Ireland and she placed oranges around it for him to paint.

Perhaps she’ll write a poem about it.

They are a confluence of art.

He is the Irish painter Josie Gray. She is internationally recognized Port Angeles poet Tess Gallagher. They are longtime companions.

Together, the stories of Ireland, the color of skies, fish and oranges, and their life together are spread out on paper. He, using gouache and a brush, she a pen.

These colorful stories of Northwest skies and the Irish landscape of life come to the Rob Schouten Gallery with the opening of “Josie Gray Irish Painter New Gouache Paintings” from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4.

Although Gray is unable to attend, Gallagher will be at the opening.

She will also read new poetry written in Ireland, and excerpts from “Barnacle Soup: and Other Stories from the West of Ireland,” a book written by Gallagher and Gray, on the following evening from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5 at the gallery.

The collaboration started innocently, and with a storm.

The poet and the as-yet-to-be-painter were living in Walla Walla, where Gallagher was working on a book at Whitman College.

“There was a big snowstorm and we were trapped in the snow for about six days,” Gallagher recalled.

“Josie began walking down to the college’s art center and tried his hand at wash and acrylics. He was looking at the paintings of Morris Graves, who had done a flower series.”

Gray began painting flowers which, Gallagher said, had a beautiful radiance with a kind of magic entered into them.

Gray was about 74 years old when he started, and has been painting ever since. He is 84 now. He and Gallagher share neighboring studios in the place he is from on the west coast of Ireland in Lough Arrow, County Sligo, when she is not at home in Port Angeles.

“Lough Arrow is a beautiful lake, and he caught a beautiful trout which I surrounded with oranges for him to paint,” Gallagher said, sounding smitten by such a collaborative life.

Many of Gray’s paintings are landscapes of both Ireland and the Northwest and are full of light and color. There is a fantastic, dream-like quality to them that reveals an unspoiled earth; one of innocence and happy colors.

“You’d expect a person who comes from a place where it rains 246 times a year not to have so much color in the paintings,” she said.

“But when the light shifts and comes out, he captures that mercurial sense of skies and water. He sees the relationship of the two and that they are often melding; you don’t see where the one starts and the other ends in his paintings.”

But not all his paintings are light, Gallagher said, and in his paintings of dark skies, in which he uses browns, blacks and whites, there is a roil of energy, and one can see the brushstrokes and feel the sinew of the painter’s imagination.

Gallagher said some of her poems are most definitely influenced by the life she shares with Gray. One of his paintings inspired a poem and was used on the cover of her latest book, “The Man from Kinvara: new and selected stories.” The painting is entitled “Near Kinvara.”

She has written a good number of poems after paintings by Gray and, just as she was inspired by her late husband, author Raymond Carver, Gallagher said it is a natural thing for her to do.

“You want to find ways where your worlds permeate one another’s,” she said.

At the Saturday evening reading, which is being co-presented by Hedgebrook and the Rob Schouten Gallery, Gallagher will treat audiences to the stories that come right from the horse’s mouth.

“Barnacle Soup” is a series of stories as told to Gallagher by Gray.

“I recorded him on tape for 12 years telling stories of his life, of Ireland,” she said.

She had the tapes transcribed, and then she and Gray passed them back and forth, tweaking them until they were just right. The book was first published in Belfast, but a 2008 edition is now available in this country through Eastern Washington University Press.

The stories, she said, feature the local rural characters of Ireland and come from the dying Irish tradition of “rambling houses” that was a part of Gray’s life growing up in Ireland.

“You could stop into any house in the parish where you lived and people would be sitting around a fire with a cup of tea, or something stronger, telling yarns,” Gallagher explained.

The stories that Gray told her came out of that tradition, during the pre-pub era of Ireland.

Presently, the drinking-and-driving laws of Ireland have been strictly enforced, and this has restricted people from gathering to drink in both pubs and at their homes. The day of the “rambling houses” has passed.

But the book is worth a read, Gallagher said.

“These stories are just golden. Wonderfully alive they are. It’s the kind of book you want to read aloud to your cousin, or your partner, and it’s good for all ages,” she said.

Gallagher will also give a reading from her newest works at Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Click here to see Gray’s work accompanied by Gallagher’s commentary.

Suggested donation for the Saturday evening poetry reading is $15; guests can become a patron with a donation of $75.

However, no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Donations go to defray Gallagher’s costs. Space for the reading is limited, so plan accordingly.

“Josie Gray Irish Painter New Gouache Paintings” will be on display through Sept. 30.

Also showing at the gallery will be new works in handblown glass by Robert Adamson and Janis Swalwell.

Acoustic guitarist Quinn Fitzpatrick will serenade the opening reception crowd, and light refreshments will also be served.

Guests can also enjoy “First Fridays at the Farm” with a wine tasting starting at the Greenbank Wine Shop, in conjunction with Whidbey Pies Cafe, Greenbank Cheese Shop and all three of the art galleries for a wine-and-art walk.

The Rob Schouten Gallery is located at 765 Wonn Rd. in Greenbank. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

For more information call, 222-3070 or e-mail info@robschoutengallery.com.

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