A dashing but retired man, artist Patrick Reel lives with his sister Esther in a large, three-story Georgian house on the corner of Ludlow Street and Church Hill in Navan, Co Meath.
His Oriel Gallery, which displays his paintings in the windows, faces St Mary’s Church, while the old sweets shop run by Esther, with rows of Bull’s Eyes, Bonbons, Brandy jars Balls and other fine dining, facing Ludlow Street.
After years of living in the wilderness, Patrick Reel – or Patsy, as some are known – burst into the limelight in his late ’80s with a retrospective exhibition of his paintings, opened at the State Apartments in Dublin Castle on Thursday.
When we called the store a few years ago, Patrick was friendly but reluctant for a formal interview. But that doesn’t stop him from talking about his work, life and home, where he has produced a large volume of paintings, a selection of which will be hung in the stately space. of Dublin Castle until August.
Once there, he reminisced about painting a large portrait of the then-president, Éamon de Valera, a commission of several ” Fianna Fail bigwigs” as he put it. The portrait was delivered to commemorate Dev’s re-election to the presidency (1966) and Charlie Haughey and George Colley, two young ministers in the Lemass government, came to inspect the finished product and declared it satisfactory.
The president was 84 years old and nearly blind at the time, so his trusted secretary Marie O’Kelly went to Reel’s gallery to examine the portrait. She demanded that the gold Fáinne, the emblem of an Irish speaker, and the cufflinks worn in the portrait, be repainted. The head, as he was known to his followers, never wore gold, she said.
The fáinne is changed to red and the cufflinks to silver. He also had to change his hands because he made them too thin and unflattering and de Valera had the big hands of his countrymen, according to O’Kelly. The portrait was eventually taken to Fianna Fáil’s Mount Street headquarters, where it has hung with pride ever since.
Patrick Reel was also commissioned by people he reluctantly identified, to paint a portrait of Rose Dugdale, the portrait given to her then toddler son, Ruairí Gallagher, who was born. in Limerick Prison. It reminded him of his mother, who was, at the time, serving a nine-year sentence for masterminding the infamous 1974 Beit art theft.
When we met, he joked that people who ordered the Dugdale portrait also asked if they could buy a copy of the de Valera painting.
“I asked them what they wanted it for and they said ‘practice goal’,” he says with a smile.
Although the Dugdale portrait seems to have disappeared,
Portraits of writer Mary Lavin and business magnate Tony O’Reilly’s mother have been recovered from their current owners, along with a portrait of young war correspondent Simon Cumbers, of Navan descent. who was murdered in Saudi Arabia in 2004.
When you enter the store of Reels, also known as Oriel, there is a wooden counter with a weight, and on the back walls are candy jars and picture decorations. In the cupboard under the counter is a set of delphs, a canteen of cutlery and a variety of other random items.
Esther is sometimes sitting in the back room and the bell rings that a customer or guest has arrived. If they are guests, they will be taken into a large room at the back of the store. If they called to make an appointment with her brother, who was always working in his studio upstairs, she would take a long, straight stick from the corner and bang it against the ceiling to warn him. that.
Although it appears to have remained largely unchanged in a century, the house is clean and tidy with a fire burning in the large fireplace in the living room. Patrick and Esther are a double act, helping to end each other’s stories, although he admits that his sister has a better memory than he does.
Their father, a builder by trade, from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, was the last surviving member of the Old IRA’s Louth brigade, commanded by Frank Aiken, upon his death. The family first settled in Kilcullen, Co Kildare, but after the War of Independence they moved 22 times, including time in a secluded house on a 1,700-acre property, before when the Land Commission broke up.
As they settled into their large, ramshackle home on Ludlow Street, their mother decreed that she would not move again.
Over the years, Patrick Reel sketched old Navan buildings, many of which are now gone. Among the rest was a pub across the street, with P Bermingham at the door. It’s been in the same family for generations and they haven’t changed it, but the last of the line “drunk” and died just a few months after his mother, who was in her 90s. Patsy wittily said: “He made it difficult for himself.
When you leave the living room, you enter a dark hallway with paintings and a clock, of his father. You go up the first flight on winding stairs to a doorway. When you pass there, you are on a walkway that forms part of what remains of the 12th-century Navan town wall, now incorporated into the structure of the house.
Since Patrick and Esther refuse to let the masons encroach on the wall, you have to bend down to go through the doorway that leads you into the gallery portion of the house, which overlooks the Protestant church.
The studio is filled with paintings of various sizes, finished, half finished and some just getting started. There were benches with paints and brushes and various things hung on the walls – paintings, photographs, an old poster for an exhibition he did in the Solstice Gallery, the puzzle pieces he uses, and blank canvases.
During a tour of our house, he showed me a Sam Browne belt, worn by his father during the War of Independence, the belt he keeps in a box with his dad’s IRA medal, and a shirt button.
He is a soft spoken man and has no mettle and courtesy. He wakes up at 6:30 a.m. daily, goes to the gym on the road, and then spends most of the day painting. Sometimes, he stays up very late and even at the age of 87, he is still working remotely and selling well.
A self-taught artist, he worked as a designer with Navan Carpets until 1970 when he became a full-time painter. He worked in London, exhibiting locally and at the Living Art Exhibition and Project Art Center (1973), in Dublin.
The main reason for the current retrospective exhibition in Dublin Castle is that about 15 years ago, John O’Hagan, emeritus professor of economics at Trinity College Dublin, came across one of his paintings, liked it, and bought it. Being an avid learner, he reached out to the artist and befriended him, and acquired more of his work.
Artist Michelle Boyle worked with John O’Hagan and Patrick and Esther Reel in assembling the pieces for the exhibition and writing a catalog The Story of Artist Patrick Reel. The Public Office has been behind the project and has been “a lot of support for us,” said O’Hagan.
Reel is painted in two distinct styles. Early paintings were portraits, family groups, children and pastoral scenes.
“I never said no to roses,” says the artist. These are his ‘bread and butter’ paintings. His later paintings are abstract. Many of the paintings feature motifs from ancient pre-Christian sites and landscapes in Meath or Tuscany, where he also painted.
Somehow we’re talking about Sir John Lavery, and a giant portrait of his wife Hazel – famous as the face of old Irish banknotes and for an alleged affair. Michael Collins – hangs in the National Gallery. Title Artist’s Studio, it includes daughter Alice and stepdaughter Eileen. It turns out that Laverys lived on an estate near Navan and over the years Alice and Patrick Reel became friends and she was a regular visitor to his studio and the adjoining Oriel Gallery.
‘A Life in Paint: A Retrospective of Artist Patrick Reel’, opened at the State Apartment Gallery, Dublin Castle, last Thursday. Guests include Arts and Culture Minister Catherine Martin and guest speaker Ian Robertson of the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College Dublin
https://www.independent.ie/life/the-quiet-man-who-makes-great-art-in-a-room-above-a-sweet-shop-41440834.html The man quietly creates amazing artwork in the room above a sweets shop