A portrait of the artist as another man

Click to follow
BANKERS display a touching interest in literature in depicting dead writers on the currency they issue. The Germans have celebrated Schiller and Goethe, and I seem to remember Shakespeare pounds and Dickens on English notes. The Irish now celebrate Mr Joyce on their new, minuscule pounds 10 note. It is a curious choice, as the master's principal interest in banknotes lay in getting rid of them as fast as he could, much to the dismay of his long-suffering wife.

The Central Bank chose Robert Ballagh to portray Joyce, who consequently appears as a simpering, genial figure, not greatly resembling any previous portrait of him I have seen. Given his financial circumstances, the death mask might have been more appropriate or the photograph taken by his friend Constantine Curran in 1904, which depicts him staring gloomily into the camera with both hands in his pockets. When Curran asked him afterwards what he was thinking of, he said: 'I was wondering: would you lend me five shillings?'

Joyce did briefly work in a bank in Rome, but was not often allowed to handle money there. Handing over pounds 10, with ill grace, to a female descendant of Shelley, he was rebuked by the manager for turning up for duty with the seat out of his trousers; he could not afford a new pair. A pounds 10 note would have been very welcome.

I AM AS given as any man to opening exhibitions; once, as a matter of fact, I opened a gentleman's urinal in Kinsale as a favour to a friend who owned a public house there. (Art being the brazen hussy that she is, an exhibition of discarded toilet bowls was mounted subsequently in Dublin. It took place in a disused underground urinal hard by Trinity College - where else?)

My only qualification for these performances is that I own a few pictures myself and I talk too much. One should encourage painters on the grounds that all you are required to do is look at their effusions. You do not, as is the case with poets and, frequently, novelists, have to suffer any recitation. Besides, precisely as I have discovered that the best way to get the clothes off a pretty woman is to have put them on her in the first place, the best way to get a drink out of an artist is to give him the money to buy it.

There is some social cachet involved also. Visitors often approach my walls with outstretched hand, declaiming in awe: 'Jesus, Stan, are they real, hand-painted paintings?' Yes indeed, done with real paint, too.

There were eight painters and sculptors involved in this show. The theme, I was told helpfully by one of them, was the use of colour. Well, what else do painters do if they do not use colour? (It is not necessary to answer this.) Bea Heather uses colour exquisitely. I should know. I have her work on my walls.

It is more a case of exuberance with my friend, Patrick Conyngham, whose industry is inspiring. I can remember Lord Patrick from his Soho days, when he pioneered the art of underwater poetry recitation. Some demon makes me recite my favourite lines of art criticism, which come from the movie The Producers wherein, you will recall, a crazed Nazi wearing a steel helmet rails against Winston Churchill: 'You sink Churchill was a painter? He was no painter. But the Fuhrer] The Fuhrer was a genius] Why, he could paint a whole apartment in an afternoon]' I reckon that Patrick could paint a whole swimming pool in an afternoon.

ENTERING the Shelbourne Hotel, I notice a red carpet drawn up to the door. Very kind of the management, I reflect, to recognise, if belatedly, my efforts to keep Lord Forte in style; but I am soon disabused of this conceit. The carpet is for Paul Keating, the Prime Minister of Australia, who has come here to collect votes and research his roots. These apparently lie in a hamlet in Galway.

I consider warning him against this latter project, but think better of it. Let fate take its hand. I could have reminded him what happened when the historical society at Fethard, Co Tipperary, undertook research into the ancestry of Ned Kelly, who fervently believed his father had been transported for treason. Not so. It transpired he had been transported for stealing two pigs, the property of a Catholic neighbour even poorer than himself. Apprehended in a whorehouse in Cashel, he confessed all and, by informing on another neighbour who had stolen cows from a Protestant, he had his sentence reduced.

This tale amused Sir Sidney Nolan, who has given us several of his Ned Kelly pictures (Sir Sid was no republican, anyway), but any such revelation concerning the Keating ancestry would, I think, put paid to any immediate prospect of the Republic of Australia. I shall get my genealogical friends working on it.