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Contrasts: Works on Paper by Seven Artists from Northern Ireland

Fung Ping Shan Museum, Hong Kong

9 May – 30 May 1987

Carrying the Crown, silver gelatin print, toner and gouache, 58cms x 58cms, 1986. from Drumming Series © Victor Sloan

In recent years art in Northern Ireland has been flourishing. There is an eagerness to compete and a growing assuredness and self esteem among our young artists. There have also been greater opportunities to take part in exhibitions travelling abroad while more and more critical attention is being paid to developments and related issues within the visual arts. As a result Lucy Lippard, the distinguished New York critic could comment, “Overtly political or not, Northern Irish Art seems particularly vigorous…” (Catalogue essay “Divisions, Crossroads, Turns of Mind: Some New Irish Art, Ireland American Arts Exchange Inc., 1985.)

Until recently landscape was a constant, perhaps dominant theme. And there has always been an easy and honest relationship between painter and poet, particularly in the north of Ireland. The stylistic source for much of this lyrical approach to landscape painting lies in the romantic expressionism of J.B. Yeats.

Diarmuid Delargy plays out of and with this tradition. His work is mythical, literary and in the spirit of some contemporary Irish poetry. It is his wit, subtle use of the Irish painterly tradition that endears his work to an Irish eye. His sense of place historical; his identity deep-rooted.

If Delargy is concerned with a sense of place – a landscape of unrest, then Chris Wilson is concerned more with territory and boundary. A place name, a location van be dangerous in Belfast, maps have tribal settings. Light pours into his empty interiors and projects a harsh geometry of straight lines – mapping out the cultural imagination.

In Roy Johnston’s drawings geometry, too, is a central concern. He is the oldest member of the exhibition group - a teacher who has perhaps responded to developments in the drawings of his students. A once committed ‘systems’ artist Johnston’s work now is much more gestural, his line softened and less certain.

Gestural marks and worked-in colour subvert and extend the nature of a photographic experience in the work of Victor Sloan. In his series ‘Drumming’ he takes a regular occurrence, an annual event (the 12th July marches) and as the title suggests drums it beyond myth: the gestural marks freeze the still photograph into a silence that echoes far beyond the day’s event.

“Rag Trade” sees Anne Carlisle’s work moving to consider certain social issues at a more conceptual level. It is a natural tendency in an artist/critic who as an editor of “Circa” magazine is concerned with stimulating ideas and debate. Her work can range from simple but sophisticated drawings of everyday objects or city views from a studio window through to more heavily loaded political foraging.

By contrast Phyllis Mahon, who lives in London now, deals ion the realm of imagination: often to strike a spiritual embrace – an erotic placing of hands. Both Phyllis Mahon and John Kindness work with pastel on paper.

John Kindness uses a comic style narrative to satirize and explore certain aspects of the Northern Irish conflict. He mocks, usually in full colour and with a savage humour, the political ‘activists’ of our present problems.

By no means all art being produced in the province is political in nature and not all participants in this exhibition are directly concerned in their work with politics. It is, however, fair to say that a younger group of artists in Northern Ireland are more sensitive to political and social issues than their immediate predecessors. The political landscape of fact has replaced the former landscape of myth. There has been an intellectual shift away from a pastoral lyricism.

That is at least one contrast at work in this exhibition. There are other discernable contrasts in the variety of work being produced within Northern Ireland today. This exhibition of “Works on Paper” will allow viewers an opportunity to sample something of that contrast in what will be the first showing of art from Northern Ireland in Hong Kong

Contrasts is curated by Liam Kelly

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The University of Hong Kong
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