Autumn Art / not art Relay

Cork City, September 2010

Paul Delaney: Movement
Basement Space, Cork

There is something uneven, perhaps even slightly dishonest, about this exhibition by Paul Delaney at the Basement Space – which sounds bad, so I should state from the outset that I enjoyed this exhibition. There are references here to painters of the past, particularly America of the 50s and 60s, gestural painting like the abstract expressionist work of de Kooning, Gottlieb, even Motherwell, and slick pop moments from Rauschenberg or Warhol, but the deepest influences on this work, I feel, are contemporary street art and graffitists like Banksy. It is here his heart or his craft lies. Delaney’s work felt like smart, if schooled, graphic montages with paint applied, struggling with the limitations of canvas. Which is not to say they were not without their skills or charm. Ironically when I happened upon a lone muralist later that same day spraying a large gable end on Oliver Plunkett Street I found out the work he was painting was not his own but a replica of a graphic design that Delaney had created to represent Cork City for a Heineken-sponsored competition. This show doesn’t quite realise the obvious abilities that Delaney possesses, but for me he has to decide which profession he’d prefer to pursue – painter or graphic artist – in either he could find success, but by straddling both he leaves us short-changed. (not art)

Paul Delaney: Movement was on view at the Basement Space, 16 –30 September, 2010.

Close to Hand
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork 

The contemporary space at the Crawford, where Close to Hand is installed, can, let’s face it, be a tough space for any curator. Here, however, it has been attacked with a great deal of success. A new vista has been opened onto the street to allow Katie Holten’s Colour of the Universe to be viewed against the world outside, and a free-standing video room, housing the Connelly and Cleary film There & Then, has been constructed, creating a centre point around which the exhibition seems to pivot. A bright beginning.

By the end, though, the initial impression has been sullied a little by the ups and downs of the show, in which Holten’s dark but exquisite drawings of oil spills are ironically the most luminous elements. The environmental disaster inflicted upon the Gulf of Mexico earlier in the year by BP is elementally drafted onto the pages of Konrad Lorenz’s On Aggression. These little ink catastrophes puncture Lorenz’s text (an explication of the violence that men are capable of perpetrating either on each other, or on nature) and are quite unlike her previous delicate topographic landscapes- instead of the finely drawn, tentative and considered, they are arresting, final and destructive. If drawing is an attempt to make clear what is often unclear or elusive, a map or a guide to experience, here we are left to look at nothing. We are offered a void, and our relationship to it, faced and defaced. We are left as vulnerable and naked as the planet in the abyss. (Art)

It was difficult to pin down the rationale of the Crawford’s Close to Hand, an exhibition which brought a mix of the already seen and the fresh of current Irish practice to a Cork viewership. It certainly had something to do with a scaling down of experience, but why should this be of concern at present? This was not an art of austerity. The suspicion hovered that the show was held together by the limits of experience of a particular Irish demographic: no longer young, settling into the developed landscape, developing an aesthetic of the underwhelming. In the midst of this Gary Coyle’s photographs, taken from the perspective of a swimmer off the Forty Foot in Dublin, where Coyle has swum every day for the last decade, were frame-breaking and genuinely sublime. In keeping with the exhibition as a whole though, and unluckily for us, a video of the artist was on hand to jaw away in a typically Irish self-deprecating way about the pretentiousness of art that makes claim to the heroic – an unfortunate adjunct to what would be a strong, simple oeuvre if only kept impersonal. Collette Nolan’s ‘anthropology’ of her young son’s creative play-acting had much that was intriguing, especially when the strangely contemporary aesthetic of his constructions was recognised: as if the artist had taken on the attributes of a quantum scientist, affecting by the very act of observing. It would be interesting to know whether the work consciously includes this dimension. Lorraine Burrell’s work was hit-and-miss – at times finding a happy coincidence of memorable image and the absurdity of the everyday. Finally, Cleary + Connolly’s celebration of their own cultivated, family-centred globetrotting lifestyle left me truly baffled – I’m sure it would be lovely to live like this, but what does it say about anything? (not art)

Close to Hand was on view at the Crawford Art Gallery, 23 July – 9 October 2010.

Gail Ritchie: Memorial Studies
Boole Library Gallery, UCC

The exhibition space in the lobby of the Boole Library, UCC, shouldn’t be overlooked. The library has a footfall of over 3500-a-day on average, and though it’s seldom enough that you see more than one or two (if anyone) in the exhibition space, the work is visible to the students and academics passing, so it can’t be argued that the art is unviewed for lack of exposition. It’s a small enough area, but this suits a focused show like Gail Ritchie’s Memorial Studies (2008 – 2010). A Northern artist who spent some time as a member of Cork’s Backwater group, Ritchie’s drawings (in pen and pastel) of monuments real and fictional, mantelpiece-ready maquettes of toy-soldiers and decorative knick-knacks, and watercolours of poppies (described as ‘wounded’, to stress the connotations of war) are intelligent, diverting affairs. Though they eschew representationalist technique they are perfectly formed, elegant in their composition and colour choices. What is most interesting is not their relation to war and conflict, or even to its remembrance, which is the overt theme of such monuments, but their non-relation. Without laying on irony, or introducing a rococo frivolity, they register the marks of war in public space without angst, almost with cheerfulness, that of a child absorbed in collecting small curiosities and making new things to resemble them. A perfectly-sized, enjoyable show.
(not art)

Gail Ritchie: Memorial Studies was on show at the Boole Library Gallery, UCC, from 17 September– mid-November 2010 (date t.b.c.).

The Black Mariah CCAD/LSAD Graduate Selection Triskel @ ESB Substation, Cork

This exhibition says as much about the fundamental pedagogies of the art colleges these artists indirectly represent as it does about the health of the Irish art world. The practices of the Crawford graduates are immersed in matters of medium, almost to the point of fetishism: the simultaneously surreal and flat / formal acrylic painting of Collette Cronin, reminiscent of a slightly disturbed dream in a land of 3D SketchUp; the architectural ceramic work by Kevin Callaghan, creatively colliding built forms from the East and West to create a hybrid of unknown origin, fashioned in rugged red clay; the ‘terrible beauty’ of materials failing under duress and incandescence in Molly King’s transformative lard sculpture; and James Greenway’s silent exploration of the innate qualities of super 8 film – loops of crackling footage drifting back and forth, almost whispering nostalgia for a forgotten time. This aesthetically inclined work was directly countered by the more conceptually weighed pieces from the Limerick School of Art graduates. Maurice Reidy’s malevolent photographs bring you psychologically outside of the frame, while Aideen Greenlee tackles serious issues of female representation and voyeurism by concocting what could be described as ‘Woman’s Weekly porn’. Sarah Feehily’s stainless steel Judd-like sculptures nearly steal the show: simple steel forms folded and reflected at times in ice cold mirrors, all untitled and all demanding possession of a space that is more rough than ready. This exhibition was a smart attempt to marry the two schools of practice, one which would have been helped, however, by giving all of Close to Hand the artists equal exposure. But either way an exciting exhibition, full of the friskiness of the next generation.

The Black Mariah CCAD/LSAD Graduate Selection was on view at Triskel @ ESB Substation, 15 August – 5 September 2010.

Addendum: Murals and Brands
In the Art / not art Relay (our survey of exhibitions in Cork City in September and October) mention is made of a mural, newly appeared on a gable-end at the junction of Oliver Plunkett Street and the Grand Parade. I had the good fortune to see James Earley at work spraying on the image freehand from Paul Delaney’s design, and was able to quiz him on the mural’s origins. Apparently it had been sponsored by Heineken, and was the winner of the Cork section of a ‘Design your Bottle’ competition, staged through Heineken’s Facebook page. Incidentally, Earley, a former student of NCAD now working in design, had won the competition’s Dublin section. The following day I came across a newspaper article covering the sponsorship by Converse of ‘independent’ bands in New York. The global shoe brand is buying up warehouse space in the Bowery, to be converted (!) into band rooms and studios for use by selected local groups. In addition, the new Converse-affiliated bands will have their recordings featured on a Converse-sponsored website. In this way the company takes over almost all the functions of the old record companies, but with a less ruthless face: Converse, after all, are only interested in ‘coolness by association’, not in direct extraction of profit. All of this called to mind the recent Vodafone campaign that featured the work of Limerick art student Eilish Tuite and the ‘Operation Cheer Up’ urban knitting campaign (derelict buildings, trees and the like getting brightly-coloured pullovers). Brands appear to be blurring the line between hiring designers and sponsoring artists, to the point of crossing into areas of patronage once the monopoly of the State. For generations steeped in the idea of counterculture, as well as for those still adhering to the old modernist identification of art with anti-bourgeois, anti-commercialist ideals, the acceptance of this kind of patronage is clearly anathema. But how does the question appear to younger artists? Are we seeing here a sharp discrimination between personal lifestyle and its ‘impersonal’ economic support? (not art)