Concepts of time and space inspire a range of artists including Patrick Pye at the Strule Arts Centre
It is a measure of curator Terry Sweeney’s wide knowledge of contemporary Irish art that she can put together a show featuring artists of such standing as Patrick Pye, Geraldine O'Neill, Diana Copperwhite, who are based in Dublin, Portadown-born Jennifer Trouton, and the late Richard Livingstone (1951-2010), who hailed from Derry-Londonderry.
Each of the artists featured in Beyond Measure has engaged in different ways with physical and metaphysical concepts of time and space. Conceived to complement this year’s Benedict Kiely Literary Weekend, which took place from September 11 – 14, the show will remain on view at Omagh’s Strule Arts centre until October 25.
While Patrick Pye based his 'Annunciation' (2004) on that of the Siennese Mannerist painter, Domenico Beccafumi, in general his modernist approach bypasses strict Renaissance rules of perspective and three-dimensionality.
His figures, like those of naïve painters – one thinks notably of Northern Ireland's own Gerard Dillon – are mostly arranged at odd angles on flat surfaces, but in their elongation they also betray the influence of the 16th century Spanish painter El Greco, whom Pye greatly admires.
On the other hand, the texture, tone and composition of works like 'Meditation on the Edge of Town' (2007) or 'The Fiery Chariot' (2001) bear some similarity to the post-Impressionist work of Georges Seurat.
That said, Pye – who favours Old Testament themes and is no follower of fashionable movements – reaches out to the viewer through the force of his own strongly spiritual and individualistic approach. All of his paintings are presented here in the most pleasing of frames.
In the attic of the house in Belfast in which she now lives, Jennifer Trouton found boxes of letters and photographs belonging to the previous owner, a Presbyterian cleric, who spent some time as a missionary in Africa but who, in his final years, suffered from dementia. The memorabilia inspired works that look back in time and beyond these shores.
First displayed in Trouton’s 2007 exhibition, Ellipsis, they have biblical titles such as 'Am I My Brother’s Keeper'. When she was redecorating her house, Trouton peeled away embossed wallpaper only to find the preacher’s own pencil marks on the lining paper. Here he has drawn measurements and made exact calculations of the number of wallpaper rolls he was going to need to decorate the various rooms.
Typically, Trouton utilises remnants of the actual lining and wallpaper to conjure up an authentic aura of the person who once inhabited her space. On panels captioned with verses from the Beatitudes, which bless the poor, the hungry, those that suffer, the peace makers and the pure of heart, she has painted miniature cameos of African street scenes and people; she has pencilled in faded family portraits and used actual photographs.
16th and 17th century Dutch painters who took their cue from the verse in Ecclesiastes that went 'vanity of vanities, all is vanity', became known as Vanitas artists. In their stylised still life paintings, they celebrated the here and now with an array of cherished objects but noted the transient nature of earthly life by also including skulls, or flowers and fruit that were bound to decay. Most of all, they prided themselves on their skilful rendering of any surface, be it metal or fur or silk.
'Mouse Trap' (2010) is Geraldine O’Neill’s modern take on the style. Laid out on sumptuously painted pink and blue taffeta drapes is a collection of fish and fowl, cabbages and aubergines, peas and pickles in preserving jars, and, crowining it all, is Dora the Explorer, the Spanish cartoon character depicted as a plastic helium balloon.
While the mouse and the trap, which give their name to the picture, appear at the bottom right hand corner of the canvas, two tubes of paint acknowledge O’Neill’s respect for paint and painting techniques.
O’Neill looks at the theme of death and the afterlife as viewed from a child’s perspective in other works, which feature dead birds lying prone yet pointing upwards or butterflies whose generally short life span is measured by factors such as latitude or the seasons.
From his student days, Richard Livingstone was interested in Celtic mythology and, like fellow Irish artist Louis le Brocquy, was preoccupied with the head as a source of the spirit. Using found materials including seasoned wood and beaten metal he created the dramatic mixed media works such as ‘Head’ (1995), which hangs in this exhibition.
In 2008, when Livingstone was diagnosed with a brain tumour, he began, poignantly, to paint the decaying cells and particles in his own head as he imagined them, as in 'Neuroscape III' and 'Synaptron Interconnectors'. The kind of paint he chose and the way he employed it has produced blistering, cracking surfaces, which will continue to degrade over time.
Preoccupied by the way the human psyche processes information, Diana Copplewhite’s paintings reflect the speed of life in the digital age. The way she applies paint boldly and fearlessly, moving over the surface in broad gestures, speaks not only of energy but of tenacity – for this is no slapdash painter; rather, Copplewhite takes enormous care when applying her paint, removing one layer then adding others until her compositions feel complete.
The flashing neons in 'Liquid Light' (2014) are but a fleeting memory, lyrical, ethereal and impressionistic. Copplewhite’s painting, 'Globe' – which appears on the cover of the Beyond Measure catalogue – depicts a young girl looking through what may be a globe or a sphere, but the message seems to be that no matter how we look at the world it is never complete.
Beyond Measure runs in the Strule Arts Centre, Omagh until October 25.