Mermaid Arts Centre, Wicklow
13 September – 26 October 2019
Joanne Boyle’s solo exhibition at Mermaid Arts Centre can be viewed as a testing ground for her ideas around material processes and display. The exhibition comprises oil paintings and glazed porcelain pieces, reflecting Boyle’s attempts to “articulate the non-everyday occurrence alongside the everyday”. The idea of an exhibition as an installation is also evident. As Boris Groys observed in his essay ‘Politics of Installation’: “Today, there is no longer any ‘ontological’ difference between making art and displaying art. In the context of contemporary art, to make art is to show things as art.”1
The exhibition articulates a preoccupation with the concept of ‘the object’, emphasising that paintings are also objects. When they are named and framed as ‘paintings’, they are read differently, in contrast to being seen as objects. Process emerges as the connecting thread between Boyle’s paintings and ceramic objects, while her use of materials is playful and process driven. In the ceramic pieces, gravity is allowed to do its work. The clay slumps and falls into place with little intervention. In the paintings, a muted palette emerges through the mixing of wet into wet paint. It all appears to happen very spontaneously. The quick handling of paint on canvas surfaces allows form to emerge. There are suggestions of mounds or hills – simple shapes that could allude to landscape. This motif is picked up strongly in the large painting, High Winged Woman, which shifts between a sheaf of hay or a small mountain.
A series of delicate porcelain wands are placed on a table in front of this painting. The wands could be individual sheaves of hay, or perhaps a set of paintbrushes, saturated in the colours just used on the canvas. There is a nice open-endedness to the imagery here, while the connection of the ideas moving between painting and sculpture is clear. Boyle’s ceramic wands remind me of Manet’s 1880 painting of asparagus, whose form and quality continues to captivate viewers. His focus upon small areas, with a few deft brushstrokes, directs our focus as viewers to experience its power. There is similar precision of focus in Boyle’s ceramic wands, through her use of colour, as well as the simple modelling of form and display.
The installation of the work also alludes to improvisation: one painting is tacked to a board and leans against a wall; another canvas is hung from the ceiling; while the ceramics are displayed as a series of test pieces, just out of the kiln. Each artwork is at play within the environment of the exhibition, rather than being enclosed in worlds of their own. The materiality of the ceramic pieces leads the viewer back to the paintings, to wonder at this relationship. The nature of the respective materials is explored, as well as the nature of form itself. On the whole, the exhibition appears to be testing out ideas ‘on the fly’; emerging possibilities and connections are invited through the display of the work.
This juxtaposition of objects and materials, paintings and ceramics, make me consider the intrinsic nature of each. Medium specificity has started to lose its prevalence in contemporary critical debates surrounding art practice; arguably, it regularly goes in and out of fashion. However, the intrinsic qualities that both mediums inhabit shouldn’t be overlooked. The power of individual mediums is in the ideas brought to them by artists – they don’t necessarily need to be in dialogue with one other. Another recent trend in exhibition making is to frame painting as an auxiliary ‘player’, suggesting that painting is not enough to be considered on its own merit. Some argue that painting exists as part of a network of ideas and systems. However, it is still worth considering the intrinsic power of a medium, because to focus on a material or medium is to realise its infinite creative potential.
Alison Pilkington is an artist based in Dublin who completed a practice-based PhD in NCAD in 2015. Her work is featured in the forthcoming exhibition, ‘Mountain Size’, which takes place at the Pineapple Black Gallery, Middlesbrough (1 – 30 November).
1 Boris Groys, ‘Politics of Installation’, e-flux Journal #02, January 2009.
Joanne Boyle, Initiation, oil on linen, 60 × 60 cm; courtesy of the artist