Percept / Ethos

Painting through its poetical emotion – Episode #3

The Irish Brussels-based artist Colm Mac Athlaoich retraces in his most recent works the phases of the Aristoteles’ rhetoric about percept intended as perceptum.  The artist’s ‘percept’ is concerned with the analysis of the pictorial object as a figurative and representative element of a real object transfigured on the canvas. However, this abstractive process – typical of Mac Athlaoich’s painting – underline deeper matters related to the percept of the artwork itself and what it represents and means.

The artist began his Percept series, starting from Pathos, moving across Logos, and arriving now to the Ethos. The latter is the initial phase that establishes the central role of the orator in arranging his arguments. In this way, Mac Athlaoich presents himself as a visual lecturer who is questioning the intrinsic meaning of flags and his ethical approach to that subject. He is presenting the metaphoric and narrative issue related to flags, which with their iconicity and figurative promptness are communicating political and social messages. Instead, the artist’s intention is not to argue or define any socio-political message, but rather to destructure the images. The intention is to destabilised the message and reveal different communicative levels. In doing so, what remains on the canvas is only the essence of flags as abstract figurative elements often deducible only by titles.

Through the title – and so the use of words together with images – we rediscover the importance of the word, or even better to say of parole following the Saussurean dichotomies langue and parole. In other words, the distinction between the collective and social aspects (langue) and the linguistic symbol (parole) of any language. Furthermore, here the title works as metalanguage since it helps us to deduce the subject of the painting. This subject in a certain way is an image of reality, an imitation of reality according to the ancient etymological meaning of image, imitari, and it is exactly what is happening with Mac Athlaoich’s paintings. He is imitating images that come from reality whether from his private photographic archive or from the internet and social media, and then decomposing the message denoted by the photograph (analogon) to introduce the viewer into a connoted message by the same viewer. Here the bystander plays the role of a lector in fabula which has to embrace and cognitively complete the artwork as a «text [since] it wants that someone helps it to work» because «it is a consequence whose interpretative fate has to be part of its own generative mechanism» (U. Eco, Lector in Fabula, 1979).

This new series of works invites an interpretative cooperation between the bystander and the artist, and to a generative mechanism of meaning subjected to constant change depending on the viewer and their consequent interpretation. Colm Mac Athlaoich, as a narrator, releases his interpretative creativity about the symbolic object ‘flag’ however avoiding the viewer of any interpretative or visual limit; rather the viewer is invited to actively complete the work through their own emotional and intellectual intelligence. Every layer of colour, shape and meaning is arbitrary. In fact, the paintings go through a constant process of layering and removing, painting, glazing, scratching and scraping, and this is demonstrating once more how the artist wants to objectify and destructure the flag to look at its essence and to subvert the perceptive and ethical meaning.

Featured image: R.Flag photocall 1, 2021. Oil on canvas, 140 x 110 cm. Ph credit Alice Pallot and courtesy the artist.

Colm Mac AthlaoichPercept / Ethos (2nd November – 23rd December 2021, Galleria Weber&Weber, Turin IT ). 

The exhibition is kindly supported by Culture Ireland.

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