There are very few artists who have really established a style that, when you see similar work by other artists, you recognise that it originated with Joe Boske. Some of the elements of this originality we've mentioned, but there are other things; there's his use of and delight in colour, for instance: radiant blues, vibrant reds, earthy browns, the white, cottony puff of cloud or smoke for a ship's chimney. And, although humour or lunacy is never far away, there are also images he's created that are achingly beautiful: twilight or early morning things. Purple evening skies, threaded with a crepuscular orange. Shining sunlight glancing off heaving blue waves. And faces and animals and objects: old man, young children; goats and sheep, dogs and cats; broken-down dressers; the landscapes of Connemara and the Burren.
So vivid you expect them to begin talking or barking or winking at you. Twenty-eight years ago, Joe Boske came to the green isle from his native Germany. It sounds like a cliché but he really did fall in love with the place - with its people, its landscapes and seascapes and skyscapes, with its quirky sense of humour, and with its music. Joe lived for a time in Dublin, where he was associated with the early days of In Dublin magazine (some of Joe's Galway-based contemporaries will remember a similarly titled, short-lived magazine called In the West for which he also did work). What many people, even those who know Joe, might not realise is that the work for which he is so well known was, originally, only something he did to keep the wolf from the door. He had a marketable talent at a time - the 70s - when iconoclasm and the challenging of old beliefs and assumptions by young people had finally reached Ireland. The fact that Joe brought to this bubbling mix not only his formidable artistic skills but also his own deliciously skewed sense of humour meant that he quickly established a reputation for designing posters and record sleeves that brilliantly expressed what the Germans call the 'zeitgeist', the spirit of the times. He enjoyed the work, and you only have to look at some of the arts festival posters to see that, but - as he realises now, in retrospect - it had its downside.
As he puts it, "I spent 20 years working for other people. Although the style was my own, because I was doing commissioned work, inevitably there were compromises." Coming under the category of "I'll bet you never knew that..." is the fact that Joe was originally (and in his own mind always remained) an artist first and a designer second. During the early 70s Joe had several successful London exhibitions in several very prestigious galleries. In fact, his 1973 exhibition secured him the distinction of being the youngest artist ever to exhibit in the famous Marlborough Gallery. He also had two private shows in Chelsea, where he had been befriended by Marina Fistoulari, the niece of the great German composer, Gustav Mahler. "About a year ago I decided it was time to call a halt to commercial work and go back to painting what I wanted to paint." Next year is the 21st anniversary of Galway Arts Festival and as part of the celebrations planned Joe is working towards a major exhibition of new work.
It's going to be something special, and it will introduce a dimension of his creativity that few outside of a small circle his friends know about. For Joe, in addition to being an artist, is also a composer. And this week sees the release of his debut album, featuring 10 original compositions, inspired by his love of traditional music. It's called Amara: Island Currents and it features, as Máirtin O Céidigh writes in his liner notes, "some of Ireland's finest traditional and contemporary musicians", including, among others, Máirtin O Connor, Garry O Briain, Davy Spillane, The Cafe Orchestra, Sean Smyth, Brendan O Regan, Tommy Keane, Charlie Piggot, Miriam Collins, John Faulkner, Jon Hicks, Tommie O Loughlin, and Carl Hession. An alternative title might be 'With A Little Help From My Friends'! Joe contributes notes to each of the compositions. Here are two examples, which catch the intimacy and sense of fun that have surrounded the creation of this superb CD. 'The Trip to Bofin' - "a jaunty little jig that recalls my first boat journey from Cleggan Pier to Inishbofin" and is dedicated "to Paddy O Halloran, master mariner, in his retirement, and to all the 'Bofiners'."; 'The Nogra Polka' - " 'How is my little polka coming along?', I enquired of Charlie Piggot outside the only pub on Inishmaan one bright autumn day.
'Oh', he replied in his unstartled way, 'I made a Dingle wren tune out of it', took out his whistle and proved it there and then. Nogra is a small village near Kinvara, close to where I once lived. The uncrowned High King of the hamlet is that intrepid raconteur Miko Fahy. 'For you, Miko, and your family'." The CD is released this week and is available, as they say, in all good record shops.
But there's more to Amara: Island Currents than that! The music on the CD will be the background to the major exhibition Joe is mounting for next year's anniversary celebrations. Is it any good? The simple answer is that it's very good indeed. Taking its keynote from the title 'Amara', it has a flowing, extremely melodic feel to it, by turns jaunty, as in 'The Galway Bay Waltz' and hauntingly beautiful, as in the title track, played on the uilleann pipes with depth and poignancy by Tommie Keane. And through it all, 'Amara: Island Currents' - the music and the delightful liner notes - sounds the unmistakable voice of Joe Boske, artist, composer, and a witty spirit to be cherished as one of Galway's most popular and successful imports! Joe's notes to 'The Geata Ban Fling' are as good a way as any to bring these ramblings to a close: "On a lighter note (with apologies to Oscar Wilde who was a dab hand at quoting himself) I give you these few lines I made up after an exceptionally social weekend: "'Tis an accepted thing That youth must have its fling And fling I will away Until my dying day" Good on you, Joe, and may that day never come!" End of quote. All copyrights acknowledged. Read more on Last.fm.
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