Critique | David Eager Maher, ‘Pinked’

Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin; 18 November 2021 – 28 January 2022

David Eager Maher in his studio; photograph Simon Lazewski, image courtesy of the Oliver Sears Gallery David Eager Maher in his studio; photograph Simon Lazewski, image courtesy of the Oliver Sears Gallery

David Eager Maher’s ‘Pinked’, at the Oliver Sears Gallery, provides welcome respite from the deprivations brought by COVID-19, with its abundant colour, texture and visual intrigue. 

Displayed along a mid-height ledge that traces the perimeter of the gallery, each of the eight featured works comprises an oil composition on panel, mounted against a coloured background within a painted frame. Motifs and patterns decorate the latter, ‘pinking’ the periphery – which refers to cloth cut with a scalloped or zigzag edge. 

The integrated unity of the painting, backdrop and frame, and the richness of their form and content, invoke the aura of the precious art object. Colour has long been a vital element of Eager Maher’s visual language, and while it seems, here, to be amplified and its impact is immediate, the overall effect sidesteps being garish. Surfaces are sensitively modulated with often unexpected juxtapositions of tone.

On each support, a neon hue (most often pink) has been streakily applied to form a semi-transparent ground that peeps through rough edges and heavier paint layers. Sometimes this is used to establish formal contours; one part of what reads as a carefully prescribed lexicon. Another recurring element is a contrived use of shadows that lend depth to otherwise planar spatial constructs. Together, these set up tensions and establish rules that can be broken, as the artist works through relationships of similarity and difference. 

In All Day in the Morning, a blue-orange sequence of triangles and diamonds wraps around from the side of the frame to land as black-green patterning at the front. Its composition, as in many of the works, adopts a two-thirds/one-third format, the lower part a muted arrangement of tessellated stars and crosses. Above this, an animated pattern forms the backdrop to two flattened classical objects, a neatly decorated Greek black-figure pot and a bust rendered in a maelstrom of diluted green and brown. The latter evokes the undoing of an iconic ordered form, while overall linear/painterly contrasts echo art-historical vacillations between the stable and the chaotic. 

Similar classical iconography is repeated in all but three of the remaining paintings where, compared to other works, their contextual settings are pared back. Some are destabilised by a vertical or horizontal ‘slicing’ (divided in two, their parts skewed), and most are portrayed in wan monochromatic tones that align with the long-held but mistaken belief that their ancient referents were intended to remain as unadulterated marble. In turn, what were later discovered to have been often polychrome finishes resonate with the exhibited works’ overall presentation. 

The genre-mingling in All is Falling sees a stylised landscape – anchored by an ‘irradiated’ orange tree – combine with a tiny still life featuring fruit, while two floral paintings, Gloaming Folding and In his dream he thought to himself, I must remember this are opulent workings of cool blues and purples. In the first, dense blossoms formed from impasto daubs emerge from a flat patterned vase, while sculptural depth is conveyed in the second by the incongruous addition of congealed palette scrapings.  

This collaged element adheres to an obliquely inset ‘painting-within-a-painting’, which features a fragment of a classical arcade and recalls the uncanny perspectival play of Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical period. The looming influence of Matisse is readily acknowledged, and most evident in Hotel Regina, which has been named for one of the French artist’s homes. It recreates in paint the lively cut-outs Matisse made in his later years, and these embellish both the frame and the main composition.

Passing through the National Gallery after viewing ‘Pinked’, aspects of David Eager Maher’s works seemed to leap from the walls: the use of complementary reds and greens in Roderic O’Conor’s Bretonne, the spatial distortion and patterning in Pierre Bonnard’s Le Déjeuner, the impasto blooms, patterned vase and shadow in William Nicholson’s Flowers and Gloves, and the decorative motifs in Picasso’s Still Life with a Mandolin. Given his clear interest in the art of the past, it is possible some of these examples rank among his influences. If so, they have been processed not as a hodge-podge of appropriation, but as visual cues for what comes across as a thoughtful and art-historically engaged practice.

Susan Campbell is a visual arts writer and researcher.