Colin told me he started this series
after hearing his mum admonish him,
"Do you think money grows on trees?".
The line was one she used often
but just this time it triggered a train of thought
that set him off on a series of paintings with the vision of money,
or at least its visual symbols, growing on trees.
Dollar symbols, Euros, Sterling, Roubles, Yen, Rupees, Shekels, Pesos.
Personally myself I live where no trees grow.
I spent a few bob setting a few
that were soon destroyed by wind and salt
and slowly I learnt that
– except for a few plants like oleria and bent grass
that come from abroad, mainly New Zealand
– that by the sea a leaf is a
precious and very rare commodity.
Art began on the bark of the tree,writing began on the leaf.
The rules were written in stone.
And it's strange and inevitable that Colin eventually began
using every letter in the alphabet
with 1 or 2 dashes through them
signifying them as currency symbols.
The bible itself started out on the bark and ended up on the leaf.
The alphabet is made up of two sources
– how we open our mouths to speak and the shapes our lips form,
and then there's hieroglyphics
–the shape of what our eyes sees out there on the landscape,
those shadows that birds and humans throw across the earth.
The story of creation began in the arrangements of words
and images on leaves and bark and stone and clay.
Colin Mc Gookin is following an old tradition
in pursuing the idea for this exhibition.
He has brought his mother to this show to greet us at the door.
She is smiling into the dark, and behind her is the purse of nature,
the debts, the credits.
A leaf is the leaf of a plant or the page of a book.
The papyrus leaf gave us the first images that turned in time into words,
and the papyrus gave us the first boat; so once we began
to make shapes we also began to travel, mentally and physically. And
the first words set down on leaves were rules and commandments and
debts for sums of gold. Hence the leaflet , and later the flier, and
the handbill, all reminders of what was owed and what was to be
believed, and what was not to be believed.. And here they are again
on these walls, setting forth the fertile and barren; the good times
and the bad, and in the distance the approaching storm, the
explosions and the emptiness.
The shedding of the leaves begins so that the tree can survive the
The Long Fall.
The time when the other colours gather before the bare boughs are
Then there is the other meaning – to come into leaf, to put forth
leaves. Genesis and Exodus mark the richness of the leaf; and from
those writings comes the word leaven, the raising of dough, that
comes from the word alleviation - literally the lifting of a great
weight. From leavare – to raise, giving us the word lever, a bar used
to dislodge or pry stone.
The leaf lifts the weight of our back as it marks the new season of
Spring when it slowly comes into being to stop the summer winds and
let the plants grow.
Around last Christmas Colin's brother-in-law saw some of these
pictures. He had just been made redundant and said Colin should be
showing the trees being cut down as that was what was happening to
the global economy. Colin liked that thought and took into the frame
the axe to cut away at the money trees.
Bark, which is the outer
covering of the tree made the first three masted ships, and the first
small flat bottom Egyptian boats, leading to the barge. History was
written in bark by man and nature. And in the Irish language coil
meaning wood gives us Kill meaning Church. The tree is a collection
and a gathering. A mark on the landscape. It is a means of finding
your way across the earth.
The leaf is a blade, the flattened part of anything, sword, oar or
blade of grass. And then there is foliage, from florere to bloom. And
then there is the fall, the leaving, the going away of the leaves.
Then there is the return.
But storms come out of nowhere.
As does the ivy that strangles growth.
In January Colin was working close to the scene of a dreadful
incident where a tree was blown down onto the car of a passing
motorist, killing her on the spot. It was a tragic incident which
left a young family devastated. The tree was heavily covered in ivy
and had snapped about 6 feet from its base under the stress of the
wind. In the surrounding area he subsequently saw a number of trees
snapped by the same gust of wind and noticed they were all covered in
Ivy and Colin started to add these images to his paintings.
Along with the yen sprouting out of the ground, there is darkness
afoot. And that darkness is at its most dangerous in the brightest
signs – those white shoots of phosphorus of a war that will
knock the oak and the pine. He has begun a journey back to the old
The blooming and the leaving go hand in hand.
And so you have the Ill-wind that spins the signs for old pound notes
on an ancient till. The tree is Cut down with the moon above in the
sky like an old sixpence, and the leaves like dollars and sterling
are whipping up an ancient song. Money rises across the sky and spins
like one of those old cash lines that ran overhead through draperies
and big shops to the cashier. The Dollar tree stands at a great
height on the landscape, like the economy stands high above the
mental interior, while away off in the distance another white
explosion is approaching.
Money has its own alphabet, its own language.
This artist is writing again our story on a leaf. Under the leaves
stand his family. The trees behind are in bloom, surrounded by the
blues, and you know they are ready to begin another sad wonderful
narrative. They mark where water runs underground. Where birds find
homes. Where the earth around them is fertilised by leaves. They turn
to fuel, to peat, to bog oak, to sleepers, to chairs, to homes.
You can stand in their shade, you can take cover or you can stand
back and look, and as you look at these great works a sense of
absence grows. Colin is writing out a beautiful cheque made of oils
and letters and numbers and signs. The debt we owe Mother Earth is
And we owe Colin McGookin a great deal for letting us gather again at
Dermot Healy , May 2009