Bernhard Gaul | June 2011
Visited the Paul Kane Gallery today to see the Roisín McGuigan exhibition I was waiting for. Went yesterday evening but the gallery is closed on Monday’s. I first saw some of her paintings at the stall at the Arts Show in the RDS in May. She produces cloudscapes. What interested me apart from the way the clouds were painted were the omissions on the lower edge of the canvases. It didn’t dawn on me that this is supposed to signify the omitted landscape from an overall landscape painting. I learned this today but still don’t really mind if it signifies anything. The effect is that you get a rudimentary, unfinished painting, which is what I am more interested in. It is also never a clear cut-out of a shape giving a hint at landscape, just a straight cut across the canvas and not even meticulously preserved, sometimes traces of the cloudscape spilled over and by the looks of it where wiped off again.
Quite obviously there is an element of showing traces of the painting process as it occurred, coincidences, effects of what looks like paint very thinly diluted with turpentine and the crack and channel effects happening as the pigments settle during the drying process. There are thicker bits of oil paint which shrivelled up as they dried etc.
She also paints on Perspex - as I have done - using both sides however, not sanding the surface to roughen it up before painting on it.
Most paintings appear to have been done in a flat position. The very thin paint would have dispersed differently if the canvases or Perspex sheets would have been standing up.
I am not sure what to make of these cloudscapes yet apart from the fact that I like to see them and they light up the room. I have been to the Paul Kane Gallery before but never felt as comfortable in that not all too big room. The skyscape in a landscape painting, light and ambient, reflects the mood. Whereas the other things we look at are more or less immoveable, the sky can change and adapt expressions just as human beings can, and thus it is the skyscape through which we communicate (the artist with us, we with the painting, etc.)
That alone wouldn’t explain what I like about them. It is more the way the clouds (and also the other abstracts which, as I was told, aren’t clouds but just as well could be) are painted. In the Kerry counterpart of this exhibition apparently a video is projected of a scene Paul Henry had painted. But apart from the fact that this is an Irish painter who also paid much attention to the cloudscape the paintings do not remind me of him. What they do remind me of is some of the skyscapes by Goya, in particular from the black paintings series. They are more lucid than what you see with Paul Henry, a good degree brighter, sunnier but simultaneously also showing dark clouds.
Yesterday, when I looked through the gallery first Baroque skyscapes sprang to mind (the darkness in them), then Rococo (because of the lightness), but in fact they are too saturated for that, too. So today Goya remains as the prevailing association.
There is a virtue in painting to the point of interest and then leaving it at that. It is not the painter’s job to explain to us why he or she may have lost interest on further execution and elaboration. It is more up to us, giving us a chance actually, to examine exactly where the boundaries of the painter’s interest lie and what that might mean.
Roisín McGuigan’s paintings seem to me just like that: elaborating a subject to a given point and then leaving it at that - potentially not even that reflected. There is no strict consistency in the omitted landscape - one of the more promoted paintings even showing a fully rendered seascape beneath the clouds.
There is a smudge in one of the white spaces below the skies, which I find significant. It quite obviously isn’t planned: some of the sky spilled over. But then it is also not that carefully removed - evidence for me that it is maybe less about the intellectual concept of genres and their reflection but simply a chance to leave things unfinished; a stubborn streak maybe, a quick wilful streak of disobedience (or even just one of laziness), which is highly necessary, because otherwise that type of highly realistic painting is very much in danger of just playing to conservative expectations. So it gives the painter a breathing space which allows her to explore that type of painting without getting trapped in pleasing decorative tastes too quickly.
Still, I think as the paintings are there may none-the-less be difficulties in reception: dismissed by the ones who look for a fully rendered “proper” painting, who may try to simply blend out that un-rendered strip form their perception while on the other hand they may be perceived as not being radical enough by the ones who look for bold dismissive gestures. It might be this edge, though, which particularly interests me. More than any genre reflection I am interested on how finely adjusted people may be able to position themselves within the strands of circumstances they are in.
There is something in these paintings which suggests that this is maybe not as wilfully reflected as modern high-art criticism expects. I noticed that I was bothered by the fact that some of them appear to be slightly skewed or even warped, the overlapping canvas folded over quite carelessly at the edges, without system, etc. - Nothing a frame wouldn’t fix, but the paintings were presented here without a frame and I have to reflect on the impression that was given and don't start on omitting perceptions on my end, either. I am always interested in how paintings work as a 3D object, a physical body if you want, within their surroundings and this seems to have been taken little care of here. The Perspex pieces, too, appeared squat on the wall and I remember wishing they could be offset a bit to make them light and transparent sculptures. But the longer I think about it the less it bothers me and it becomes part of an accepted representation.
There seems to be something inviting and generous in all that and now the last thing that seems to be bothering me is to perceive “enjoyable” as a meaningful aesthetical category. But then I know that I perceive these paintings as enjoyable precisely because they contain that breathing space, that is the unfinished, beside the descriptive, finding a way to quite legitimately explore very traditional concepts without blindly subscribing to them and because as serene as they are, they are still cloudscapes, not clear skies, with clouds that have black linings.
As they are they open surprising possibilities of integrating traditional values without closing that door which would leave you in a room where art is meant to just please you; to the space where things are difficult, terrifying and in no way resolved; defending knowledge of it against the onslaught of the pressure to be just a happy functioning being in a world of precious goods.
Photo © 2011 The Paul Kane Gallery