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”

Existential Observers

MARK O’KELLY DISCUSSES ASPECTS OF PORTRAIT PAINTING IN IRELAND.

Early portraiture can be viewed as an historical instrument of class identification, patriarchal gaze and institutional hegemony. It could also be argued that, over the years, important significations of portraiture have been exploited and aesthetically challenged through the deconstructive approaches of key historical and contemporary Irish artists. This complex field has huge public appeal and carries immense prestige for artist and subject at the level of national identity, recognition and status.

The historical context for contemporary Irish portraiture and the breadth of current practice have been highlighted in a range of recent events: the Freud Project at IMMA; the reopening of the National Portrait Collection; and numerous high-profile portrait commissions by the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), the National Gallery and the Hennessy Portrait Prize. The specific genre of portrait painting in Ireland has been largely sustained through the work of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). Such ongoing efforts to collect, exhibit and commission portraiture attest to the importance of the genre within many of this country’s most important institutions. Continue reading “Existential Observers”