The Living and the Dead

Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, Dublin, 15 April – 17 June 2017

The American street photographer Gary Winogrand said of his work: “I photograph to see what the world looks like in a photograph”. I thought of Winogrand and of this quote when visiting Mark Swords’s exhibition, ‘The Living and the Dead’, at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios (TBG + S), as it could be said that Swords paints pictures to see what his world looks like through painting. Swords uses his everyday life as his inspiration for the show. The paintings are about things that surround him, “things that are consciously or unconsciously always present”.  Drawing on daily observations, he collects images of bric-a-brac from charity shops, his young daughter’s toys and drawings, as well as the objects and paraphernalia that surround him in the studio. All these elements are utilised in a playful manner and are presented as two large wall pieces that contain myriad visual ideas and painting approaches. These wall pieces are held together through his use of a wallpaper-style striped background on one wall and large black painted sheets on the other.

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International Ireland

Ulster Museum, Belfast, 10 February – 3 September 2017

There’s an implicit understanding of the museum’s finite resources and loaded remit when viewing a permanent collection show. The limited pool from which these exhibitions are curated often leads to a loose circle being drawn around the works, its content used to simultaneously demonstrate and educate. It becomes a balance of signposting and illustrating, where singular artworks are laden with significance, denoting the development of an artist’s full career or even those of their peers. When seen repeatedly in different configurations, pieces can easily be experienced as historical artefacts rather than artworks.

The spectrum of contact an audience will have with a permanent collection is huge, yet heightened exposure to works does no favours for broad exhibition making. The influence of international art and modernism on Irish work is such an all-encompassing premise that I struggled to experience this exhibition distinctly from past and even surrounding shows. If previously unseen by a viewer, it would still be difficult for 31 works to ‘fulfil’ the vast reach of the exhibition’s title. Instead they become like stills representative of an unknown, feature-length film: not demonstrative but signalling something that could be more thoroughly explored, should you be so inclined. Continue reading “International Ireland”

Painting NOW

Green on Red Gallery, Dublin, 25 April – 22 July 2017

Painting, despite the implied immediacy of the title, doesn’t happen all at once. Between them, the nine gallery artists here – not all primarily painters – have been doing it for about 150 years. For the viewer, it can be a slow game too, that exclamatory ‘NOW’ perhaps better phrased as ‘now and then and again’. Currency aside, the more specific thing shared by this eclectic grouping is the room itself – a very large, overtly raw gallery space overlooking the rapidly changing landscape of Dublin’s Docklands. Ramon Kassam’s Gallery (2015) is a predominantly white acrylic painting on two unequally-sized linen panels. In black vinyl lettering near the top of the right-hand panel, the word ‘gallery’ appears. Below it, the artist’s name wraps around onto the left panel, in the distinctive style of the gallery logo. As the subject of the painting becomes the wall it hangs upon (so to speak), we’re reminded of how paintings can obscure reality, while feigning to show us things as they really are. Continue reading “Painting NOW”

Memory Needs a Landscape

Taylor Galleries, Dublin, 5 –  27 May 2017

The relationship between rural Irish communities and the land is both pragmatic and poetic, played out through intimacy with its anatomy: fields, hedgerows, rights of way and historical provenance. Bernadette Kiely’s approach to landscape painting mines these psychological and physiological relationships as a site of labour, ownership and heritage. Traditional landscape painting tends to depict scenic views at the beginning or the end of the day, when people are absent and it is transformed into a form of poetry. For Kiely, daily labour provides inspiration in paintings that chronicle the cycle of farming life. In her recent exhibition, ‘Memory Needs a Landscape’, her subject is challenged by the most uncompromising grey shroud of a damp winter, which has encouraged an expansion in her stylistic range, evident in the inclusion of more abstracted and conceptually-based monotypes and more folkish and mystical paintings. Continue reading “Memory Needs a Landscape”

Faith After Saenredam and Other Paintings

Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, 20 May – 1 July 2017

Writing a review of an exhibition means finding an angle, a perspective, a particular point of view from which to approach the work. In the case of ‘Faith After Saenredam and Other Paintings’ this is particularly challenging, as Paul Winstanley’s recent work here is almost all about angles, perspectives and points of view, in the physical, rather than metaphorical, sense. The main gallery contains 10 paintings, while two preparatory drawings are located in the gallery office. Both their inclusion and location seem puzzling at first, but as with so many aspects of this exhibition, clarification only comes with further investigation. Continue reading “Faith After Saenredam and Other Paintings”

What We Do in the Shadows

Almine Rech Gallery, Brussels , 3 June – 29 July

When J.K. Huysmans’s Á Rebours (Against Nature) was published in 1884, it was embraced immediately as epitomising the decadent movement in art and literature. The protagonist of this literary gem is the Duc des Esseintes, an aristocratic aesthete who withdraws from society into a self-made sanctuary of aesthetic beauty. Finding daylight unbearably shrill, the jaded, misanthropic Duc lives by night, staving off crushing ennui by spending all his time and money on obscure, extreme and perverted pursuits. The crepuscular world of Á Rebours came to mind repeatedly as I viewed ‘What We Do in the Shadows’, an exhibition at Almine Rech by the Irish artist Genieve Figgis. Several of the characters inhabiting Figgis’s paintings resembled the image I’d developed of Esseintes over the years: frail, sickly and effeminate, face pitted and pocked by absinthe consumption or syphilis. Moreover, several of the characters depicted in Figgis’s paintings share his penchant for transgressive sexual pleasure. Continue reading “What We Do in the Shadows”

Crooked Orbit

Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin, 1 June – 1 July 2017

Let me begin by confessing something: over the course of the last two years, I have interviewed Diana Copperwhite twice on camera. During those conversations, we barely touched upon the formalist ‘whats?’ of her paintings in an effort to avoid muddy dialogue. The filmed conversations were more centred around the general ‘whys?’ of painting and the painter, the nature and nurture of it all; painting as a verb rather than a noun. 

When I was asked to write a review of Copperwhite’s solo show, ‘Crooked Orbit’, at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery – which meant confronting the ‘whats?’ head on – I tossed and turned before accepting the invitation. What I discovered was that knowing the ‘whys?’ can colour your vision. But before we go there, first a description. (Note: I will not be doing an obligatory round-robin description of each and every painting in the gallery because when you describe one of Copperwhite’s paintings, you describe them all. Sounds harsh – a premature critique before the window dressing – but this is the case for most solo presentations of painting that lean on the side of abstraction. Painting like this defeats description). Continue reading “Crooked Orbit”

Colourless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously

Project Arts Centre, Dublin, 21 April – 17 June 2017

‘Colourless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously’ sounds like nonsense, and it is – a phrase coined by Noam Chomsky to be grammatically correct but semantically all over the place. In this ambitious exhibition curated by David Upton, five geographically diverse art practices explore ideas of transient or un-locatable meaning via their own un-locatable objects, objects rendered by impressions and residues, and images deviating between fact and fiction, movement and stasis. A story in the exhibition booklet describes the fate of Byzantine icons bought at a Turkish Bazaar in the 1920’s. Eventually ending up in the National Gallery of Ireland, the icons, separated from their original place and function (and unable to return to a home that no longer exists), have been opened up to new kinds of meaning and attachment. The exhibition booklet usefully outlines some aspirations, among them, “To open discussion around ideas of dissolution and dispossession, loss, of cultures in crisis and futures altered, of cataclysm – and [ask] what happens after all of this?” That’s a lot to ask of a single exhibition, but the fate of the icons becomes a unifying concept, a paradoxically fugitive underpinning.

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Snake

Clare Strand, Belfast Exposed, 28 April – 17 June

In ‘Snake’ the image is an interloper. At first unwelcome, it is nonetheless invited into the artist’s life for the long term. Clare Strand’s repulsion with the animal has compelled her to collect snake imagery since childhood, from scrapbooking serpentine forms in the loosest sense, to collecting more specific images – half glamour, half family-album-style photographs – of women who hold and love them.

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Into the Gravelly Ground

Janine Davidson, Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, 9 June – 8 July 2017

Janine Davidson’s ‘Into the gravelly ground’ centres on an unusual site at Turlough Hill, County Wicklow. Here, embedded amidst scenic walks, is Ireland’s only pumped hydro-electricity plant. The film work 53012762459 features this structure, its interior and exterior, its machinery and technology. Also depicted is another reservoir at this same location: Lough Nahanagan, which was formed during the Ice Age. Designed to impinge as little as possible upon the environment, the plant’s main station is buried out of sight behind the mountain. In Davidson’s 22-minute film, the structure is so sleek and streamlined that it appears almost tentative, partaking in the muted tones of the naturally-formed lough. The camera, replete with slight shudder, moves between various viewpoints: we are on a bridge, we catch glimpse of an open door, we are looking at a stunted, top-heavy tower emerging from the water. Importantly, the film makes no distinction between the two formations, and the lens portrays the machines and their inferred functionality with the same quiet, detached observation as it does the rock face and the water.

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