If the typical Victor Sloan image of recent years had Orange Parades as its nominal focus, the present work takes that subject, lifts it out of its narrow focus in the Twelfth Parades, and places it firmly in the wider landscape of Northern Ireland, and frequently into a universal landscape. We are no longer dealing with a special occasion which has a broader relevance ; now we are dealing with the relationship of the Parade mythology and mentality as applied to the day-to-day existence of Northern Ireland; and as supplied to its history. Whereas a Paul Graham in his book Troubled Landscape will be aware of the Northern Ireland context but still produce rural landscapes which are deracinated of context, Sloan provides that context by his interventions. There is a slow seepage to the surface of the buried traces of history, religion and political conflict which landmine a seemingly innocent, rural, traditional landscape. This results in a state of tension, of unease; the land becomes threatening, dangerous, its peacefulness belied by the interference - like static on a screen - of the artist’s hand.
The scale of the works is large but has not increased noticeably while the technique, though more complex and adventurous than before, gives the impression of relaxation, largely because the millennial fervour of the two previous series is largely absent. In many ways the technical forays are close to the spirit of the thirties: the photomontages of a Heartfield; the sharply satirical caricature of a George Grosz; the overlapping dissolves of a European movie-maker. To be more precise, Sloan acquires the effects of these techniques, rather than duplicating them.
Other works take a different tack. Peace superimposes Elizabethan emblems onto the landscape: an ‘Elizabethan Temperance’ banner, a lectern with bible; and a pillar inscribed with the word ‘Peace‘. It’s a neat conceit for a rearguard mentality. Animals also sneak in as bestial metaphors, notably dogs and a pony - a tack which is common to Northern Irish contemporary painters such as Dermot Seymour and John Kindness. There is an element of ironic wit in some of these conjunctions as when members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are juxtaposed with the rear end of a donkey in the same frame. Clearly the law is an ass so to speak.
Another group of works sift into a different gear. Checkpoint for example with its highway code ‘Give Way’ sign hovering within a barbed-wire entanglement of scraking lines, and its arrowed signs, all of which are imposed on a ploughed landscape, is redolent of the Checkpoint Charlie vision translated to Ireland… memories of all those spy movies with their East European checkpoints. Works like these are about the need to assert territoriality, to assert one’s presence, to proclaim your identity, which in parochial terms for the narrow-minded; but which is then reinserted into the wider context of the world outside. The diehards have much in common with Eastern Europe - but who would have thought that the thaw in Eastern Europe would happen so quickly?
What is being suggested here? Does the ‘Seek Me of the title suggest that the man’s atavistic identification with the land, is so strong that he cannot separate himself from it? Or does it suggest the opposite - that the man’s identity is slipping away, leaching back into a past when black-and-white attitudes prevailed?
The marchers proudly carry their Twelfth of July banners, asserting their Tradition, unbroken from King Billy to the present but the tone – undogmatic, questioning – asks the essential question of any tradition – is it still relevant to the here-and-now?
The means – the toners, the scrakes of hand-made mark – both assert and re-assert the nature of political commitment: idealism or intransigence: traditional strengths or archaic survivals. Thus the sky blends red, white and blue in loyal affirmation while the few scrakes that rend the surface suggest the possible fragility of the marchers’ position.
It is both a critique and a celebration; rather than a romantic gloss or tacky ‘promo’, Sloan is sufficiently committed to his heritage to explore it honestly, weighing up the freightage of the past but sieving it for the benefit of the present. Tradition cannot be blinkered, he seems to say: but its strengths are the building blocks of the future.
So what does ‘And Find Me’ indicate? Has the Orangeman found the God of the Old or the New Testament? Has he found God at all? Is he fighting for his rights – his interpretation – or is he squashing the rights of others? The viewer is left to make up his own mind.
The police are set in the midst of a thick interlace of branches, as if in a dense brushwood. Another interlace, this time of hand-scraked marks, also envelopes them. Once again the image is profoundly ambiguous. Is the countryside inhabited by the police, or are the police the interlopers, desecrating the peace and quiet of nature?
Extract from Thinking Long: Contemporary Art in the North of Ireland by Liam Kelly