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Bernard Canavan, Vertigo II (2016). Oil on canvas. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.

Few artists have captured the complexities and contradictions of migration out of Ireland in the twentieth century with as nuanced a portfolio of work as the London-based Irish artist Bernard Canavan (b. 1944). Canavan’s childhood years were marred by illness and he was often absent from school, but he used his time to read and draw. At the age of fourteen he left his hometown, Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford, to travel to England with his father. Like so many Irish emigrants he worked as a laborer in the building industry. Despite a short spell back in Dublin in the 1960s, he has made England his home. He started out working as a graphic artist in advertising before spending much of the 1960s as a freelance illustrator. During this time he published his work in the underground press, including Oz, International Times, Cyclops, Black Dwarf, and the magazines New Society, Peace News, and Tribune.

Vertigo II captures with his characteristic insight the transnational space that migrants leaving modern Ireland occupied, neither firmly rooted in Ireland nor fixed in the country of settlement, but rather occupying a middle place between these two worlds. Vertigo II explores the experience of displacement, dislocation, and exile, with the uprooted of rural Ireland seeking to come to terms with life in British urban centers, as represented by the grey and redbrick monuments to industrialization. The work captures both the known and unknowable elements of migrations between small-town Ireland and industrial Britain. It is a dynamic image marked by the bracing shock of the “new” and unfamiliar home as well as by the disconcerting feel of the bodies floating and tumbling but suspended in mid-air, with rosary beads, book, and other cherished possessions spilling out of the handbags of the emigrants.

The guest editors are very grateful to the artist for allowing us to use this new work. [End Page 6]



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