The latest exhibition at Catalyst Arts, Cursed, is unashamedly abstract. ‘A painting show in the loosest possible sense’, it is platform for artists whose work exists on the fringes of the medium. The exhibition contains a selection of pieces by contemporary ‘painters, maybe’ that traverse the borders between formal painting and a variety of other mediums.
There are seven artists in total. Is that knowing nod to the importance of the number in relation to curses in European folklore? In some cultures a seventh son of a seventh son is believed to have healing powers, elsewhere he is said to be cursed with lycanthropy or vampirism.
Closer to home, Irish hero Cúchulainn is also heavily associated with the number, with seven fingers on each hand, seven toes on each foot and seven pupils in each eye. This dichotomy – good and bad, heroic and evil – reflects the ambiguous nature of the pieces on show. This is art at its most subjective.
A sheet of paper bearing the artists’ names doubles as a slightly cryptic key to understanding whose work is whose, a doodle relating to the work displayed beside the respective painter’s name. As one might expect with such a wide array of contributors, the pieces on show are something of a mixed bag.
The first piece that catches the eye upon entering the gallery is by Flora Moscovici, entitled ‘Dissolution’. Aiming to ‘transform a place from its architectural specificities’, this work uses the gallery space to great effect. Moscovici’s work is a seemingly simple yet highly effective collaboration of colour, glass, light and imagination.
Light beaming from the high windows above shine on the various objects, which include a column of almost solid colour, save for an appreciated hint of depth-giving white. This turns the glass frame into a mirror, reflecting both the viewer and the rest of the gallery in post-box red and appearing to crop the scene somewhat. It is, as Moscovici puts it, ‘a fantasized space’.
Helen McDonnell’s contribution dominates the centre of the gallery. It is a series of large paper strips dangling from the ceiling. The inspiration behind the naming of the exhibition, each of these strips bear numerous drawn representations of the tattoo seen on the promotional poster, ‘324 curses drawn twice on paper +1 and a tattoo’. Also seen on these strips are bloated blotches of purple paint, streaks dripping down suggesting blood on strips of flesh.
Although this is a visually striking image hinting at violence and beauty, perhaps more interesting (yet much more formal) is the work by Karin Hagen. Finding witchcraft and occultism more interesting than ‘rationality and “truths”’, Hagen has constructed a collection of Tarot card style line drawings. Humanity, the natural world and mysticism collide in ‘Ten of Wands’, ‘The Tower’ and ‘Five of Cups’.
Emma Boyd deconstructs the notion of what a painting is by involving 3D objects (a plastic miniature house, a stone castle and a selection of feathers, for example) as well as the surrounding walls and floors. Elsewhere, Craig Donald’s highly abstract piece ‘The Enemy Without Met the Enemy Within’ makes use of a variety of mediums, and textures as well as a narrative regarding the murder of an elderly pensioner. A single traditional painting in the style of a 6x4 photo print adorns a pillar behind the piece.
When the pieces in Cursed work, they pack a punch. Unfortunately some works don’t quite live up to the artists’ ambitions. Arguably the most engaging piece of the exhibition is actually located outside the gallery, the result of a recent workshop by artist Miguel Martin.
Painting a series of highly distinctive figures on the wall of Catalyst Arts, Martin invited the public to join him in covering the bodies in painted tattoos – the results are superb. Indeed, with these collaborative paintings visible to the world at large it is they that most adequately fulfil the advertised criteria of bridging boundaries between painting and ‘everything else’.
Cursed runs until July 13 at Catalyst Arts.