Denis Kelly. A Sense of Order. A Sense of Disorder
Each colour expands and lies in the other colours
To be more alone if you look at it
G. Ungaretti, Tappeto in L’allegria, 1914-1919
Denis Kelly is an Irish abstract painter whose work explores the fundamental values of “pure-abstraction” where a lack of figurative representation is to be understood as a form of artistic expression of one’s own life experience. Each compositional element of his painting is in fact an essential part of a non-figurative vocabulary capable of transmitting through line, shape and colour the whole vitalistic scope of this artist. He accepts the risk, the accidental that appears in his paintings as an outcome of his spatial-geometric research capable of holding the casual element. The linguistic synthesis of the world that surrounds him is re-constructed through geometric shapes and a spatial analysis that give life to a structure of geometric ‘fields’, filled with bright colours that reveal perspectives and fortuitous elements that come from reality.
Panel painting has always been synonymous with pictorial tradition. Having made its appearance in ancient times as the main support for painting, it was the main pictorial support until the 16th century when it was superseded by a more manageable and economic canvas. The use by Denis Kelly of the wood panel as a support to his works denotes a certain attention to what are the pictorial traditions. What makes him an innovator and a “rebel” is, de facto, the use of a found wood surface of everyday life. These objet trouvéplay a fundamental role in his art, since they introduce an unusual element. The mix between the ancient and the more modern artistic tradition means that the artist renews the pictorial medium through this stylistic expedient. He thus generates a short circuit between the art of the past and the present through the use of repeated forms as a sort of ancient patrones, shaped figures indispensable for the repeat and exact reproduction of figurative forms. In Kelly’s case, these patrons are nothing more than geometrical matrices that allow him to reproduce the geometric figures which he organises in the space of the panel from which those fortuitous accidents emerge due to the presence of a found ‘mark’.
His pictorial language is, therefore, disinterested in aesthetic academism as vindicated by the Mark Rothko’s, one of the leading exponents of abstract expressionism: “It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what you paint as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academicism. There is no such thing as good painting about nothing”. As todays artists are free from this last resistance of rhetorical artifice, Kelly breaks with all the traditional rules of formalism and triumphs, instead, in a research of physical and geometrical elements.
Given these assumptions, the artist decides to take another step forward by replacing the panel with the canvas on which he imprints his geometric modules, which become symbols of his own distinctive ‘mark’. In this way it is the artist himself who defines his own trademark by reproducing it manually on the canvas. With this operation it is possible to transfer a typical Denis Kelly modular pattern on to a surface, thus creating something that can potentially be reproduced indefinitely.
The artist assumes the role of demiurge and the work of art, however, does not lose its aureaeven though it is being increasingly threatened and made fragile by the advent of ‘the digital’, it preserves its own poetic and evocative characteristics. The artist underlines the importance of what is made in accordance with the rhythms of everyday life and to the authentic man-made properties, in contrast with the frenetic rhythms proposed by the contemporary age. The appropriation of one’s work and research time, of one’s own living space, allows the emergence of the artists’ vitalistic flow whose lacks of figuration is symptomatic of his research of simplicity. From the most elementary geometrical forms emerge the details of a found panel, developed and recomposed over and over in order to find that aesthetic equilibrium capable of holding the accidental element. This is a sort of irreverent irony respect of perfection which usually distinguishes pure-abstraction. Ideas of temporality, constant research and artistic tension pushes Denis Kelly to take steps forward, re-thinking and re-working paintings in a perpetual circularity of ideas.
The dialogue that takes place externally on the canvas through perceptual stimuli and the sense of order, – which, synthetically, is a manifestation of the cognitive processes linked to every visual activity, in the Gombrichian perspective – are the bases of the relationship with the image that helps us to understand the pitfalls of perception. In turn, this helps us to understand the fundamental qualities of the artistic image, its role and its evolution. In this way we are going to build a relational model where the subject who looks at the work interprets it for relationships; perception, a process that mediates the triadic relationship between world, subject and representation, is the filter that allows us to understand the peculiarities of the representative act.
In the case of the Denis Kelly’s works the dissolution of any traditional stylistic setting, as well as the artist’s desire to use painting as a sort of inner diary where he can narrate his artistic singularity, is attributable to literary qualities of the young Ungaretti. By removing the punctuation, making poetic words empty, he creates white spaces around the words, to give the idea of their emergence from the silence of the soul. So, if it is true that Ut pictura poësis, it is possible to obtain similar effects in poetry as in painting by isolating words and/or forms. The pictorial research is spasmodic although it does not leave a trace of itself except between the stratifications of colour, a narrative and aesthetic synthesis that simplify every form. “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak”. This is an observation of Hans Hofmann’s that is actualised in the art of Denis Kelly whose pictorial idiom resides precisely in his figurative essentiality and in the marks left behind on the pictorial surface.
The canvas thus becomes a sort of stage where the artist shows through abstraction, colour and the essentiality of forms – as in the best of Beckettian screenplays – a freedom to interact on the pictorial surface and to narrate Kelly’s expressive world in a never ending recurrence.
A.H. Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1936.
Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, in Illuminations, Schocken Books, New York, 1969.
E.H. Gombrich, The Sense of Order. A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art, Phaidon Press, London, 1979.
Hess, Abstract Expressionism, Taschen, Köln, 2016.
Gillian Lawler. This Entropic Order
All around [St Ignatius Church in Centralia], smoke was hovering wispily off the ground, and just behind it, great volumes of smoke were billowing from the earth over a large area. I walked over and found myself on the lip of a vast cauldron, perhaps an acre in extent, which was emitting thick, cloud like, pure white smoke […]. The ground felt warm and was loosely covered in a fine ash.
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods, Broadway Books, New York, 1998.
Gillian Lawler continues her spatial exploration with This Entropic Order, an exhibition of work which infuses the idea of place, organisation, relocation and transformation through different states of being.
Lawler has always claimed to be attracted to places abandoned causes and/or environmental disasters, as evident by her visit to the city of Centralia (Pennsylvania, USA), a place where a severe environmental disaster occurred in the early 1960s causing not only damage to the local flora and fauna but also to inhabitants who had been forced out of their homes since the 1980s. This tragedy is highlighted in the exhibition eminent domain (2014-2015) where the sense. of abstraction and metaphysics gives rise to reflection on uninhabited architecture and spaces. Lawler’s work encompasses the idea of suspended spaces where life is interrupted to relocate to other places that she represents through her figurative syntax via the use of lines and vector triangles. The paintings become “window onto the world” that testifies to human absence and suggests alternative survival possibilities. As in The ideal city of Urbino, Lawler establishes an aesthetic of the simulation through perspective and luminous manifestations of the sublime and the metaphysical.
The symbolic use of perspective is an intellectual operation that contrasts, with the use of diapositives, real and unreal. These two categories of thought coexist in the work, manipulating the images of devastation collected by Lawler in the streets of Centralia. The alteration and introduction of colours reiterate the artist’s desire to denounce a place with apocalyptic appearances and introduces us to the unreal dimensions of cyberspaces generated by computers. The visual deformation as a figurative effect is rendered moreover by the presence of smoke as a perturbing element that mediates the vision of the work and subjects represented by creating a visual filter between the observer and the painting.
The most unusual perspectives of her paintings bring forth from its frames suspended platforms, underground tumuli that emerge as presences-absences of a civilisation that has disappeared or is in the process of destruction. Solid but at the same time vulnerable forms emerge from the oblivion of desolate and barren backgrounds in which contemporary man often finds himself living because of his own actions.
Islands isolated by linguistic definition, abandoned or uninhabitable buildings are the object-worlds that appear as a warning in the paintings of Gillian Lawler. It is no coincidence that they serve as a warning to the assumption that the sculptural function of a monument, of moneo, from the Latin “ricordo”, is a memory of a past that reveals a solitary and precarious present.
Her tangible and protruding forms are wrecked within ethereal landscapes contrasting the inconsistency of the background from which sometimes lines of force emerge, almost as if to anchor the special universe to the sky before their sinking. In her recent exhibition Hiraeth, a Welch term used to refer to the pain of loving place, the artist refers to her remotest and recondite past, to the rural places of her home land, a place now which only exist in her childhood memories. The uncertain platforms or unusual reliefs that populate her paintings are to be considered in this case as connections between heaven and earth, between spirit and matter, an upward movement that pushes man towards elevation. This is a call to Tibetan asceticism that elevates the spirits of the deads through the jhatorrite.This celestial burial involves the exposition of the corpse on the peaks of the Himalayas to be eaten by the vultures following the cycle of life. This ascetic process is not the only ontological theme faced by the artist who also focuses her attention on the mystical and mysterious boundaries of space-time.
In This Entropic Orderthis type of physical suspension turns into a kind of spiritual, abstract and metaphysical suspension. In Lawler’s paintings everything is blocked, immobilised, as in the most perfect idea of still-life. And it is precisely on this temporal category placed on the threshold of life and death, in that instant of eternal present, in a place idealised by the mind of the artist on which the figuration dwells. The artist challenges the limits of perspective with a multiplicity of planes and with the articulation of shadows through an executive minutiae that introduces us to the many components of an abstract space geometrically constructed in which time is infinite.
The infinite thus becomes part of the indefinite overcoming the Cartesian limits to reach, by Lawler’s painting, a semantic equivalence between the two terms conforming to the Hegelian assertion, “the infinite belongs to the divine; the human can only come to the indefinite”. It is the discursive syntax that reveals the fundamental restlessness of the artist’s gaze, her melancholy tending to something, showing off a rich spatial and temporal articulation of the gaze that is continually renewed through the absence of the frame. The lack of this artifice allows a continuity between simulated space and real space, represented space and spectator’s space. The spatial continuity determines in this way an effect of reality and presence that is a constitutive of the idea of wonder in the Latin meaning of mirabiliaand, at the same time, producing a metaphor of temporality through the figurative re-elaboration of the present “existential” contained in the painting. It is the painter’s time, blocked in an immobile instant, that bears witness to the Dasein, the being-there, of every human existence.
Heidegger, Being and time, SCM Press, London, 1962.
Francastel, Lo spazio figurative dal Rinascimento al Cubismo, Einaudi, Torino, 1967.
G.W.F. Hegel, Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art, [tr. Of T.M.Knox], Clarendon University Press, Oxford, 1975.
L.B. Alberti, On Painting, [tr. Of R. Sinisgalli], Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Colm Mac Athlaoich. The Waiting Game
In an instant all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness.
S. Beckett, Waiting for Godot. A tragicomedy in two acts, London, 1955.
The Irish artist Colm MacAthlaoich introduces by means of The Waiting Game a new artistic dimension where time and space are suspended. After Travelling Without Moving (2017) and Elsewhere To Be Found (2018), in whose titles were evident the antinomies and paradoxes related to temporality and spatiality, MacAthlaoich decides to continue and deepen these existential contradictions that often distinguish our contemporary existence.
The Waiting Game, explicit reference to the Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, who as MacAthlaoich hailed from Dublin too, is part of the discussion on the instability of the human condition typical of the existentialism developed in the 20th century. Beckett gained from this for his Theater of the Absurd that thought on the individuality, the loneliness of self in front of the world, the uselessness, the precariousness, the absurdity of existence. In the same way, although not in a nihilistic key, MacAthlaoich addresses the existentialism question from a pictorial-artistic and relational level, thus overcoming the linguistic ties that had bothered Beckett during the translation of Waiting for Godot from French to English. The artist, freed from the constraints of the traditional written languages, is available to investigate his Being condition in relation to his painter role. Through the fluidity of his pictorial gestures and chromatisms that take on a universal metalanguage character, similar for plurality of understanding to the emotional one stimulated in this case by the visual perception of the paintings, MacAthlaoich faces the question of why he is painting and what are the motivations that push him to pictorial action, finding himself thus discussing the existentialism and the sense of instability of Being.
For MacAthlaoich painting is like observing the world by analysing it and breaking it down constantly through the colors of its palette that take on a lexical value. In his paintings the colors spread smoothly and in transparency by overlapping, they are in fact an essential component of his artistic language with which to express and describe the world. The artist, with a systematic methodology that begins precisely with Traveling Without Moving, confronts two deeply different cultural and social realities such as Ireland and Cyprus. The different intensity of light of two islands, so distant geographically, represents for a painter a decisive factor in his pictorial execution. Thus the MacAthlaoich’s oeuvre, affected by such environmental differences, has given rise to an intense comparison between subjects and abstract elements created by color contrasts.
The artist, as “being in the world”, found himself thought and confronted himself with new figurative and ideological themes that led him to a new examination in Elsewhere To Be Found. The rarefied representation of the previous cycle of works becomes more concrete, more figurative. MacAthlaoich, who moved to Madrid in Spain, now looks with a detached and more objective eye at the “sensorial reality” that surrounds him. Through an ontological research, he traces the Mythologies of the everyday life to describe it in his paintings. Inspired methodologically by the French semiologist Roland Barthes, who in 1957 treated the mythological theme in Western mass culture between 1954 and 1956, the artist treats certain Spanish myths as the figure of the bullfighter through his painting. This figure assumed a symbolic meaning in the collective imagination of bravery and courage or futile ferocity and cruelty towards the animal. In any case, this mythological role has often inspired Spanish artists, like the master Francisco Goya, who dedicated to Tauromaquia (1815-1816) a series of thirty-three engravings.
Bullfighting has often been interpreted as an allegorical synonym of the human story. It has Mithraic ancestry, where man symbolises the supremacy of moral forces over passions, the bull. Hence, the mystification of these two figures that become the protagonists of a collective representation capable of generating an ideological artifice. What the artist does instead is to overcome this abuse of signs and symbols and to describe, through his pictorial metalanguage, an equally mythological metalanguage like this of the bullfighter or other allegorical figures.
Ex-sistere, from the Latin “being out of”, in other words the search to come out of ourselves and look at the being as something else, which does not belong to us, coincides with the artistic vision of MacAthlaoich in The Waiting Game. He becomes an exegete of the world-environment who definitively frees any signifier from a tree, a man with a horse or a pilgrim, raising it to a new system of pictorial signs belonging to the consolidated lexis of the artist who contextualises them onto the emotional level.
The Heideggerian hic et nunc, id est our existence in space and time, places and defines the artist in a context of “effectiveness” of his presence in the world that invites him to his own understanding and to the world that surrounds him through the emotional situation. Every situation always arises in a time and in a defined space. Passing through the emotional sphere and, through Colm MacAthlaoich’s artistic interpretation, the spatiality and temporality of existence acquire a changeable meaning that follows the precariousness of existence through the figurative dissolution and the liquefaction of colors that, like a kaleidoscope, form on the canvas distorted images of reality. The banality of reality becomes an inner re-elaboration of the same reality that allows the artist to access a visual and emotional power capable of involving the observer in an impressive cognitive and emotional process. The sphere of the unconscious is urged to such an extent that suspends all temporal cognition since the image is ephemeral, so ethereal as to be difficult to grasp visually in its entirety.
R. Barthes, Mythologies, Paladin, London, 1972.
M. Heidegger, Being and Time, SCM Press, London, 1962.
A change in essence and form is required.
The overcoming of painting, sculpture, poetry and music is required. […]
By invoking this change in the nature of man, […] we abandon the practice of known art forms, we approach the development of an art based on the unity of time and space.
Lucio Fontana, Manifesto Blanco, Buenos Aires, 1946.
In the pictorial art of Marije Gertenbach, the research for space, the overcoming of the physical limits of painting, is the essential base from which her artistic inquiry starts. The Dutch artist constantly pursues the desire to trespass the pre-established limits of the canvas to access an enlarged dimension on which to operate and thus be able to interact with a dilated space more closely linked to reality. Gertenbach sees space as a social entity in which there is a cultural evolution perceivable in the art that follows.
Starting from the Dürer’s definition, “Item Perspectiva ist ein lateinisch Wort, bedeutet ein Durchsehen” [perspectiva is a Latin word that means to look through, ed], as Erwin Panofsky did in Perspective as Symbolic Form (1927), it is possible to analyse the concept of space from classical era to the modern age. The essay demonstrates how artists in the past have represented spatiality according to their contemporary conception of spatiality itself and their surrounding world.
This is a concept which features the artistic research of Gertenbach who, in fact, has always been interested and fascinated by mural painting, where pictorial spatiality is best expressed and the narrative cycle becomes the expression of an era, of the cultural Weltanschauung of a given period. On her trip to Italy, Gertenbach was attracted by Giotto’s art and his pictorial cycles on the Life of St. Francis (Upper Church, Assisi, 1292-1296) and on the The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and The Life of Christ (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, 1303-1305). They include all the scientific evolutions of the perspective-spatial representation system and the symbolic forms of a conception elaborated by the culture of the time. In these spaces circumscribed by the paintings, it is possible to experiment with the eyes and the mind the Giotto’s aesthetics, which marks the spaces and the narrative registers with masterly executive skill and creative ideas. We are faced with a completely innovative mastery that Gertenbach resumes in her pictorial installations where she tries to recreate that sense of estrangement from the real to introduce us into a private sensorial and emotional dimension, the same that the people of that time experienced and, in particular, the “illiterates” of Gregory the Great in contemplating Giotto’s Lives.
Moreover, Gertenbach is intrigued by how today we usually enjoy the wall decorations often detached from their original spaces for conservative reasons to be kept in museums, in completely different contexts with respect to their original destination. This process of estrangement is of interest for her artistic research in order to lose the picture from its frame allowing us, in a certain way, to recognize and attribute an eternal value to the creative gesture.
The artist also shows a marked interest in the private places, as well as their pictorial motifs, of the popes from the Renaissance period and how they have changed their function and meaning over the centuries. Starting from the reading of the book by Leny Louise Waarts, Badkamers voor pausen en prelaten [Baths for Popes and Prelates, ed] (2014), Gertenbach, as painter, is interested in the a priori consideration of human presence, of its physical and interpretative interaction of such decorations and spaces, and its cultural evolution. The taste for the recovery of the Ancient was a fundamental component in the Renaissance that spread out both in aspects of costume and in the artistic field, with the involvement of the school of Raffaello in the grotesque decoration of the Cardinal Bibbiena’s Stove in the Vatican Palaces (1516) and of the Bathhouse of Clemente VII (1525). These ornaments also had an explicit function not only decorative but also practical according to the medicines of the era in which the vision of certain subjects was recommended to prepare the observer for a consequent well-being. The personal physician of Pope Urban VIII, Giulio Mancini formulated a treatise, Considerazioni sulla pittura [Thoughts on painting, ed] (1617-1621), dedicating the second part to these themes.
All this demonstrates that there is no contrast between ancient spatiality and Renaissance spatiality: in ancient era there was an idea of finite, non-homogeneous space, in relation to spatial physiological perception, whereas in the modern world it is based on mathematical-geometrical principles, where the space is infinite, homogeneous and therefore systematic.
With Panofsky we come to define a thesis that confers a contiguous and harmonious evolution of the spirit to the idea of the evolution of space, just as Gertenbach shows us with her work in perennial historical evolution.
Marije Gertenbach overcomes the two-dimensionality of the painting to explode the art in the physical context. The space is absorbed by the painting, which, in its spreading in the environment, also changes the exhibition concept, no longer framed canvas hanging on the walls, but coloured walls. Her artistic proposals burst into space, unhinging the traditional rules of painting to directly involve the viewer. The expressive freedom of the artist acts on the viewer generating different moods and totally involving the audience in the scenario created by her. The work of art is therefore actively experimented, experienced in first person through a real sensory involvement. The architecture of removable and readable canvases shows the ephemeral character of art as well as of life itself.
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
In Evi Vingerling’s painting there is a pure “aesthetic enjoyment which is objectified enjoyment of ourselves. Enjoying aesthetically means enjoying ourselves in a sensory object different from us, identifying with it”. With these words, written by the German art historian Wilhem Worringer in Abstraction and Empathy (1908), it is possible to introduce the creative process of the Dutch artist who finds his own interest and satisfaction in the beauty of the world. Vingerling’s attention is often taken by the banality of everyday life, by everything that notoriously surrounds us, but which, due to particular empathic circumstances, finds interest in her, provoking positive and comfortable emotions. These epiphany experiences take place in the mind of the artist who grasps that moment and memorises it either photographically or through rapid sketches that will only be re-elaborated later. This type of apperceptive activity is transposed by the artist to give life to a sense of freedom and pleasure, of “free self-activation”, and this case is called “positive empathy” (Theodore Lipps, “Erkenntnisquellen. Einfühlung” in Leifaden der Psycologie, 1909).
From this empathic process with the objects and the nature of the world around her, the artist starts an abstract process that sees her engaged in her studio where she recreates the moment of inspiration translated according to her own aesthetic-pictorial syntax. The impulse to abstraction derives from the desire to isolate the single object, abstracting it, to trace its primary form. In this way, Vingerling finds a place of peace, a refuge from the chaotic world. Therefore, natural environments become spaces of the imagination where one can observe and contemplate the details and fragments of the world whose authentic beauty is usually not grasped. The bulimia of images to which modern society is subjected leads man to a chronic inattention towards them, as Susan Sontag writes about the dominant tendency in the art of capitalist countries, “to eliminate, or at least to mitigate, the sensory and moral disgust. Much of modern art strives to lower the threshold of the terrible” (S. Sontag, On photography, 1978). Prolonged exposure to photographs leads to a de-realization of the world experience that diminishes our ability to interact with it. Sontag continues: “the greatest consequence of photography is that it gives us the feeling of being able to have the whole world in our head, as an anthology of images. Collecting photographs is collecting the world”. In some ways this justifies the artistic process of photographic acquisition of pieces of the world as miniatures of a reality that Vingerling learns and collects as if they were moments of life to be grasped and held to herself. The photographic image is therefore a direct emanation of the real, a trace of a human experience that, in the specific case, is that of the artist, who recalls a life experience, an emotion on the canvas that is made up of continuously expanding details. These pictorial elements that dot the painting are like autonomous universes in continuous expansion, perceived in the traces left by the artist’s creative hand and the spontaneous progress born from her mind in a stream of consciousness that intuitively reproduces that instant of life caught in a photographic detail or in a sketch.
The gaze of the observer is disoriented by not recognizing any naturalistic reference, since the artist hides through colour, completely detached from the subject, the real. Even the negation of a title is the affirmation of a desire to synthesize the image and convey all the attention of the observer on sensations, on purely aesthetic and empathy. The empathic connection that the artist creates between her work and the external world, the spatiality that stands between these two elements, is filled with emotions in the approach to the organic form, not to reproduce the plausible image on the canvas and in the observer’s mind but rather to try to bring back the happiness deriving from the beauty of the same thing caught in that moment in which the artist has perceived it. At that moment, held back and reproduced on the canvas, Vingerling then gives rise to a sensorial perception typical of the cognitive act of seeing, since the view was strictly linked to the idea. Seeing, in Latin v-id-ere, it retains the Greek root of the word idea -id, this testifies how Evi Vingerling is able, through the vision, to obtain a mental representation, a cognitive capacity inherent in her and, consequently in her works, able to give life to pictorial fantasies realized with episteme, that is through a reasoning and an artistic intuition that expresses itself pictorially with whimsical and smooth colours.
Naturalism, therefore, consists not only in a correct adaptation of the image with the object represented but in enjoying the organic form in itself, whose psychic assumption is enclosed in empathy. Thus Evi Vingerling introduces us into her apperceptive world made up of observations of the real of which she maintains the capacity for analysis establishing with it an aesthetic and synchronic relationship that returns to the public through her abstract paintings.
The stake is no longer the heart, but the retina, and the beautiful soul has now become an object of study of experimental psychology. The abrupt contrasts in black and white, the unbearable vibration of complementary colors, the glistening interweaving of lines and the permuted structures are all elements of my work whose task is no longer that of immersing the observer in a sweet melancholy, but of stimulate him and his eye with him.
The optical-visual illusions are the consequence of the art of Linda Arts who, through her knowledge of theories of form, colour and perception, explores new visual and imaginative worlds by the elements of light and space.
According to the basic principles of Optical Art, whose prevalent character is perceived in her artistic production, the Dutch artist attributes a plastic value to artworks by generating optical deceptions. This is due to the wise use of geometric shapes and colours that alternate in shades of black and white to give life to abstract spaces and illusionistic movements thanks to optical-perceptive features that create a virtual dynamism in the eyes and in the mind of the observer. The grey scales and the linear modules that make up her pictorial syntax are the elements that contribute to the production of mental and perceptual effects capable of stimulating a series of active and participatory reactions in the spectator. This latter, in fact, is involved as an integral part of the work since his movement causes a substantial change in the perception of the work itself that interacts with the visitor and the environment. Therefore, the bystander is called to fulfil a participatory role of completion, through his presence and his interaction with the space by means of his perceptual apparatus. In this way the work is renewed each time that the observing subject changes: for each individual and every consequent movement, new cognitive experiences are reserved.
For the most illustrious exponent of Optical Art, Victor Vasarely, the optical problem was not reducible to the mere representation of visual games, but it had to do with the understanding of man’s cognitive mechanisms. Visual stimulation becomes, as well as in Arts, an expedient to induce an epistemological order experience in the observer. In fact, the artist investigates the limits of human cognitive activity through the creation of pictorial universes, of light wall installations, like windows on a different world where one can face and experience unexpected perceptual and chromatic effects able to stimulate the whole retinal and psychic apparatus of the observer. “The stakes”, wrote Vasarely, “is no longer the heart, but the retina”. In fact, Linda Arts realizes modular structures (Sol LeWitt) that develop from a serial repetition of geometric models. The manipulation and variability of geometric structures, sometimes elementary such as the square or the cube, are the minimal modular expression that underlies the idea of space in Western thought from the Renaissance to today. Historically the trompe l’oeil is the effect defining the optical deception in art, which starting from the 5th century BC has stimulated the artists who have ventured into the proposal of alternative and suggestive worlds. It is precisely during the Italian Renaissance, with the mathematical theorization of perspective, that this illusion makes its way through the arts up to the abstraction, the creation of alternative worlds disconnected from any naturalistic relationship.
In Linda Arts, any reference to the natural does not exist in the conception of the works nor in the attribution of retrospective figurations in the titles. The entire creative and realisation process takes place at an intellectual level in the mind of the artist who creates with a meticulous execution methodology and, in the same time, little irregularities, in order to allow her to experiment the optical vibration on the surface of the work, an abstract-geometric figuration enriched of more personality. The space, intended not only as a synonym of the third dimension, is the leit motif of all her artistic reflection that also thickens with problems on the perception of spatial structures. In fact, this introduce us into a purely psychological analytic field: that of Gestalt. The ability to perceive an object, therefore, must be traced in an organization presided by the system according to schemes appropriately selected and able to give shape to the perception. This sort of unconscious intellectual completion is at the base of the creative and realization process of the artist who, with its elusive and dynamic forms, obliges the observer to change continuously his point of view. The optical and cognitive stress, the slippage of visual planes, create an unstable spatiality, which expands the times of perception by subtracting from a definitive impression.
Hence, the passage to a pure visibility approach (Konrad Fiedler, The assessment on figurative art works, 1876) of analysis of the work is essential, because art overcomes the mimesis of reality for the fact that each of us perceives reality in different way from the others. There is a reality that leaves aside on artworks, and consequently the artist, at work, creates a new world as a fruit of his perceptions and his pictorial gesture.
Linda Arts is, therefore, an artist able to combine in her visual-analytical art the most intimate perceptual components at an intellectual and formal level allowing the observer to enter into these phantasmagorical architectures, Renaissance cathedrals where the perspective space is produced by means of a rhythmic alternation of illusionistic geometric modules.
The gesture for us will no longer be a fixed moment in the universal dynamism: it will be, definitely, the eternal dynamic sensation as such. Everything moves, everything runs, everything turns quickly. A figure is never stable in front of us but appears and disappears incessantly.
U. Boccioni, C. Carrà, L. Russolo, G. Balla, G. Severini, Technical poster of futurist painting [Manifesto tecnico della pittura futurista], 11th April 1910.
What distinguishes the Dutch Bettie van Haaster from other painters is her highly emotional charge expressed via an intense use of chromatism. Her material relationship with colour is at the basis of her expressive research which manifests itself through the pigments moulding as living material. Already in her earliest youth experiences, having grown up in Bollenstreek, a sandy area close to the dunes where tulips spread out, she has shown considerable interest in moulding, from the sand of the Dutch west plains to clay sculptures and colour material spread with strength and energy. Once she became aware of her talent and her artistic-creative inclinations, van Haaster undertook her course of cognitive studies that would have been lead to the liberation of the pictorial gesture. It becomes fluid to follow the artist’s inner movement, the creative impulse that characterizes her every single work.
Starting from a natural and spatial fact, whose figurative references are lost even though they are found in the titles of the works, she expresses spontaneous and gestural immediacy in her expressive charge made of few colours and where the signs, without direct naturalistic references, become the absolute protagonists of the work as structures of coloured matter. The impulsive gesture is transferred onto the canvas that, from the field of representation, becomes the space of the artist’s action. In this way, she transfers her energy into the pictorial material. The full-bodied brushstroke, dynamically laid and poured out, forms excrescences of colours that retain the energy of the creative act. The painting ripples on the canvas as the waves of the sea break on the rocks, forming an incessant and stimulating movement over an emotional and empathic level. This stream of consciousness is what distinguishes the artistic work of van Haaster, who creates paintings in an endless succession. Her painting as a creative and vital act embraces acceleration and deceleration on the canvas, just like life itself, since painting is subordinated to the alternation of vitalistic impulses and moments of absolute stillness.
The oil painting, bearing a cultural and artistic value linked to the Flemish tradition, allows her to work on a malleable surface, given the properties of the oil as a slow-drying binder, on which the artist can intervene several times, reworking the painting in several stages. Her vitalistic painting made of rapid and sudden gestures could clash with this technical choice but, actually, it is a fundamental component of her gesture able to spread the colour through the different qualities and nature of the movement: slow, fast, soft and violent. The dynamism derived from it is the same of the painter, born from her temperament and held back by the colour lying on a horizontal plane to avoid dripping but allowing for solid concretions of colour, witnesses of the spontaneous creative impetus. The expressive value, born from the combined action of the body, mind and feeling of the artist, is accompanied by a great technical ability. This explains the choice of the small format, 35×25 cm, since it contributes to the execution of the work according to a useful and functional control at the technical level to express the whole physical and emotional charge of the artist. Moreover, the reduced format allows her to avoid projects, studies or sketches. This let her follow the inner creative drive that gradually increases and decreases following artist’s vital rhythm.
The pencil or watercolour drawings are, therefore, unique and independent works born from the artist’s creativity as a sort of break or temporal suspension from painting. In each of them it is possible to trace the same powerful and abstract communicative force of the pictorial sign, capable of evoking an existential condition.
The chromatic relations, the apparently random trend of the sign, the dense and tight weave of the brushstroke are van Haaster’s signature which transmits through her gestural sign the visual and tactile tensions produced by the vitality of the overlapping brushstrokes. This overlapping of the colour plans assigns a primary importance to the succession of the painter’s actions and, at the same time, it describes a homogeneous spatiality without hierarchies or boundaries. In fact, the colour overflows and enters forcefully into the spectator’s visual space. The representation is devoid of a determined direction and the bystander is, therefore, free to immerse himself in a swirling interweaving of colours and planes, lumps and brushstrokes that reveal how improvisation, although guided by principles of compositional balance, is a founding element of van Haaster’s art.
The fragmentation of colour and form are brought together by the harmony of the compositional whole as in the interpenetration of futurist colours where the explosions of light give shape to abstraction. The purist research of colour, highlighted by the choice to use a few colours at a time, two or three as maximum, gives birth to a chromatic syntax made of light and shadow, bright and dark. In the last decade, the painting of van Haaster becomes painting of light such as the Venetian Renaissance painting due to the chromatic choice of blue and yellow, where for her blue indicates the space and yellow the light. For example, in Lichaam (2016), she openly declares to have been inspired by the blue of the Madonna from San Giobbe Altarpiece (1487 c.) by Giovanni Bellini for the central body and by the light arrangement of the yellows of the backdrop.
The succession of the colours and the abstraction of the form obtained via techniques derived from a process of apparent improvisation, give back a spatial image characterized by the materiality of the colour, spread by touch, which causes visual alterations and shading. Hence the chiaroscuro is derived not only by physics and matter but also by syntax due to the linguistic and spatial use of blue and yellow.
The dichotomy derived from spatiality and gesture is what makes Bettie van Haaster an artist with a resolute expressive freedom. She is able to transmit emotions and establish empathic and allusive relationships in those who observe her paintings. Between the fullness and the emptiness of the pigments it is allowed to let one’s own imagination travel among the waves of colour until finding that fleeting image blinded by the artist via repeated actions and abstract manipulations. That inner and individual essence of which only Bettie van Haaster is the caretaker.
Impressed by the vastness of nature, I tried to express the extension, the quiet and the unity. […] Vertical and horizontal lines are the expression of two opposing forces; these exist everywhere and dominate everything; their mutual action constitutes the “life”.
Piet Mondrian, Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art, Wittenborn, New York, 1945.
The Dutch painter José Heerkens addresses the theme of the “vastness of nature” relying on the “equivalence of opposites”. Her pictorial research is based on the spaces and the essentiality of the elements through a direct experience, since, as she states, reminding the modus operandi of Leonardo da Vinci, –all can be found in nature–.
In 1992 she came into direct contact with the nature during her journey in Australia, and in particular with the immensity of the land. The vast uncontaminated expanses, mainly devoid of human presence and traces, originated a posteriori reflection on natural elements.
The following artistic production will be affected by this experience, being characterized by a musing on spaces and symbolic linearity. These theoretical formulations, in fact, materialised on the artist’s paintings as a simplification of the graphic and chromatic elements. The vast uninhabited expanses as well as the constant presence of the horizon line in the Australian and Dutch landscape influenced Heerkens to elaborate her spatiality, symptomatic of her introjected journey into her mind.
The physical space, therefore, becomes a mental space which is translated onto the canvas by means of lines and geometric shapes arranged along a hypothetical horizontal line. In this way, she creates a dynamic rhythm and a chromatic balancing able to establish the harmony between elements. The synthesis achieved between lines and colour assumes a dialectical character that is reflected in abstract visual textures which may be comparable to the Compenetrazioni iridescenti (1912-14) of the Italian artist Giacomo Balla, master of experimentation of the relationship between motion and light. Similarly, Heerkens, through the chromatic approach of rigorous geometric essential shapes and uniform colours, defines a sense of movement capable of producing a difference in optical information which becomes no longer measurable quantitatively, according to the mathematical formula of the wavelength emanated by colour (J.W. Goethe, Theory of Colours, 1810).
The alternation of light reflected by full hatch oil colours modulated by vertical and horizontal brushstrokes produces a different colour reaction although the colour is the same. This kind of play of chiaroscuro is translated by the spectator into a visual rhythmic perception. At the same time, the oily surface of the painting strengthens the sense of movement. The perception of colour becomes fugitive and iridescent depending on the viewer’s position with respect to the work. The systematic alternation of brushstrokes attributes to colour a spatial value, not only within the painting but also externally, stimulating the visual perception of the bystander who comes into contact with the most intimate sphere of the painting.
Her gesture is always controlled, the intellectual act transcends reality, though, reality is the starting point for reaching pure knowledge, figurative essence. This is made up of simple and repetitive rectangular forms on a monochromatic background that, in her more recent works, is given by the natural colour of linen. The absence of any realistic reference is therefore found among the open spaces between painted and uncoloured surfaces. From this connection between sign and colour, descending from neoplastic movement, a new relationship is established between man and the environment. Moreover, the absence of titles for the individual works with natural references is symptomatic of the artist’s will to refrain from any reference to reality in order to gain access into a contemplative and evocative sphere of the various phases of the day, like in the case of Noontide (2016) exhibition at Mies van der Rohe Haus (Berlin). The executive and perceived interaction with light is a fundamental and decisive element of her art, it is traceable in her continuous research focused on the spatial relations which precede the effects of optical perception. The light that penetrates through the large windows of her studio is reflected by canvases arranged onto horizontally plane where the artist works to play with chromatic volumes to define fresh spatiality.
The prodrome of this research can be traced back to another master of art history, Paul Cézanne: with his tireless work around Mont Sainte-Victoire, she became the precursor of an experiment of independent reality in relation to the natural model. Cézanne, first, and Heerkens, afterwards, come to define a parallel harmony between colour and shape as two inseparable elements.
The cosmic sense of space and the division in horizontal areas, according to a symbolic criterion more solid and earthly, represent the principal factors in the artist’s choice of format, that in turn characterizes the performance of the entire work. The dimension of pictorial surface, the cognitive limits (E. Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1956) of the painting are at the base of the work, since the format itself is already part of work. Likewise, Heerkens maintains a harmonious modular ratio (Vitruvius, De Architectura, 15th c.), often by a 1:1 proportion with man to establish such an “intimacy condition”. As Rothko affirmed in Space in Painting (M. Rothko, Writings on Art, 2006), “the great paintings put you inside them”. Close to the Rothko’s themes on art, as a language of the sublime, she took part in the International Painting Symposium Mark Rothko 2016 at the Mark Rothko Art Centre in Daugavpils (Latvia). According to a Jungian view, in fact Heerkens confers great importance to the choice of colours and materials, as a vehicle through which the unconscious express itself in a sort of proper language. The affinities with the master are further found in a sort of epiphany of the colour carefully sought for its spatial qualities and its lyrical and meditative charge. The painting is thus rationalistic, slower, geometrically structured by simple and linear figures according to a logic very close to Mies van der Rohe’s motto: less is more. He was also a protagonist of Rothko’s life as commissioner in 1958 of decorative work, never completed, for the walls of the Four Seasons restaurant in New York.
This kind of historical commixtures and contaminations in art and architecture is a further element that characterizes the work and the artistic path of José Heerkens, who adhered on this side, although she started from different principles, to the wish of arts integration as it was for De Stijl (Leida, 1917-1932). The founder of this monthly and promoter of a new aesthetic sense was the Dutch Theo van Doesburg, but many artists of the calibre of Piet Mondrian collaborated at the magazine. Heerkens, taking part in the exhibition Lebt Theo? Niederländische Kunst 80 Jahre nach van Doesburg Manifest zur konkreten Kunst (Bonn, 2010), becomes an essential part of this artistic path made of abstract and geometric elements in relation to the work of art and space. From here the passage to the Bauhaus and the pictorial discipline taught respectively by Vasilij Kandinskij and Josef Albers, as transformation of the elementary forms into space and the visual problems related to the optical illusion, is immediate and witnessed, at the same time, by her residence in 2011 at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany (Connecticut, USA).
As her most prominent predecessors in the Bauhaus or Abstraction-Création, Heerkens has finally reached a non-figurative painting through a purely geometric conception via the exclusive use of elements commonly called abstracts proposed in new and infinite variations that define her own operative and linguistic practice.
The research for an expressive language common to all people, such as the iconic pictorial one, is at the basis of her research from 2010 onwards, after the creation of the first paintings of the Written Colours series. This pictorial cycle was born by a spontaneous and autonomous process of thinking about simplicity in the sequential creativity. These works are the proof of a linguistic and narrative unity that combines every painting or drawing of the artist. At the same time, each single work is independent from the previous or the subsequent as a sort of literary sequel where the writer, using common linguistic codes (Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, 1983), realises his literary work to express his own tale. The same process may be extended to painters, as well as Heerkens in this case, who through forms and colours, that is universal iconic and chromatic codes, expresses visually her own creativity, her own story. The common denominator for both is the free flow of ideas that is organized on paper or on canvas to give an emotion to readers or observers.
In conclusion, it is possible to identify and define an artist’s own pictorial language made of pure colours, geometric shapes and horizontal lines that flow from José Heerkens’ mind to her brush as individual independent works but, at the same time, being part of a more complex creative and spatial logic. Every time she starts to concept and create a new work, according to a never-ending researching process, she is hit by a sort of inner stream of consciousness. In this way, the journey inside creativity will never end.
Eve Woods’ pictorial research arises from interest and study of social and cultural substrates where suburban phenomena come together to generate myths and urban legends, as well as pseudoscience to which the weaker social strata address with renewed interest.
In an era of digital overcrowding and overexposure of images and news, not always truthful, Eve Woods records anxiety impulses that appear in contemporary society on the pictorial surface of her paintings through the contrasting use of bold colours.
The social structure is the frame in which, and through which, social action takes place. By that the artist gets to make them an integral part of her artistic repertoire, which is manifested in the frame of a framework in which the “collective psychic representations” form (Émile Durkheim, The Rules of Sociological Method, 1895).
Woods’ pictorial practice, therefore, assumes a therapeutic value since in her paintings she is able to demystify the social phenomena. The use of bright colours, the speed of the stroke and the compositional gesture are the expression of that unease, that dominates contemporary culture and it is extrinsic in the eclectic world portrayed by the artist.
The anxiety of existence is a theme often dealt with in the history of art and it is apparent that Woods looks at artists of the past who have abstracted this theme through figurative art. The strongest reference is to Eduard Munch’s painting, the Norwegian artist who at the end of the 19th century transfigured reality in The Scream (1893). The same expressive charge is found in violent colours used by Eve Woods. The dramatic contrast of the background, characterized by nervous and repeated traits, makes a disturbing figure emerge as obscure prelude.
Angular and tormented linearity, such as the chromatic contrasts that contribute to a sense of disharmony and precariousness, are a strong reference to German Expressionism art, in particular, to Ernest Ludwig Kirchner who expressed with the same figurative charge the sense of anxiety that populated Berlin in the early 20th century. The strong references to this artistic current are traceable in the choice of cold-stained, acid-like colours, with nervous traits.
In this latest collection of works, which also gives title to her latest solo exhibition, Smile (2016-2017), the artist shows for the first time her personal experience bound to the world of dreams and, more specifically, nightmares. The vivid perception of a recurring dream has aroused the curiosity of the artist who turned her attention to discover the oneiric significance of teeth. Acting as Titaness Mnemosyne, she names and circumscribes the objects surrounding her figuratively by investigating at the level of introjection the subject treated in her artwork by cognitively sweeping it from many points of view. With a graphomanic approach she takes note and collects every similar treatment to the exploration of holistic disciplines as well. In this succession of images and information, Woods’ nightmares come to life on the canvas along with icons from Master artists of the past, depicting the horrors of the mind. The Aragonese painter Francisco de Goya with his famous design The dream of reason generates monsters (circa 1797) or The Nightmare (1781) of the Swiss Johann Heinrich Füssli are celebrating examples of how artists have always relate to the dream world even before it was analytically described by the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud.
In a Sturm und Drang of emotions and images, Eve Woods introduces us into unusual interpretative visions, as a careful observer of the art of the past while remaining consistent with her artistry and returning, through a figurative sense mediated by her perception of reality, a world increasingly characterized by anxieties and disadvantages.
The One becomes Two, the Two become Three, and by Third the Fourth makes the Unit.
C.G. Jung, Psycology e Alchemy, Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 12, Princeton, N.J., 1968.
Mark Cullen has always being interested in using various media, he makes sculptural art as well as installations, wherehis main mean of expression aims to research and explore cosmological principles.
During his residence in 2007 at the El Levante Cultural Centre in Rosario (Argentina), Cullen had the opportunity to visit and work with the antique telescope in the astronomical centre of the Mendoza University and then continuing his research at the international observatory CASLEO located in El Leoncito, Argentinian Andes. The result of this experience was the realization of Star Gazing, an installation which creates a re-connection between the internal environment and the night sky outside, where now it is impossible to see the stars in or near urban centres of the world due to light pollution, through the reproduction, by installing 300 white LED lights of varrying luminousity, of the starry sky of the southern terrestrial hemisphere observed by Cullen during his residence at CASLEO. The work therefore intends to connect the microcosm with macrocosm, composed here by so many luminous elements that create a harmonious relationship between interdependence and interaction because each element is activated by a solar panel thereby completing an active connection with the stars. The use of natural elements as energy activators means that the harmonic relationship not only builds on but it strengthens, thanks to a process of solidarity, the exchange between man and Universe.
In Cullen’s art this union is often traceable because he is usually operating as a poietes, who during pre-Socratic edge in Greece was both an operator, a creator and a poet. He realizes installations in which the particular crosses over melting with the universal. In this cosmological view, one finds out how the individual is an active part of the universe and how, in his works, it is possible to find the cabalistic and alchemical concept about the Unity of All expressed by Heraclitus of Ephesus, who in his writings expressed how totality was synonymous with completeness and, therefore, of unity with the Universe. In I see a darkness II (2009), the individual experience re-joins with the cosmos tending towards the infinite represented here sculpturally through Costantin Brâncuşi’s Endless Column (1938). The modular repeating shape of the column carries with it the geometric elements that describe through a numerical sequence, attributable to that of Fibonacci, the infinite. The entire installation, which has to be enjoyed in complete darkness, highlights the link between those who experience Cullen’s art that subjectively connects them directly to microanthropos and macronthropos. By passing through a bright Stargate, that connects everybody, through a circular motion, to the Universe and alien species far away, it could be possible to reach metaphorically the Milky Way Galaxy, reproduced on the darkened windows.
By maintaining this duality of research, the artist continues his spectral stars’ investigation with the work Ladies and Gentlemen we are floating in space (2010), which makes a relationships between cryogenic and spacecraft experience. Science and fiction fuse together to form a futuristic living environment, a Sleeper Cell able to accommodate humans for an interspace journey. The perforated vault reproduces the possible spatial vision that only some humans will experience in the future. Again in this case we are in front of an immersive installation that welcomes the public, future astronauts, in an environment whose purpose is to connect the celestial sphere with earthly life. The viewer assumes the role of interstellar traveller who takes as Dante in his Commedia (1304-1321) his experiential journey of the mind, or itinerarium mentis, from the underworld to the stars.
Cullen has continued his exploration of space and human dynamics over the years, producing works such as ARK (2011) and I could sleep for a thousand years (2011), the latter realized for series of “Manifestation” exhibitions ference Engine, that he has been working with since 2009. On these occasions, he began to place beside installation works paintings on which he depicted Mandalas, an ancestral figure founded within complex and avant-garde physical mechanisms such as inside of CERN’s particle accelerator in Geneva. Using the pictorial surface as a real “meaning space” (A.J. Greimas, 1960) Cullen’s semantic becomes recurring, his space exploration, his desire to work for a site-specific space led to the use of 30×30 cm to represent primigenial pictures. The study of the Penrose tiling (1974), a pattern of geometric figures expressing the proportion of the golden section and mirroring aperiodical tiling sets of the near orient, allowed him to obtain decorations of infinite surfaces in an aperiodic manner and to reconcile them with his previous cosmological research, creating the collective installation “Accumulator II”, in which appear Infinite Preserve (2012), Carpet (2013) and Mandala (2013). In these first two works appear with evidence how Penrose tiling is in connection with decorative patterns used in the Middle East and, in particular, with some examples of medieval Islamic geometric patterns, such as the girih (strapwork) tilings for decoration of buildings in Islamic architecture. Cullen’s relationship between science and the cosmos is linked to an indissoluble leitmotiv: the idea that one system of thought operates in parallel with another and reaches similar points of insight is very important for his art, in fact, this way of thinking extolled into Mandala’s work: As within so withouth (2014-2015). The large installation at UCD in Dublin favours the waving nature of the light as it happens when it is diffracted by a quasicrystal forming an icosahedron. This geometric figure assumes a particular significance in Mandala, symbol of perfect knowledge (aurea apprehensio), expressing itself according to the alchemical precepts, in which the cognitive process of the inner self is enveloped by Universe. The symbol of totality, the Mandala, is for Jung (Man and His Symbols, 1964) archetype of the inner order and expresses the fact that there exists a centre of commutation and a periphery circumscribing the All, en tu pan, “All in One”.
All Kathy Herbert’s art is permeated by a desire to understand the process of interaction between humans and the Earth but, above all, the aim of her art is the creation of ideas that not only connect people to each other but also connects them to the World.
Environmental and ecological art is a spontaneous continuation of some artistic movements such as Land Art and Arte Povera. Herbert in the beginning of her career practiced Land Art, but during the eighties a new critical approach developed which saw a traditional sculpture as outdated and potentially out of harmony with the environment so the artists adopted new conceptual visions designed to preserve the balance with nature.
Herbert’s art not only uses natural material to realize her art work but she investigates nature to express better her discovery and analysis of the natural processes that surround us. Among her works in progress, Bricks to Shells (2012-ongoing) tells us about the marine erosion process and consequent modification of materials. The shells, the original homes of sea creatures, become an important part of her research as she reshapes bricks, which have been washed up by the waters of the Irish Sea, as cochlea.
The observation of nature and its changes, through the cognitive process, are at the basis of Herbert’s artistic research. She wants to create connections with people and their essence in the context of their relationship with the natural world. An example of her art is given by the work titled All we’ve got (2011): a sculpture in limestone of three spheres, each carrying a carving of the artist’s handprints. The handprints hold between them the Earth’s vital energy, in a protective gesture: it appears as an invite to everybody to take care of the only good thing that we have and share – Earth.
Herbert is following the great environmental legacy left by the German artist Joseph Beuys, she is looking to encourage a critical conscience in the audience.
In Trail (2010) she creates a real repeatable and recognizable path using of geographical coordinates and the name of the place where the tree is located. Moreover, with her drawings, she shows how the vegetation is forced to live in urban centres in conditions of total restriction. In Urban Foxes (2007) we are in front of an environmental problem, which shows behaviour change and adaptation of foxes living in the city due to the ease of finding food. This art work shows how the change in the environment has affected the life of this animal species, which is forced to survive by taking refuge in a “civilized” environment.
In a nutshell, observation, understanding and interaction between individuals is what prevails in the art of Kathy Herbert, who aspires to connect people daily inside natural environment, but she puts under observation with her art works some strange human tendencies, such as her Blanchardstown Walking (2013): a notebook in which she records every day what she sees and what she hears during some brief stops in the largest shopping centre in Ireland, Blanchardstown centre. This space it’s possible to call a nonspace, according to French Anthropologist Marc Augé who used for the first time this neologism to explain the no relational spaces where people is usual, in the modern age, to spend a lot of time without entering in connection with each other. In the opposite side of these nonspaces, Herbert tries with her art work to create sympathetic relationships in anthropologic spaces in which every person is able to keep in touch with themselves and the surrounding nature to carry out socialize spaces in complete respect with the ecological environment.
Sometimes her way to create art works could appear as intangible, but that is not true since she is interested in the everyday interaction of people and the ecological environment and her endeavours suggest to us a new vision and a new approach to life in accordance with Nature. Draíocht Residency (2013) shows how the artist is always looking for some vegetative element able to bring man into nature even in those areas where it is deleted by urbanization projects. Leaf Survey, Leaf Graffiti and Word Tree are part of this work cycle born during the artist residency in Draíocht, Blanchardstown. The social return of her artistic interventions are therefore a real proof and consistent work of a woman who makes every day of her ideas her original artistic product.
Anna Rackard began her career in 1992 working as an art director on international films, including Braveheart (1995) and King Arthur (2004). Later she won Irish Film & Television Awards for her production design work on Stella Days (2012) and Ondine (2010).
Alongside her film career she became interested in documentary and photographic art. With the publication of the book Fish Stone Water: Holy Wells of Ireland (2001), with Liam O’Callaghan as a co-author, Anna Rackard has visited some of the most ancient places of pre-Christian worship in remote parts of Ireland. The book discovers how ancient rites are still alive, albeit changed, mixing with the Catholic faith over centuries of history passed.
The strong evocative power of the images lead us into a primordial religious dimension made up of rites and ancient symbols that have been handed down over time by uniting and mixing until completely melting with images of the Christian tradition.
The works of Anna Rackard are all marked by her continuous will and desire to investigate the archaic origins of each image that surrounds our world. In one of her first photographic series entitled Postcards (2005) the photographer recreates the typical style of colour postcards of the 1950s and 60s produced in Dublin by John Hinde Ltd. where the landscape and the physical characteristics of the people depict an idyllic Ireland. These postcards satisfied not only a tourist commercial operation, but they were appreciated by foreigners and diaspora who recognized a nostalgic and idealistic version of Ireland in those vibrantly coloured images populated by typically Irish looking people.
In contrast to the typical desire for approval of John Hinde’s postcards, Rackard questions what is the current real identity of the Irish people, since now they have “compromised” their physical integrity with immigration during the past years. Although she maintains the typical natural backdrops of the island, she places foreground subjects that are in complete discord with them because they are Irish in adoption. People immigrated temporarily or permanently in Ireland become the new protagonists of these postcards that want to show a representation of a new nation through the creation of new social figures.
“The essence of all photography is the documentary manner” pronounced August Sander (1876-1964) in 1931 during the radio broadcast Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Anna Rackard continues her investigation through the figurative and social study of images of women in an agricultural context noting that in Irish society people never talk about women as “farmers”, but always subordinate them to the roles of “farmer’s wife or daughter”. The women represented in the series Farmers (2007) consists of a series of photographs which nowadays we consider the best synthesis of this kind of picture initiated by Sander in 1924 with the collection of People of the 20th Century. By analogy, Rackard collects portraits of these women who demonstrate their commitment and their presence within the farming families. By continuing to work the land with diligent perseverance they demonstrate how a woman’s subordinate role is now only a hangover of a vernacular culture that is slowly evolving but it remains in the linguistic definition of these social figures.
Under into Somewhere (2011-2016) is the latest series of photographs made by Anna Rackard, the fruit of five years research, during which time she investigated the scientific and artistic point of view of the sleep state. She took her inspiration from the painting by Francisco de Goya El Sueño (1790 c.), which now is in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland and was part of female paintings’ series painted by Goya in the end of 18th century. The photographer has used the same stylistic setting through her pictures, in which it is possible to find the same lighting contrast of the painting and also the human presence asleep. The dream is a subject that has always fascinated scientists and artists; it is a transitional situation in which the subject appears as a “still life” in the true sense of the term. These photographs, therefore, could be defined as “still images” in which the human figure is depicted during sleep through the uncontrolled shooting by the artist who has the will and the desire to capture these moments of unconsciousness. To obtain this result the artist set up a large format camera and a light in the sleeper’s bedroom. The room was blacked out, the camera shutter stayed open all night and the image was made when a light came on during the night. The sleeper woke in the morning in a completely dark room and closed the shutter. For each image the photographer had no control of where the person was in the frame and also whether they were in focus or not.
Beyond this technical process, the images have the quality to want to explore the dreamlike phenomena thanks to the random association of the dreams reported by each protagonist at the end of those experiences.