Willie Doherty

One of the most celebrated artists currently working in Europe

Willie Doherty, one of the most celebrated artists currently working in Europe, was born in Derry in 1959 and as Chris Coppock observes, his work is very grounded in his home terrain:

‘Doherty’s passion for Derry, a city steeped in contentious history, is of a fundamental nature. Doherty locates himself in an environment that he has known intimately from birth. The relationship of image to text is nourished by a highly subjective response, which channels modernist techniques in an attempt to articulate a personal localised polemic.’

The Walls (1987)

In The Walls the artist arranges text to settle over sections of a horizontal panoramic view of Derry’s Bogside in daylight and the elevated dark inner side of the city walls from which we take in the view. The image lingers with the legacy of the colonised and the coloniser in its absences and presences. From the inner, walled city, we survey the outer/other. The work deals with inclusion and exclusion and Derry, in microcosm, reflects a siege mentality that is culturally endemic in Northern Ireland as a whole.

Since his audio/slide installation Same Difference (1990) to his recently acclaimed The Only Good one is a Dead One (1993), Doherty has explored the complexities of language mediated in the press and TV and the dangers of stereotyping as a barrier to understanding.

The Only Good One is a Dead One (1993)

The Only Good One is a Dead One consists of two separate projections which are shown simultaneously. The first image is a point-of-view shot from the interior of a car as it drives continuously in one long take. The second image is a point-of-view shot from the interior of a car which is stationary on an urban street at night. The scene is illuminated by the red glow of street lamps. These are overlaid with the interior monologue of a man who is vacillating back and forth between the victim and assassin. This soundtrack is shorter than the two video sequences and so overlaps to create a layering of imagery and words. The viewer is thus obliged to move between two distinct but mutually dependant experiences.

The Outskirts (1994)

What Doherty shows is not what we can see, but something subjacent, invisible. It is the fault line, the impalpable frontier that divides the population, that defines the political geography of the land. It is violence, terrorism, repression, as revealed by tyre tracks on the side of the road, by rusting barriers and surveillance cameras.

Though undramatic, these scenes evoke contradictory feelings, both the anguish of the victim and the tenseness of the aggressor. In later works, where the context is established, the image is enough. The text gradually disappears and black and white becomes colour.

Bullet Holes (1995)

Most often, Doherty’s works constitute remarkable variations on a residual duality. Thus, in the formal composition of the photographs and videos, the play between image and text, earth and sky and the juxtaposition of landscape and portrait in diptychs, are like an echo of the tragic confrontation between the protagonists. The artist neither takes sides nor offers a solution, but he does make us fully conscious of the situations complexity. His work is in private and public collections in Ireland, England, France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and America. Liam Kelly Laurence Bossé.