STRUCTURE/VOID was an exhibition of paintings by Irish artist Denis Kelly, shown in the McKenna Gallery at the Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, running until December 17th. It contained a site-specific wall painting, along with twelve abstract coloured compositions painted on found wood. The show was a result of Kildare County Council Emerging Visual Artist Bursary Award 2015; as well as the bursary each winner is given a year to produce new work to exhibit at the centre.
The works are Kelly’s response to the built environment and wider ‘designed world’ around him, especially the forms of Modernist architecture. He simplifies and plays with fragments of objects – gates, railings and signage – alluding to forms and objects, rather than representing or replicating. He uses colour in hard-edged, geometric forms, generally painted flat, with subtle indentations due to the uneven surface of the wood.
The wood on which Kelly paints is generally thin plywood, often the packaging by-product of sheet wood used in the building industry. Kelly is interested in the graphic letter forms of this plywood; its unique patina, knots, abrasions and indentations remain evident through the painted surface he applies. He is interested in the play between oppositions. including the ‘figure’ of the painted form and the ‘ground’ of the wooden surface; the geometry of the forms he abstracts from the spaces and objects around him and the organic world of the painting’s background surface.
Before he completed an MFA in painting at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Kelly worked as a graphic designer. Artist Maser also studied Visual Communications (at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology) and had his first solo show in Dublin, Foreign Language, MASER – solo presentation of new work, at the Graphic Studio Gallery, running until December 3rd. This was part of the View Festival in Temple Bar. Maser is known for his street art around Dublin and beyond, including the ‘Repeal the 8th’ mural painted on the front of the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar, which generated much attention – and some controversy – earlier in the year.
The show contains a series of fine art prints and etchings,examples of the woodblocks and copper plates Maser uses in his print making, as well as a framed panel showing the layers of transparent plastic and coloured card he uses to build up these compositions. A palette of eight ink colours (as well as black) was used to generate around 35 colour combinations. Maser also painted the gallery shop front with a chevron-type pattern, taking his bright colours out to the darkened, arched lane way of Cope street, connecting the public realm with the domain of the art gallery.
Like Kelly, Maser’s prints use geometric abstraction, but combine more figurative elements, such as the outline of a outstretched arm or hand (forms taken from old body building magazines), referencing street art. Maser has also made large scale installations around the world, including a recent project in Liberia where local people transformed an existing basketball court and adjacent building into a large, interactive, brightly coloured, three-dimensional mural.
To speak about the art work and in order to gain an understanding of it, I need to revert to the ancient Greek mind and in particular to Plato. Greeks interpreted the universe from the perspective of order. Plato saw the universe as a perfect expression of idea and form. The platonic forms are changeless absolutes, timeless and they underlie concrete reality amidst the chaos of life. These principles included the mathematical forms of geometry and here we have a concrete expression of these forms in a work of art.
Each piece is an expression of the artist coming from the lived experience of life, the world and the environment – and his interpretation of it. One can say that the work has space as its foundation and time as its path. These two intersect as they do in life, they enclose shared territories. Space gives us the beginning of the world and is infinite. Time sets a limit, a boundary – a hard edge within the mystery of life. One cannot explain life but one can express it within the living of it. The life of an artist is given to the expression of experience – and experience is the soul. These works express simplicity – a honing has occurred, they are stripped to fundamentals, ordered but also open to the unexpected, this unexpected engages the viewer and challenges one to find meaning. There is a simplicity that is subtle, it is playful in that it holds a celebration of life. In having space as a foundation – a field of colour that has a rhythmic movement of time across it, a figure and ground relationship that is poetic – the work brings feeling and imagination to bear on reality, on the hard edge of form and life. A found piece enhances the artistic journey – a surprise find on the way, it creates a possibility and becomes a challenge to reason. It is the surprise that life throws up and one allows it to be in its individuality.
Denis takes the elements that are in the world and plays with them, his focus is on geometric forms, his delight in space, seeing beauty in an angle, a line, a rectangle and placing it in a field of colour, throwing a shadow, playing with a sea of blue, allowing a story by a yellow pool, shifting a tension, hearing an echo as in the response to the architectural space of the gallery.
Denis Kelly’s work in the corner room at the back of the building are a mixture between paintings and small sculptural objects developed from a fascination with dead spaces found in the architecture of a building such as locations under stairs or acute angles, what Germans refer to as dead corners. He explores these spaces and the geometric shapes they produce to examine the tensions created by opposing and contradictory elements – figure/ground, control/chance, construction/destruction, and revelation/concealment. These dead spaces reveal something of the inevitable unpredictable elements of an architectural structure. These elements of waste or surplus occur where other elements designed with a particular utility such as a staircase or supporting pillar come together for practical reasons and the result is a space that serves no purpose and cannot be practically utilized. To explore these elements through painting exposes the tensions found between the intentional and the unintentional. The planning and the execution of any project that inevitably falls under the influence of chance. The paintings that at first look like quiet geometric and rational exercises reveal incidental bleeds of paint that come due to the influence of the supports, raw pieces of wood, found objects that are in themselves surplus elements of a building’s construction. The installation of the work incorporates an awareness of the elements of the cable trunking and electrical sockets on the walls even the windows look out onto the upper stories of adjacent buildings that reflect the shapes in the paintings particularly when the sharp sunlight casts rigid diagonal shadows across the grey plaster of the building next door. In such minimal and rigidly geometric work every element holds a significance no matter how miniscule, from colour to form and substance. As in the spaces of habitation where we locate ourselves, the more aware we are of the intricacies of the horizon and the limits of perception the better equipped we are to plot our onward journey and our escape from the labyrinth of the present.