The Douglas Hyde Gallery is currently exhibiting a series of paintings made with oil on plywood by Bill Lynch. These thoughtful and beguiling works represent 30 years of the late artist’s evolution, and this is the first time they have been shown in Ireland. Lynch’s tendency to apply paint straight onto a wooden support gives a sense of immediacy and energy to his intimate depictions of animals, plants and ornaments.
The coarse surface of the plywood is in itself fundamental to the work, no part of it is covered without consideration. Where there is a base coat, it is treated as a decorative element. This is exemplified in Untitled (Caught in the Spider Web), where the paint is dragged thinly across the uncovered knots and wood grain. Patches of gesso imply receding bodies of water, while layers of pigeon-blue build up and gather into a waterfall near the bottom of the painting.
Elsewhere, Lynch uses negative space to describe form. A family of gorillas emerges from the gaps between the brushstrokes in Untitled (Family). The group stares towards an unknown point outside the frame, while the cradled baby gazes out at the viewer. The lithe and wispy work of an under-loaded paintbrush describes their soft hair and muscular bodies.
An elongated painting of Sammy, the artist’s black Labrador, appears prominently positioned on the north wall of the gallery. Lying placidly on a lawn, she carefully protects a stick, her tongue protruding slightly. Like in Untitled (Family), she is drawn using expressive marks of black paint, which leaves patches of the wood beneath showing through.
The same dog makes another appearance in Untitled (Sammy Watching). Her head and paw extend inwards from the left of the frame. We look over her shoulder into a loosely-charted landscape of painted reeds and tall grass, animated with mice, insects and lively flowers described in whirls of white and blue. The plants rise high all around, suggesting a hunkered viewpoint, in line with the perception of the pet, all painted in a style that is affectionate and carefully inexact.
Untitled (Blue Vase) is the most heavily worked painting in the exhibition and constitutes a synthesis of all of the styles used in the show. A muddy semi-transparent wash forms the night sky. The foreground is filled with an arranged set of ornamental vases, figurines, and a Faberge egg. They share this space with a variety of taxidermy birds and animals, painted in expressive motions as if to reanimate them. Meanwhile in the background, shadow puppets, formed in free and agile strokes, play out their own scene under moonlight.
The tawny wooden board upon which Untitled (Red Goblet with Deer) is painted appears like a table beneath the decorative ceramic plates and vases, knowingly rendered in an impossible variety of perspectives. Though visual jokes are many in Lynch’s paintings, his sincerity of intent is evident. Such gestures seem to spring from an unrestrained delight in the materials rather than a deliberate irony, making this exhibition one that resonates beyond its medium.
Bill Lynch at the Douglas Hyde Gallery runs until May 4th.
Words: Eimear Walshe