Friday 12 April 2013

The Hugh Lane - the permanent collection, 2.

The Hugh Lane, City Art Gallery, in Dublin. Some more of the works that are part of the permanent collection, modern and contemporary art, this time. And, what a treasure trove their modern art collection is!

Sun and Moon, Alexander Calder, 1972 (gouache on paper)

This was inspired by a vision Calder had during a voyage to San Francisco in 1922 via the Panama Canal when he woke on deck to see a large, red sun and bright, silver moon on opposite horizons. Like Mondrian and Miro, Calder uses a bold palette of primary colours: confined to red, yellow, black and white, separated by a diminishing row of yin and yang motifs, echoeing the forms of the universe, the picture plane is totally flat.

Landscape with Red Gable

Landscape with Red Gable, Mary Swanzy, 1920

This image is highly animated, the red gabled house at the centre of the composition surrounded by the softer green, grey an blue tones of the landscape. This colour contrast occurs regularly in Swanzy's work. The rooftops in the foreground curve upwards and lead the viewer into the composition. Even though Swanzy is considered a cubist, her paintings lack the more angular forms of the Cubists, espousing curves instead. The paint application is reminiscent of that of Cezanne.

Series IV, Screen painting no. 7, Robert Ballagh

The divided panels show a group of people marching. The marchers stretch diagonally across the picture plane. Ballagh is influenced by Pop Art and Andy Warhol.

Untitled (Kneeling Figure - Back View), 1980-82 (oil and pastel on canvas)

An unfinished painting, probably of  Bacon's former lover, George Dyer. A hot cadmium orange tone is used as background, the figure kneeling on a plynth, a further limb, possibly from another figure can also be identified. References to a domestic interior are included in the shape of a light switch and bare light bulg.

Untitled (Final Unfinished Portrait), Francis Bacon, 1991-92 (oil on canvas)

This unfinished portrait was found on Bacon's easel on his death in April 1992.

Black Relief over Yellow and Orange, Elsworth Kelly, 2004

Kelly's paintings are about form and colour, the visual experience being all. An exponent of Post-Painterly Abstraction.

Untitled, No. 7, Agnes Martin, 1980 (gesso, acrylic and graphite)

Agnes Martin lived in New Mexico for a large part of her life, and the white light of the desert and the rich earth colours permeate her work. She is one of the great exponents of Post-painterly Abstraction, greatly influenced by nature and Asian philosophy, she wanted to viewer to experience some of the same feelings when viewing her work that they do in the presence of nature.

This work is solely about visual perception, with a complete absence of representational or literary references. It engenders understanding of concepts of space and light in painting and for me it is the closest to a feeling of the sublime.

Blue and White, William Scott, 1963 (oil on canvas)

Scott was influenced by Abstract Expressionism, but has always been prepared to paint anything - in this case, the kitchen sink. The flattened-out pictorial space gives these abstracted pots and pans their own unique qualities.

Large Solar Device, Patrick Scott, 1964 (tempera on unprimed canvas)

Scott was one of the first Irish exponents of pure abstraction. Large Solar Device is one of a series of paintings in which he protested against the H-bomb testing through forms that recall the deadly beauty of the bomb's radiating halo. 'The ambiguity of calling them nuclear devices and the reason for still testing weapons of mass destruction, which had already been used with such tragic consequences in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, left me outraged', he said. The painting consists of a dynamic sphere of exploding colour from which radiate rivulets of paint that drip below a strongly defined horizon line.

Bogwater and Bullwire, Terence Flanagan, 1975 (oil on canvas)

Deeply affected by the Northern Irish 'Troubles'  Flanagan made a number of paintings of psychological intensity that pay homage to those who lost their lives in the violence. In this painting, a strand of barbed wire is strung low across the foreground as though to separate the living from the underworld. Beyond, a light fog covers the bare, calcified hills, punctuated here and there by bleached fence posts like grave markers in the landscape. The sense of the sacrificial here is both profound and poignant. Yet a glimmer of hope of rebirth and regeneration survives in the two vertical green slashes, like blades of grass, caught on the wire above a water-filled hole in the soft bog.

Big Bird, Niki de Saint Phalle, 1982 (polyester polychrome)

Although born in France, de Saint Phalle spent her formative years in New York. Her shooting paintings, of 'tirs' of the early 1960s which involved firing weapons at paint-filled assemblanges leading to explosions of colour, brought her to prominence and they are what she is most famous for. She became a member of the Nouveau Realistes, a French avant garde group that included Christo and Yves Klein. You can see one of her 'tirs' here and a piece of jewellery she created here .

Her use of liquid polyester, a medium enabling curvaceous and polychromatic sculptures, resulted in her contracting emphysema. During her period of convalescence the theme of air came to the fore, as well as the influence of Gaudi's Parc Guell. Big Bird belongs to a body of work from the early 1980s she called Skinnys and described as 'air sculptures'. The sculpture's kinetic energy is heightened by its polychrome, coiled lead and the numerous voids through which the viewer can see.

Bystander, Rita Donagh, 1977

The 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s provide the context for Donagh's Bystander. This work is part of a series she made under the general title Disturbance.

In this painting Donagh's depiction of Ireland is that of a country that has been stunned by an excess of death, grief, repression and fear. Northern Ireland has become a strangely glacial region where universal whiteness descends threatening to extinguish everything in sight. Two press photographs, modest in their proportions, testify to events in the region. The one on the top left hand side is a newspaper photograph of children playing in an urban wasteland surrounded by dereliction. The second one is of a woman who was killed, caught in the middle of an urban battle: there were no blankets left to cover her body with, as so many had been killed, so her body was covered with newspapers. The rest of the canvas is abstract, large areas where oil and pencil are used - a horizontal bar near the base of the picture contributes to a feeling of constriction. There are areas of murky grey at the top of the painting, evoking an overcast sky and diagonal lines lash through the composition reminiscent of wind-driven rain. This is a painting about violence and loss and it's incredibly powerful.

Long Meadow, Rita Donagh, 2006

Another painting about the 'Troubles'. Long Kesh or 'Long Meadow' is the original name of the site in County Antrim that was converted into the Maze Prison, where many IRA prisoners were held. Eight of its buildings were given the nickname of H-blocks because, when seen from above, they resembled the letter H. Donagh has created a plan of the prison's H blocks, and projected the plan in perspective onto a square canvas that echoes the square plan of a single cell block.


Figure in Gren, Sean Scully, 2004 (oil on canvas)

This is one of the works that are part of the Hugh Lane's permanent collection - the temporary exhibition can be seen here .

Scully's visual language is very restricted and the picture plane is flat, but there is a greater openness in his later work, the edges of the blocks are softened and bits of colour nudge up against each other. There is a feeling of openness, of light and air.

Study no. 2 for Miro, James Scanlon, 1985 (stained glass panel)
This was prompted by Miro's Constellations series and though it is very contemporary in its appearance, it derives from traditional techniques, whereby multiple layers of coloured glass 'flashed' together are etched to remove specific areas, layer by layer and panels of etched glass are sometimes superimposed, further extending the aesthetic possibilities. Working on a small scale Scanlon avoids the need for the supporting leads commonly found in stained glass. This is a very luminous and vibrant piece, with some colours flowing into one another as delicately as water colours, while others remain architectonically hard-edged. It is a stunning piece!
Source: Dublin City Gallery - the Hugh Lane catalogue.

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