“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul,” says German thinker, scientist, and author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. And the works of Joe Riley, now adorning the gallery walls, are but the wonderful testaments of how magnificent the world we are living in.
But his works are not only about mountains, blue lakes, golden skies, edifices, and green meadows.
They are about memories, his own and of others that collectively form his views about beauty, about love, about living and relationships (romantic and otherwise).Although not visible, each brushstroke contains the laughter, the smiles, and the tears of the people he met during his childhood and during his travels around the world.
Each color, with its various shades and hues, contains the stories/histories of the places that he visited—Thailand, Australia, Ireland, where he spent his childhood, and the Philippines (which is his home for years now), among others. Each shadow contains within the secret longings, the untold pains and struggles, and the triumphs of the people whom he had known. In other words, his works are the immortalization of the things that he considers true, good, and beautiful.
Histories, Stories, Memories, and Other Things
His majestic painting of the Victoria Ranges, with Mt Dandenong in the foreground (5’ x 3 1/2’, oil on canvas) brings the message of calmness, inner peace and strength. Mountains often symbolize permanence and immovability as well as the challenges that the person needed to overcome thus, the mountain also becomes the symbol of success and triumphs in life.
Riley’s Lake Elidon(30” x 21”, oil on canvas), also in Victoria, on the other hand, depicts the simple joys and contentment in life. Riley shared that this was the same lake where he and his son used to fish. One can imagine the laughter and the giggles of the father-and-son team as they catch some fish from the serene waters of Lake Elidon.
Just like what has been mentioned before, Riley’s works are about histories and memories.
His Scattery Island, Ireland (30” x 24”, oil on canvas) is a painting not only about his childhood, but a piece of history of the aforementioned island. Riley relays to this author that one of the seven (7) churches in the islands, the church of St. Sennan, whose tower was built around seventh century, played a very important role in the Irish history for it has become the watchtower and a defense against the Viking’s attacks.
Sean and Our Kite (15” x 22”, acrylic on canvas) is a story of hope and of compassion as it is the very reason that the young Riley has decided to stay with the Deloughrey family. This episode of his life was written in one of the chapters of his book, Ghosts of Kilrush.
It was in the woods near their home in Kilrush that Riley had been imparted with one of the most important lessons in life, and that is your life should be planned. Hence, his Uncle Andrew and I (22” x 15”, acrylic on canvas) has become one of the most important pieces in the exhibit for it also reminds the audience to carefully plan their actions so that they can attain success in life, but without ignoring the fact that there are things that are beyond one’s control. Life is both going with and against the flow.
On the other hand, his self-portrait rowing a boat does not only bring nostalgia (The Curragh, 20” x 16”, acrylic on canvas), but for this author, it also symbolizes our life journey.
In his Euclid: Master Mason(33” x 16”, oil on canvas), the painter honors the philosopher, mathematician, and first Master Mason Euclid.
Meanwhile, his Solstice and the Gods (24” x 30”, acrylic on canvas), is a very interesting piece for it honors the power of nature and the seasons. The solstices and the equinoxes play a very important role in the ancient people’s lives for their work, rest, play, and festivals are often in line—and associated with—the alignment of the celestial bodies (the zodiac and other heavenly bodies) and changing of the seasons. Modern magicians, mystics, and those who practice “earth religions” still follow the paths of the seasons for energy work, for healing, and for manifestation of whatever desire of their hearts and soul.
His Sleeping Lady Mountain (30” x 20”, acrylic on canvas) also has the air of mysticism and folk wisdom as it depicts one of the beautiful mountains in the Philippines, the Mount Makiling in Luzon. This holds true with his Daughter of Eve(5’ x 3’, acrylic on canvas), which seems to honor the feminine wisdom and power.
His Family Is the World
Of course, art is also about family and acquaintances. The portrait of his daughter, Sarah (27” x 18”, acrylic on canvas) andZairah in Sunset (16” x 26”) are the images familiar faces and feelings.
Wanderlust he is, Riley has been able to capture the serene, happy, and sweet moments of the places that he has been (Subic Lake, 23” x 16”; Zambales Mountain Range, 23” x 16”, both are acrylic on canvas; Eileen Doonan Castle, 28” x 18”, oil on canvas in Scotland; Lake Healsville, 21” x 24”, acrylic on canvas; Warburton Ranges, The Peaceful Hills, acrylic on canvas, 15” x 12”, among others).
On the final note, the paintings of Riley are not only fragments of his personal memories but also an open invitation to his audience to savor completely the taste, texture, color, and smell of those fragmented thoughts and feelings, and put them together in order to make oneself whole. After all, our persona is but bits and pieces of experiences, feelings, and memories that life and other people had shared to us.
Furthermore, these beautiful pieces also teach the audience to appreciate the beauty of the simplest things, to live in the present moment, and let go of the things that are holding you back and hinder your progress as a spiritual being, experiencing a human life.