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”


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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

Artistic Migration: Frank O’Meara & Irish Artists Abroad

Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, 13 February – 11 June 2017

SARI: Subject. Aspect. Restrictions. Instructions. This useful acronym, which I recommend students to use when analysing an essay title or exam question, came to mind when reflecting on the exhibition currently on display in the Hugh Lane, the title of which is ‘Artistic Migration: Frank O’Meara and Irish Artists Abroad’. [1]

Applying the first part of this analysis (S and A) to the title of the exhibition, we find that the subject – what it is about – is ‘Artistic Migration’, and the aspect – the narrower theme, the particulars of what it is about – is ‘Frank O’Meara and Irish Artists Abroad’. If this were the title of an essay, I would expect initially to be provided with a definition and discussion of artistic migration in which the following questions might be explored. What is meant by migration? Does it imply living abroad, or merely travelling overseas for extended periods? Does artistic migration mean the movement of artists in one direction only, or is there also a suggestion of exchange?

Continue reading “Artistic Migration: Frank O’Meara & Irish Artists Abroad”