Push and Pull

RHA Ashford Gallery, Dublin, 19 January – 11 February 2018

In a TED talk entitled ‘How architecture helped music evolve’, the musician David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) suggested that the relationship between architecture and music is directly formative. Byrne argued that the spatial and architectural features of a venue specifically influence the sonic and acoustic characters of the music performed there. In other words, American punk band, Black Flag, are to the small hardcore club what AC/DC are to the open-air area. If we imagine visual art to be engaged in a similarly formative relationship with its venues of display, it is interesting to consider whether Niall de Buitléar’s exhibition, ‘Push and Pull’, is specifically informed by the spatial particulars of its host venue, the RHA Ashford Gallery. According to the press release, Byrne’s attempts to “create [musical] compositions that were multi-layered and non-hierarchal” influenced de Buitléar’s work. Comprising 14 paintings and a small sculpture, the exhibition celebrates, with a calm but persistent rigour, the formative logic of interior worlds and the differences that emerge through formal repetition. Continue reading “Push and Pull”

Black & White

Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, 13 January – 25 February 2018

Does a ‘feminine aesthetic’ exist? It’s a divisive hypothesis (and a possibly unanswerable question) that came to mind upon viewing Jane O’Malley’s exhibition, ‘Black & White’, at the Butler Gallery. The fifty pieces shown included several etchings and aquatint prints, as well as sketches in an array of media, including chalk, Conté crayon, pastel, oil, pen and ink. As the title implies, this body of work is monochromatic, although a couple of pieces display slight intrusions of yellow. O’Malley’s ease with her wide range of media is immediately apparent. Lines are loose, fluid and used sparingly but effectively. There is a pleasing juxtaposition of sparse details – a simple outline suffices to suggest a jug, a straw, a bowl of cherries – with repetition used to add substance and pattern, as in the fields and flora of her Chinese brush drawings. O’Malley also has numerous techniques in her repertoire; these include uninterrupted fine line, scratching and removing marks. In At Michael Joe’s with Bob Quinn the Dog, 1984, she achieves an extraordinary luminosity in her rendering of the pots, bottles and jugs, through a combination of such techniques. Continue reading “Black & White”

A Sense of Place / Fragmented Realities

Ards Arts Centre, Newtownards, 1 – 24 February 2018

A series of black and white digital photographs by Belfast-based artist, Mariusz Smiejek, was presented in the Georgian Gallery in Ards Arts Centre. The small-scale photographs depicted women within the natural and domestic landscapes of the Ards Peninsula. Strong tonal contrasts played a part in some of these images, whereas others had a softer tonal range. The depth of field also varied; sometimes Smiejek concentrated solely on the subject, while at other times the background was also depicted in detail. The artist explained: “I focus on the person rather than their surroundings, capturing the person rather than things”. That said, the objects surrounding the women also seemed to have life resonance. Most of the photographs intimately narrated the women’s facial expressions but a few also conveyed their physicality, stance and their attitudes towards the camera, with some seeming more self-conscious than others. Yet my favourite photographs captured a sense of energy, such as wind tugging at women’s hair. Somehow, this elemental force brought a youthfulness and honesty to the women’s smiles. Smiejek stated that “it takes time to become part of the person’s life… I like to spend as many hours or days as possible”, suggesting that, ideally, projects need to be quite durational. Continue reading “A Sense of Place / Fragmented Realities”

Sustainable Futures

Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh, 8 February – 1 April 2018

‘Sustainable Futures’ is an ambitious exhibition currently showing at Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh, County Cork. The show acts as a focal point for a multifaceted collaborative project bringing contemporary art practice into dialogue with scientific research on sustainability, through a series of talks and events involving artists, the scientific community and local youth groups.

Upon entering the East Gallery, the first thing we encounter is David Thomas Smith’s large-scale aerial photographs of the Chrysler factory and Silicon Valley, taken between 2009 and 2010. These are Google Map composites, developed using a meticulous process that works against the low quality of the source material. Smith has photographed tiny sections of the Google Map images, reconstructing them like a jigsaw, so that the images stay sharp as the scale is increased. With a background in documentary photography, the artist shows us detail that wouldn’t normally be visible. The photographs deal with the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ – referring to the geological age of mankind who, in one hundred years, have affected the natural world more drastically than natural processes have in 1,000 years. Continue reading “Sustainable Futures”


Dunamaise Arts Centre, 19 January – 28 February 2018

Tom Climent’s exhibition, ‘Latitudes’, at Dunamaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise, was described in the gallery text as “investigating the boundaries between abstraction and representation”. Climent presented twelve roughly similar landscapes featuring a central mound, peak or outcrop on a slightly higher-than-centre horizon line. While these compositions fall within the recognisable tradition of landscape painting, the artist’s synthetic colour palette, along with occasional architectural additions, serve to unsettle the familiarity that the genre normally fosters. Perhaps Climent’s expansion of this disciplinary boundary is less focused on stylistic approaches and more concerned with how the viewer rationalises personal expectations of painting. It helps that they are beautifully executed and bridge real and imaginary worlds. Climent’s disorderly arrangements of planes, vertices and edges are softened by his hand-drawn outlines, textured surfaces and luxuriant use of colour. Continue reading “Latitudes”

Amharc Fhine Gall 11th Edition

Draíocht Arts Centre, 22 November 2017 – 3 February 2018

In Yvonne McGuinness’s two-channel film installation, Holding ground where the wood lands (2017) – commissioned for this year’s ‘Amharc Fhine Gall (Fingal Gaze)’ exhibition – a group of adolescents from a local Foróige club are depicted meandering through open fields and woodlands surrounding the former Plunkett Estate in Portmarnock (now Malahide Golf Club). Centred around a pivotal and formative time in their lives, the film fluctuates between documentary film and directed theatrics and depicts the young men engaged in a series of performative actions. Continue reading “Amharc Fhine Gall 11th Edition”

The Otherworld Hall

Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, 27 October – 22 December 2017

Featuring: Aoibheann Greenan, Seán Hillen, Sean Lynch, Lucy McKenna, Tadhg McSweeney, Doireann Ní Ghrioghair, Nano Reid. 

The term ‘urban legends’ may trace its lineage back to the 1960s, but as a cultural phenomenon, the term has existed for millennia under the guise of folklore and mythology. The internet’s emergence has proved a double-edge sword for modern mythical incarnations, offering both the platform to spread the tale and the means to debunk it. Originally, folklore provided tales of humour or warning, and, as such, disproving them was generally not a priority. These stories often contained grains of truth – elements that rooted them in reality – before they were embellished into more thrilling versions. In recent decades, greater archaeological understanding of the Brú na Bóinne complex in County Meath has shown that this process also extends to ancient mythologies. We still cannot fully substantiate or corroborate these mythologies. This threshold between truth and myth serves as the departure point for ‘The Otherworld Hall’, recently presented at Navan’s Solstice Arts Centre. Continue reading “The Otherworld Hall”

At the Fade

Birr Arts Centre, 16 October – 1 December 2017

I rarely turn down an offer to travel to Birr, a heritage town with multiple architectural attractions. One of these is the Oxmantown Hall (a former parish hall built in 1888), now Birr Theatre and Arts Centre. Open in its current form since 2000, the renovated building is a jewel of Irish architectural history and a modern hub of arts activity for the town and surrounding region. The building faces a row of impressive terraced Georgian houses on a street that is shouldered by the ornate St Brendan’s Church. I travelled to Birr to see Brígh Strawbridge-O’Hagan’s show ‘At the Fade,’ which was installed in the front foyer of the building. I spent a few minutes knocking on the front door, before finding myself chatting with staff and drinking coffee while looking over the show. In many ways, this was the perfect preamble to thinking about the exhibited work, not least because I got time to reflect on my wonderful memories of Birr (having spent time there as a teenager), but also because memory – in some form or another – seems to be elicited intentionally in the brave simplicity of Strawbridge-O’Hagan’s work. Continue reading “At the Fade”

Barbara Ellison / Robert Ellison

Island Arts Centre, Lisburn, 23 November – 20 December 2017

Husband and wife, Robert and Barbara Ellison, are showcasing their recent work in concurrent solo exhibitions across two gallery spaces at the Island Arts Centre in Lisburn. Without an overarching theme attributed, the exhibitions freely explore the artists’ varying techniques and painterly styles. This is a unique opportunity to see work by these two artists in the same venue at the same time, and to observe similarities and differences across their distinct practices. When opening the exhibition, artist Neil Shawcross noted that both artists are starting to gain international attention, with Robert’s work being shown in the Agora Gallery, New York, earlier in the year. Continue reading “Barbara Ellison / Robert Ellison”

BEAUFORT (“about the weather”) / Simulations / White Line Series

Solstice Arts Centre, 25 August – 13 October 2017

On show at Solstice Arts Centre are three solo exhibitions by different artists, each with their own title and separate room. Free from a fixed or unifying theme, the exhibitions are loosely bound by a general sense of abstraction within the artists’ creative processes, along with some allusion to local history, heritage or landscape.

Upon entering the first space, David Quinn’s works appear minimalistic, with a series of nine intimately-sized pieces in muted colours. The strength in Quinn’s works emerges when we draw closer and discover the detail present. The works are built up of layers that variously comprise gesso, oil and paper, as well as off-cuts of plywood and perspex. The humble line takes centre stage, as Quinn records its journey across the surfaces, using an oil pencil or cutting tool. In Made, the incision in the perspex gradually deepens as the line moves left, until it flows seamlessly into a cut made in the plywood background layer. In the accompanying literature, we read that Quinn uses a ruler, yet the lines are at times imperfect, highlighting the impact of the artist’s hand or an uneven surface on even the most controlled of processes. The works jut out from the wall like raw sculptural extensions of the building’s structure, celebrating the inherent potential in the materials, uncovered by the artist’s touch.

Continue reading “BEAUFORT (“about the weather”) / Simulations / White Line Series”