Gallery 8‘s now-annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration was offered on Friday, in perhaps one of the last such social gatherings to be seen on the island for some time.
The moment of levity and hint of greener pastures came to Salt Spring thanks to Will Millar, the Irish Rovers founder who now spends most of his time painting at his Cowichan Valley farmhouse/studio. Millar and musical friends The Islanders performed for the opening of his solo art show, which continues upstairs through March 25.
Those who have seen Millar’s work in the past will be familiar with his colourful style and regular theme, which is the Ireland he knew as a child. The show itself will be new to viewers, though, consisting mainly of previously unseen pieces created over the past two years.
“Ireland today has greatly changed but the Ireland of my youth was a colourful place,” Millar said during a previous visit to the island. “There were gypsies on the back roads with painted wagons, raggedy kids and dogs. Every town had horse fairs and country markets with cattle, sheep and wonderful characters. Moonshine men, itinerant musicians and ballad singers in old pubs: I remember it all vividly and very fondly.”
While those elements all have their roots in a real past, the scenes that Millar puts together are from his own imagination and may unite different elements. For example, a stirring depiction of a black and white Percheron horse galloping past a ruined castle atop seaside cliffs brings together fond memories of playing in that very castle as a youngster, and the farm where the horses were raised nearby.
Many of the paintings have an element of the humour for which the Irish are well known, and of which Millar enjoys a great share. One of his personal favourites in the current show is Donnybrook Pub. For those who haven’t heard the term through its transference to the sports world, a “donnybrook” has come to mean any big melée. It originates from the historic pub in question, where people once went specifically to have fights.
Cheeky takes on religious art that further reveal Millar’s warm humour include Murphy’s Last Supper, where a long table of “reprobates” have a completely liquid dinner at the local pub.
A Gypsy Nativity poses Madonna and child in front of a stone stable with thatched roof, with a cheerfully painted gypsy caravan poking up from behind a stone wall. The visiting shepherds all wear flat wool caps — and one white-bearded fellow holding a lamb has more than a passing resemblance to the artist, who is himself often seen in such headgear.
For those who missed being treated to Millar’s charming company last Friday, he has proposed coming back to the island after the current health crisis has passed to give a talk called The Joy of Art. He said the event would encourage people to pick up a pencil or a paintbrush themselves, with a little philosophy and humour thrown in as well. Until then, his work offers an excellent source of positivity.