Sculptures and paintings by Maurice Harron and Brian Ferran are perfectly placed in the London Street Gallery
The only problem I have with the Brian Ferran/Maurice Harron exhibition in the London Street Gallery, Derry~Londonderry is that it’s on for too short a time. Just about a week and a half.
It can’t be helped, apparently, such is the gallery’s desire to exhibit as wide a variety of material as possible during the UK City of Culture year, but it’s a crying shame. This exhibition is wonderfully rich, and deserves a longer run.
Each artist was given a one word brief – Colmcille – and asked to reach into their work and select whatever they thought appropriate. An exhibition full of tumbling and twisting ideas and themes has been produced as a result. So much is packed into the gallery’s five rooms.
In the entrance there is a giant Harron sculpture, crafted in squares, rectangles, parallelograms, and rhomboids of stainless steel, welded together. It is a man reeling backwards, one foot off the ground, arms flailing, caught in time, like so many innocents at Pompeii. He is blown away by tsunami, bullet or love.
He claws at the air, fingers outstretched on one hand, turned in a delicate gesture of acceptance on the other. His face is appalled and appalling. The steel imparts in the figure a strength that counts for nothing. It is an image of violence, pain, weakness. The image is echoed in a room upstairs: another figure – this time, a woman – reels backwards, similarly blown away, as the violence and power spare no-one.
Harron has here presented his work to demonstrate a variety of concerns, but also to explore situations using repeated motifs or situations. 'Delicate Ballerina' is steel in gentle strips. Unlike the falling figures, she retains balance and poise, but the fragility of existence is there in her beauty, too. 'Single Isolation', meanwhile, shows a figure in bronze – lost, alone, uncertain, more crudely formed.
There is an inchoate, emerging figure in bronze – 'Drowning (Woman)' – shown helpless and plunging headfirst within a spiral. Another work in bronze, 'Trapped Couple', shows two figures, a man and a woman held within a tight rectangular frame. They are looking in different directions, the man lumpen and inarticulate, the woman with subtle curves. Each holds a bar of their cell, and each touches the other. They could be clinging or pushing away, trying to escape or trying to stay.
Work in another room is reminiscent of this couple. 'Woman Trapped' shows a figure without autonomy. She is held within a steel rectangle, bars pressing into her – clean, cold, geometric, hard and angular. She is trapped but she is also held secure. Next to it, in 'Absence', the same cold bars hold an empty space shaped for a man or woman. The trap has been sprung, the bars shifted like a puzzle to release the captive, but now there’s no security.
These pieces sit in contrast or discomfort with others in the same room. There is a maquette of a boat crewed by oarsman, a figure standing central. In another piece, 'Mananan Mac Lur', a figure holds a small gold boat, as an offering or to keep safe.
'Man with Fish' is just that – a seated figure holds a fish, looking at it in contemplation and curiosity. There is a sense of music, elegance, freedom and worship in this piece, alongside the harshness and pain of the trapped woman and the empty space within the bars.
Harron’s work mixes playfulness with his more serious themes. There is a series of pieces featuring figures on plinths. They are precarious, tall, narrow outcrops, like Monument Valley. On one, bronze figures huddle, looking outward, away from each other, like a dysfunctional family. On another – 'Rescue Man Holding' – one figures hauls another up.
'Man with Dog 1' is a man sitting with his legs dangling over the edge. He is a touch forlorn, maybe a little tired. Next to him sits his dog, patient and obedient. In 'Man with Dog 2', they’re up on their feet. The man seems ready to set off, and his dog is eager at his side, tail upright and bright.
There is lightness in Brian Ferran’s paintings, too. His work addresses more directly the idea of search and odyssey. Motifs and patterns and figures are repeated throughout. In many of his paintings there are the faces of oarsmen, pressed together for comfort. The faces are rounded and long at the same time, peeping, timid, wary, nervous.
They look a little like Lewis chessmen, or figures from children’s stories. They are comic and brave. Their oars are raised and point to the sky – human men on a mythic journey full of danger and promise. Of course, they’re scared. But they’re not giving up. And they won’t run from danger either, as is shown in one work, where the face has thinned and the warrior’s helmet is clear, ready to fight.
Crosses and circles feature in many of Ferran’s paintings. While the cross is sometimes presented like the Christian cross, more often it sits on its side, intersected through the middle. The cross could mean so many things. It could be minimalist oars cutting through water. It could be belief.
It could be X marks the spot at the end of the journey. It could indicate a methodical search: an area explored and marked now as empty, with the circles showing regions still to be investigated. Ranked together, the circles and crosses suggest children’s games played to pass the time – noughts and crosses, battleships.
Ferran uses beautiful colours in his work. His rich golds are reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. The golds stand bright from autumnal colours. There is bright, invigorating blue, full of promise and possibilities. In some, however, like 'Boho Island Cross', the colours are dulled, the sun has no heat, and blackness threatens the muted gold. And in 'Myth Motif Boatmen', sunset’s orange contests the space with dark blue, the last glimpse of light before night.
The sun and its heat feature strongly in Ferran’s work. And openings do, too – doors and windows – and steps and hallways. The paintings lead the viewer, although the destination is never quite known.
This whole exhibition is full of textures and patterns. Themes emerge and blend. It is an exhibition about both journey and place and time. Sadly its time in the London Street Gallery is much too brief.
Voyage runs in the London Street Gallery, Derry~Londonderry until July 8.