In and Out of Geometry

Six artists bring planes and perspective to the Ormeau Baths Gallery

Many people have trouble understanding and appreciating abstract art. A painting described as 'representational' portrays specific, recognizable physical objects. Abstract paintings are different; frequently possessing designs, shapes or colours that do not stand for specific physical objects. As a result abstract paintings are generally a lot harder to understand - when you look at an abstract painting often you have no idea what it is you are actually seeing.

In and out of Geometry is a group exhibition by six abstract artists born or living in Ireland. Walking into the spacious first room of the exhibition area of the Ormeau Baths Gallery, I wasn’t initially impressed and hoped that the exhibit surely extended into the other rooms. It did. Abstract art isn’t the easiest form to take pleasure in, there is something much deeper at work within abstract art - the subconscious of the artist. There are four different rooms to the exhibition, two upstairs, two down. As you walk into each, your understanding deepens.

Natalia Black’s work stands out, her colourful paintings scream for your attention. Black’s creations consist only of coloured lines, side by side, painted onto small, hardwood blocks. A number of the pieces have more lines of colour than others, some of the lines are straight, some wavy but rest assured every colour is in use. Black’s work is joyful yet simplistic.

‘My paintings are small and loaded with colour and texture,’ says Black. ‘I don’t know if they are paintings or objects and I don't like to think about it too much,’ she states, smiling. I like the idea that her work is something that comes directly from her unconscious and flows onto these blocks of wooden canvas.

'My work is abstract because I am interested in expression that has to do with emotion… they invite the viewer to experience freedom.’ I must admit, they evoke such emotions with me. The artist’s intentions have been fulfilled, and Black is certainly an artist to keep an eye on.

Taking Black’s work out of the equation and making a mental note that I am a fan of bright colour, I seek to look deeper into the other artists on display. The opposite end of the spectrum is the work of Charles Walsh. The idea behind his work seems to be precision, subtlety, and the use of the square.

‘The recurring compositional element in my work is the square,’ he says. His pieces are mainly large, consuming black squares made out of smaller squares of various shades of black. Accuracy is needed for their creation and his work could easily be placed in a modern office space. Although Walsh’s intentions are clear, the work is dull and non-distinctive; sadly I'm not drawn to it.

The concept of the square is also carried by some of the other artists' work, namely Patrick Michael Fitzgerald and David Feeley. Fitzgerald uses a wider variety of styles. Favourites the ones made from oil and varnish on MDF panel – there is a very smooth look to these pieces. His work is described by the Ormeau Baths Gallery as ‘synthetic, awkward and expressing a fierce handmade quality’. This is a fitting description for Fitzgerald’s work.

Fitzgerald’s work is similar to some of the historic pieces by geometric abstract art pioneer Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935). Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky (1866 - 1944) are seen as the founders of abstract art. Kandinsky, in later years, developed a geometrical inclination that revolved mainly around the square.

Although Fitzgerald’s work has direct similarities to the founders of the abstract movement, he has brought a 3D effect to abstract art by making use of a variety of materials. Several of his pieces are impressive.

Feeley uses a layered approach in his work, overlapping squares and strips of material. There is more colour in use - simple yet very effective, it draws the viewer over and persuades them to take a second look. There is evident texture and a sense of softness to his work.

Feeley’s work resembles the work of Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). Mondrian, along with Malevich, was the most important pioneer of geometric abstract art. He is best known for his non-representational paintings that he called ‘compositions.’ Mondrian’s paintings consist of red, yellow, blue and white rectangular forms separated by black lines. The colour palette used by Feeley is similar to that used by Mondrian. However Feeley makes much more use of lines within his squares. He has also added texture and materials in his work - like Fitzgerald, he gives abstract art a new dimension.

Moving away from the square, there is the work of Ronnie Hughes. It has a geometric feel that goes beyond the four-sided figure and focuses on molecules. ‘I am primarily involved in constructing order within closed evolutionary systems,’ states Hughes, ‘consisting of paintings and drawings that playfully refer to various cultural and scientific models, or ‘theories of everything’.'

Hughes’s work is pleasing to the eye; it also achieves what it sets out to. It is geometrical in form and there are various theories at work. However some of the pieces might be more suited to a science lab than a living room. Nevertheless it does make the onlooker think - the ideal contrast to the other pieces on display and an element definitely needed to complete In and Out of Geometry.

The work of John Graham moves away from strong geometric forms. His works are mainly black lines bunched together to form a sense of flow. There is a sense of freeness to his work. ‘To make good prints you need to be patient,’ he says. ‘What can seem spontaneous and non-representational may in fact be carefully constructed.’

Graham has worked primarily in printmaking since 1993, and it is clear that he has a talent for it. There are obvious constructed shapes coupled with a fluidity, a combination that works well. The viewer sees things that aren’t enforced, Graham's work lets the onlooker drift to another plane where you can sit happily for as long as you want.