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.

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What’s with the Apocalypse? / Twilight

Paul Mosse ‘What’s with the Apocalypse?’, VISUAL, 16 September – 12 January 2017

Pat Collins ‘Twilight’, VISUAL, 9 September – 28 January 2017

This season’s exhibitions at VISUAL have been programmed around the themes of landscape, nature and found materials. In the Digital Gallery on the first floor, is a screening of Pat Collins’s new moving image work, Twilight (2017). Filmed off the West Cork coast over a two-year period, Twilight is as vibrant as a living painting. The quality of light captured in the footage vividly portrays the pinks and oranges of a sunset, which gradually give way to midnight blue, as darkness encompasses the scene. Voluminous grey clouds pick up speed and move ominously across the screen. To the left, the high moon oversees a purple-hued silhouette of a nearby headland.

Twilight is not a silent occurrence; rather the landscape in the late evening quietly hums, as people sleep and the world keeps turning. Collins has collaborated with the sound artist Chris Watson to create the film’s audio, which was developed through a series of field recordings. The soundtrack is not constant, but is interspersed with silent footage, in order to accentuate the noisier moments. As the light seeps from the sky, a gull can be heard in the distance and a crescendo of birdsong escalates across the darkening landscape.

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What Passes Between Us

Sirius Arts Centre, 3 September – 15 October 2017

Pádraig Spillane’s exhibition of new work, ‘What Passes Between Us’, is presented across two galleries at Sirius Arts Centre. Four upright, mild-steel, modular frames, approximately adult height, stand in the centre of the floor in each space. A single sheet of clear PVC is cast across the top of one of the frames, while several wall-mounted digital prints complete the presentation. Two specially-commissioned electronic and vocal sound pieces – composed by Simon O’Connor and sung by Michelle O’Rourke – are transmitted into the galleries from speakers situated on the floor.

The minimalist presentation suits these light-filled spaces. In the centre gallery, four wall prints depict intense close-ups of the human palm, with the thumb and wrist areas merging. Titles for these digital collages, including Palm Animator (2017) and Palm Merging (2017), seem appropriate. The images are mirrored and repeated across a brown background, conjuring various grid formations. The overall impression is that these compositions are highly controlled and provocatively sensual, whilst also feeling slightly strange. There is a hint of something less than comfortable afoot, involving some sort of modification or restaging of bodily elements.

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Lacuna: New perspectives on the border in Ireland

Gallery of Photography, September 9 – October 22

The result of the 2016 British referendum on the future of European Union membership has brought about a new era of social and political anxiety regarding the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. ‘Brexit’ is a neologism that has been mobilised by ultra-conservative politicians and sections of the British media alike, to portray what was in reality a marginal ‘yes vote’, as the inevitable political expression of the zeitgeist of British isolationism and nationalism. On the island of Ireland, Brexit has resurrected the spectre of the border which has haunted Irish politics for nearly a century. Kate Nolan’s exhibition ‘Lacuna’ at the Gallery of Photography explores everyday experiences of the border through the local inhabitants of Pettigo, a small town in County Donegal. This body of work emerged in the midst of political speculations about Brexit, including the potential hardening of the border between north and south.

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The Way Things Go: An Homage

The Butler Gallery, 12 August – 15 October 2017

Aideen Barry, Hannah Fitz, Atsushi Kaga, Nevan Lahart, Maggie Madden, Jonathan Mayhew, Caroline McCarthy, Isabel Nolan and Liam O’Callaghan

Thirty years ago, Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss unveiled their influential work, The Way Things Go (1987) – a 30-minute 16mm video transfer film that documents the complex chain reactions of an ingenious Rube Goldberg-esque contraption built by the duo. The action takes place in a warehouse, where industrial detritus (including tyres, ladders, pipes, oil-soaked rags and chains) is used to create a sequence of cause-and-effect actions. Shifting mechanical levers and hypnotic balancing acts trigger sparks, fires and cycles of apparent perpetual motion.

Though the work took three days to film, the resulting footage was meticulously edited to imply a single take, and ever since, it has held up to extensive scrutiny. For ‘The Way Things Go: An Homage’ at the Butler Gallery, curator Anna Sullivan invited nine artists to respond to this seminal work. Some made new artworks, while others present existing pieces that illustrate relationships with the original source material. Located in the basement of Kilkenny Castle, the gallery comprises a series of interconnected rooms – a spatial configuration that affords a gradual unfolding of artistic responses.

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Haptic Encounters in Painting


Martin Herbert: Perhaps we could start with a simple question: Why did you choose the title ‘Strange Attractors’ for this exhibition?

Ronnie Hughes: As some people might know, it’s a term from Chaos Theory. I’ve had a layman’s interest in science and science fiction for years. Attractors are determinants within a given system that cause it to take a certain kind of form, while a strange attractor is one that has a fractal dimension. It’s a sequential or mathematical relationship, in part, that I like to use as an analogue for what happens in the paintings. For years, chaos was something that people didn’t understand. It was mystical, immeasurable and awesome in a fearful way. The natural entropy that builds in a swinging pendulum was largely ignored by Newtonian physics until someone recognised that there is a pattern that goes behind things. That sense of a pattern running throughout existence is something that I have always been fascinated by.  It’s something that’s central, not just to art, but to all branches of human activity: to try to make sense of the mystical. But then there’s also this implied pun, that I see the paintings themselves as strange attractors because they are quite colourful and optically interesting, as well as there being a strangeness about why they exist.

MH: Something that is relatively consistent is that you work with geometry, but it’s a very humanised geometry: your grids are off and things that look very regular to start with have this humanised quality. Is that an autobiographical impulse?

RH: It may be. I had a very particular early life in terms of where I grew up. There’s no question that for anyone being creative, there are always forces that are trying to express themselves. I do feel that, even though I make abstract paintings, they are very definitely expressive. When I create a painting that I momentarily feel is successful, it’s usually because there’s a moment of tension in it. I’m always aware of the onset of a system falling apart, or of a sense of entropy or violence suspended, and that’s a recurring note in my work.

MH: Why circles, for example?

RH: There are a number of motif type things that happen in my work, such as geometrical lines, grids, triangles, circles, spheres and occasionally ellipses. To create an agency in people’s minds, you have to create a figurative situation. I used to make these lozenge or ovoid type shapes, which I think came from the west of Ireland landscape. I see circles as primary shapes that are very nonreferential, but they start off as a kind of pulse point. When you paint a particular colour, it’s there as a kind of energy. Colour is a very important aspect of my work and colour is always very relational; it doesn’t exist by itself. Certain hues become notes that you can’t deal with. You have to make things more subtle or nuanced, shift them sideways or make them come alive in some way.

MH: Your works have the feel of diagrams that don’t explain anything and that unravel as you look. There’s quite a lot of doubt in these works. Is this personal or universal?

RH: I was born in 1965 and there was this sense, in the books I read as a kid, of a futuristic utopia. I used to fantasise about Disneyland, where you could find hover-rail trains, automated robots and so on. I was also an avid Star Trek fan. I take pleasure in diagrams and graphic designs from the 1960s, which manifest in the work, but are counterbalanced. I often create structures and expectations but then undermine them. I paint something that looks like a grid, then you realise it’s not a grid at all – it’s been knocked sideways in some way. I think painting, compared to many other artforms, is very slow, in terms of how it’s made, but also in terms of its reception. Ideally, you’d like to be in front of a painting time after time and let it unfold in different ways. That’s the way I make paintings, hoping that they will unfold in that way, but accepting that people don’t always have the chance to experience them like that.

MH: How do you start a new painting?

RH: When I was younger, I would start with an idea or an intention, but that doesn’t really happen too much anymore. It’s quite random in some ways. I usually work with wood now, and there may be little glitches on the wood, so that’s enough for me to see if there’s a pattern between the notches. I’ll mark them and draw lines between them or separate them and that’s how it starts. In my paintings, there could be all sorts of layers happening underneath the finished surface. I work in a certain way that means I can pour paint over the surfaces so I can suppress things completely. I’m always fishing around, waiting to find something. If it doesn’t work out, you can sometimes turn it in another direction and find interest elsewhere.

MH: Do you have a consistent process?

The thing about the process is that you can’t decide to make a specific painting, because you can’t even imagine it at that stage – it hasn’t previously existed in any way, even as an idea. I have a painting wall in my studio and I work on multiple paintings at once. What looks like a random bunch of colours, I’ll often fret over for months, trying to get certain shades that appear in a balanced sequence. Painting is very much about material. The main thing that’s special for me about painting is the haptic experience and the touch quality of someone making something. I very much feel that a painting is a handmade object. It’s very different from seeing a reproduction of an image on a screen. I’m interested in play when I’m painting. There are not really tremendous rewards from being an artist a lot of the time, but one of the greatest rewards is when you can be involved in your own work – that’s a fantastic and important aspect: to spend time doing what you enjoy.

MH: The classic question: how do you know when a painting is finished?

RH: Very few paintings are safe forever. If they come back to the studio, they can often be changed. These days, I typically stop working on a painting for six months before I let it out of the studio. If I’m in the studio and I feel that I’m doing something habitual then I’ll try and knock it sideways, spoil it or add something, to try and give me a different set of obstacles to work with. The problem is that after a certain length of time you can’t but help end up making things that look like your work, no matter how hard you try to avoid it! But that’s a paradox that most artists have to deal with.

MH: You live in rural Sligo, yet the colours in your recent paintings are very synthetic and almost deliberately artificial. When and how did this element enter your work?

RH: When I moved to Sligo first, all these forms, shapes and colours from the landscape came into my work. I didn’t really recognise it at the time, but I can see it very clearly now. Over the last eight years, the work is just getting more artificial in terms of the colours and the colour relationships. When I made the switch from working with oil paints to using acrylics, my main focus for a while was making them look like they were oil paintings, which I realised one day was quite ridiculous. I’m interested in this idea of plasticity and using a plastic medium, so at one point I just decided to be a bit braver about the colour that I would use.

MH: Are you interested in acknowledging known paradigms in abstract painting?

RH: Sometimes you make things and they look like other people’s work. This is often problematic within abstract painting. Sometimes you pitch things and then subvert them, and other times you do it completely subconsciously. Occasionally, you see other people’s work scream out at you; it’s a question of whether you can deal with that and you just have to make the choice on an individual basis.

MH: Am I right in saying that the most recent works in the show are all drawings?

RH: I typically can’t work on two things at one time. If I’m painting, I’m painting. I’ve been working quite intensely for a long time, so I took a break and decided to do some drawing. Drawing is interesting because you generate things in a different way. The drawings in this show are small scale and were made quite quickly. Some of the drawings may have taken up to a week to make, which is nothing compared to the five years it can take to bring certain paintings to fruition. For me, drawing and painting are separate, but drawing is implicit in painting anyway. It’s very difficult to get away from the idea of drawing.

Martin Herbert is a writer and critic living in Berlin. He is associate editor of ArtReview and a regular contributor to Artforum, Frieze and Art Monthly. Ronnie Hughes is an internationally-renowned Irish artist who lives in County Sligo where he is a lecturer in Fine Art at Sligo Institute of Technology.


This interview is an edited version of a public conversation that took place between Ronnie Hughes and Martin Herbert on 15 April 2017 at The Model, Sligo. ‘Strange Attractors’ is curated and toured by The Model in partnership with Limerick City Gallery of Art and the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin. The project has been supported through the Arts Council’s Touring and Dissemination of Work Scheme. The exhibition was previously presented at The Model (16 April – 22 June) and Limerick City Gallery of Art (29 June – 27 August) and will show at the RHA, Dublin, from 7 September to 22 October 2017.

Images used: Ronnie Hughes, Badass, 2016, acrylic co-polymer on canvas, 119 x 112 cm. Ronnie Hughes, ‘Strange Attractors’ installation view, The Model, Sligo (left to right): The Space Between,  Detonate,  Propus I-III.

Biographical Landscapes


Joanne Laws: Can you describe your studio setting and your painting routine?

Elizabeth Magill: My studio is in a complex with other artists run by the organisation ACME in East London. It’s a 700-square-foot white cube with light coming in from the south and looking onto Mill Row, a narrow one-way street shadowed by a four-storey brown brick and grey concrete block of council flats, built in the 1970s. I’ve been here for a long time, so I’m used to this view. I like its low-level visual interference. I also have a smaller workspace on the Antrim coast, but when I’m there, I just seem to stare at the beautiful views overlooking the sea. My routine is intermittent, as I am often running around doing other things. I’ve had more condensed studio periods in the past, when I’d work for at least six days a week, sometimes working all day and into the night, but this isn’t me anymore. Continue reading “Biographical Landscapes”

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”