A watercolour painting of a horse, entitled Afghan Horse, acts as the primer for Rose Wylie’s show in the Douglas Hyde Gallery. The piece recognisably represents a horse, but its disproportionate anatomy suggests it as being something else, something outside representation, outside the pictorial. Its assemblage of numerous painted paper pieces of oddly-cut sizes and shapes form a jagged, asymmetrical border. The simplicity of the smiling horse’s image allows the overlapping layers of paper, in all their crooked glory, to take precedence. They sit inside a frame, the rigid corners of which forsake the painting’s childlike qualities of nonchalance and thoughtful reluctance.
Around past the handrail at the bottom of the Douglas Hyde’s concrete stairs, Black Berlin Bear’s Head hangs on the nearest wall. Like the majority of the other paintings in the show, it is a diptych of large conjoined, un-primed canvases. The lack of a base layer of paint on the canvas is made obvious by patterns of blotted fingerprints and spills, revealing a calculated carelessness that shines throughout the show. This pair of figurative oil paintings feature ambiguous forms; the patterns and shapes look as if they’re gleaned from impressions of a child’s bedroom monster, lost in the fog of distinction between friend and foe. The bear’s head hangs back, nose pointing in the air as a tar-black tongue protrudes from his mouth, and it seems for a moment that he is there towering above you from this impossible perspective, his ear bridging between the distinct two-dimensional planes of each canvas.
Wylie’s confident and thick fluent lines are prevalent in Flowerpiece (Tesco Carnation and Lily). Playfully hinting at the classic notion of the still life, this diptych of flowers openly demystifies their origin on the supermarket shelf with the painted words ‘Tesco Carnation and Lily’ in block capitals. The thickness of the paint serves to highlight the gestures made in its application, ranging from the slight to the exaggerated, while never feeling overworked. The white of the lily dissipates briefly in parts, allowing the base layer of black to emerge and mix into an eerie grey where the brush ran out of paint and became coarse, frictious.
Down in the furthermost corner of the Douglas Hyde hangs the final piece in the show, Sitting on a Bench with Border (film notes). It is a peculiarly structured series of smaller canvases that form a border around a central image which depicts a woman sitting on bench looking into the distance. Her brash green hair-do sits atop a sickly pink face from which solemnly protrudes a single eyelash. This image takes on the form of a repeat pattern with the woman’s thin formless leg appearing twice again above her head, while the same green hair-do seeps up from the border below. The wallpaper pattern motif alludes to domesticity. The border is formed from numerous side-views of a woman’s head, her nose and smile varying in size as they are repainted, corrected, and altered over and over and over. Her repeated image recalls the ‘classic beauty’ standards of the 1950s woman as dissected by the male gaze.
There is a strong sense of Wylie’s painting process in her work. Her embrace of mistakes is made transparent through corrective painting; smooth white and pink patches stand out against the coarse texture of her un-primed canvases. The strength of Wylie’s work lies in her ability to discern when to forego the intentional, in favour of the accidental.
Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh – Untitled
Cú Chulainn Comforted is a five person group show of painting work at Basic Space, curated by Joshua Sex. William Butler Yeats’ Cú Chulainn Comforted, from which the show draws its name, tells of Cú Chulainn on the battlefield, bloodied and near death, being visited by creatures that are half-bird, half-man. One offers him a shroud, hoping he will take his place amongst them in their plane of the dead. Many of the show’s paintings allude to the separation of different spatial planes, with the exhibition space itself being aptly severed by a partition wall. Mathis Gasser’s Lester is a quasi-photographic painting which brings to mind the green-screen’s ability to superimpose the body into awkward spaces. This ambiguous in-between quality of ‘the threshold’ is best utilised in the work of two particular artists in the show: Sanja Todorović and Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh.
Sol Lewitt spoke of trying to maintain the ‘integrity of the wall’ by keeping his work as two dimensional as possible. On initial viewing, Sanja Todorović’s Untitled is disarmingly flat, almost unremarkable, as if it was idly plastered with straight-out-of-the-tub ultramarine blue. But the seemingly random dispersal of paint transforms into a backdrop, a self-aware surface for residual dust. What look like a series of dirt patches are in fact glistening rows of paint, highlighting the ridges and curves of the camouflaged gestures. Shapes and scenes blend in and out of Untitled’s background, land and seascapes, abstract and familiar, defying the two dimensions on which they’re rendered. Is the painting about surface, or flatness? It overwhelmingly feels like a painting about nothing, simply a painting.
The thoughtful qualities of Todorović’s painting reappear in another Untitled work, a smaller piece of intricacy and restraint. This work is more representational, depicting an emerald green curtain in low light, at once both realistic and abstract. The curtain changes into simplistic lines, swapping back and forth like a holograph, never quite fully one or the other.
The highlights of the show are Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s two works, Untitled and Untitled 5. The image of the curtain appears again in the greyish pinks of Untitled’s scene, wherein the open curtains of a stage present an unapologetically flat collection of expressive textured abstractions and shapes behind. Yellow dabs combine with grey patches to form gold-esque hues, dry, sparkling, and dull. In Untitled 5, abstract globs are spread, dragged, and crushed together on the canvas forming a crowd: repetitive and uniform. In contrast with Untitled, Untitled 5 is not expressive, but rather machinistic. Subtle glimmers of yellow pulse out of sync with the crowd, retouched moments whispering amidst the noise.
Rose Wylie is exhibited at the Douglas Hyde Gallery until Wednesday 13th May.
Words: Aidan Wall
Feature Image: Rose Wylie