Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Good Deed Punished

Last Thursday I had returned from a refreshing holiday in Waterville and was getting myself organised for a trip to France to visit my daughter (who lives near Lyon) and to attend the Leinster/Clermont European Cup semi-final. I was meeting up with some friends there so a few drinks and some fine dining would no doubt ensue. Returning from a walk I saw my next door neighbours getting out of their car. The husband is a tall elderly man who has been unwell and now needs a walker to get around. The wife is a small woman so I went over and gave her a hand to extract him and get him going on his walker. I left them heading up the path to their front door. A few minutes later my door bell rang and it was the wife asking me to help as her husband had fallen down and she needed help to lift him back up on to a chair. I followed her over and found him lying on his side on the ground. He’s a very big man, built like a retired rugby lock. I went behind him and grabbed him under the arms while the wife tugged from the front. It was a struggle. I gave  an extra strong jerk and suddenly felt a searing pain across my lower back. It was so extreme I had to sit down on a nearby seat – letting my man lie back on the floor. After a breather I had another go and somehow we got him upright in a chair. I sat down again and started feeling really faint. Then apparently I blacked out. I came too to find my two neighbours regarding me with some concern. I had been out for a few minutes and the woman had been concerned that I was having a heart attack. I had suddenly become the victim of the piece. I felt extremely weak but managed to stagger home across the road and took to the bed. I dozed fitfully for a couple of hours but awoke in agony with the uneasy feeling that I had done some fundamental damage to my back.     

 My poor alarmed wife managed to guide me into the car and off we went to St. Michael’s A & E in Dun Laoghaire. We were initially told there would be a four-hour wait but when they hear that I had collapsed after injuring my back I was suddenly at the head of the queue. The waiting room was full so I was pleasantly surprised at this eventuality. I was brought into an area with a row of beds, notionally separated with flimsy curtains. A coolly professional nurse did the usual blood test, and blood pressure and followed with the less usual ECG. Then ominously she inserted a cannula – usually a precursor to an extended stay. Things rested so and I was kept entertained listening to a disruptive prick in the next bed trying to get hold of strong pain-killers. “Are you a doctor?” he asked his nurse.  “I need a doctor. I’m in fooking pain”. He had apparently been itching himself all over to such an extent that his body was covered with bleeding scratches. It sounded like DTs to me but he was blaming his mother’s washing powder.    

 Eventually I was brought down for x-ray which was extremely painful as I could lie down fine but getting up involved sheer agony. Then back to the three-ring circus that is A&E. My scratcher was still there, complaining loudly. A concussion victim sat staring blankly from another bed – she’d been in a car accident last week and then got a bang in the head from a heavy door earlier in the day. There was also a very obese woman with a pleasant face who had been suffering from palpitations. Fun times. After about two hours my doctor appeared. A gentleman of the Sikh persuasion complete with turban and nice silver bracelet. He repeated all the tests the nurse had carried out including asking me what day of the week it was and who was the president. I passed with flying colours. After another hour my x-ray results came back and it was revealed that there were no broken or damaged bones – my problem was a severe muscle spasm. I was given some Paracetamol and Diazepam and sent about my business. As I was leaving I passed the scratcher talking to his long-suffering looking father “fooking Paracetamol that’s all I’m getting”.    

 So I’ll survive without any long-term damage. Just a few weeks of extreme discomfort while the muscles repair. I’ve never had a problem with my back before and so am developing empathy for those so stricken. It’s all consuming in its implications as simple tasks (such as putting on your socks) become heroic efforts.    

John P. O'Sullivan

Monday, April 03, 2017

David O'Kane - A Modest Proposal


An edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on the 2 April 2017.  

The Cavanacor Gallery near Lifford is attached to an historic 17th century house that hosted James II during the Siege of Derry. David O’Kane (a son of the current owners) didn’t try to sit out the recession but took his award-winning talents on the road after graduation. Based in Berlin, he exhibits successfully in prominent galleries in Leipzig and Seoul. He is a versatile artist who is best known for his large-scale figurative paintings, often with an uncanny twist, but who also embraces printmaking and animation. His current show is a series of manière noire lithographs based on Swift’s infamous essay A Modest Proposal. These were commissioned by the Salvage Press to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Swift’s birth. These macabre and exquisitely executed works take Swift at his word and present us with the results of his proposal. A splendid dining table is furnished with platters of chubby babies, a butcher’s shop hangs a boy amidst the sides of beef, and Breeders shows a line of coffin-like cots, the latter piece carrying intimations of recent events in Tuam.

 Cavanacor Gallery Co. Donegal
 Tue-Sat: 12-6pm
 Tel: 085 164 2525

 John P. O'Sullivan    

Monday, March 27, 2017

Deepdrippings: Phillip Allen at the Kerlin Gallery

 An edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on the 19 March 2017.

    The term “trippy” was made redundant in the early Seventies but on being confronted by Phillip Allen’s new show at the Kerlin Gallery one is tempted to re-employ it. Gaze into a painting such as Chin Music (Soft Octopus Version) long enough and you’ll find it gazing into you – like Nietzsche’s abyss. Allen is an English artist who has been showing at the Kerlin since 2005. As befits someone who lectures on art he is not afraid to change tack and sail off in a new direction. His last three shows could almost be by three different artists if it weren’t for one recurring feature. The title of the current show, Deepdrippings, suggests Jackson Pollock and the intertwining ribbons of black paint and the splashes  of colour confirm the connection.  Allen’s work however is more condensed, more intimate and intense, eschewing the macho scale of the American. In many of the smaller pieces the image is framed by his trademark thick border of impasto. This draws you into his disorientating cosmic visions where your eyes dance around trying to find purchase amidst the swirling riot of paint.        Kerlin Gallery Dublin.       John P. O'Sullivan

Six Nations Post Mortem

Over the course of the 5 weekends that constitute the Six Nations championships I tipped the winners of 12 of the 15 matches. The three I got wrong all involved Ireland. I thought we'd beat Scotland and Wales and lose to England. Of course we shoulda and coulda in the first two cases but there's a fatal lack of cutting edge in our back line (aside from Sexton and Murray) and we couldn't translate dominance into scores. The preponderance of home results suggest that there's not much between all the teams (excluding hapless Italy) and that England have been over hyped. I have a feeling our season will end well with Munster and Leinster well in contention for European honours. We should have 6 or 7 players in the Lions. Sexton, Murray, Furlong, Stander and O'Mahony will surely go. Best, Henshaw, Healy and O'Brien are possibilities and I'd nominate Zebo as a wild card. Best has an outside chance of being captain but I strongly suspect it'll be a Welsh man. I'll take anyone but Hartley.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Six Nations Prognostications 5 and Post Mortem 4

After the concentrated focus on Cheltenham all week it's a relief to move on to rugby where my engagement isn't financial apart from the odd bet on Stander to score the first try. I missed my week 4 forecast but would certainly have expected both France and England to win easily as they did. I thought Ireland would be too good for the previously unimpressive Welsh side but we managed to fuck it up again for a number of reasons. Henshaw's rush of blood ultimately cost us the match because the momentum was with us and a converted try at that stage would have seen them sag. However, given the amount of possession we had, we still should have won. There is a lack of creativity in the back line - especially at centre. We rely too much on Sexton to create the spark, or Murray. They were both off for periods which set us back. Also, our bloody lineout has gone to the dogs. It's inexplicable to me how O'Mahony isn't on from the start to give us more options. Toner was woeful and deserves to be dropped and Best wasn't exactly hitting his targets. England will murder us in this area unless we come up with something. Regarding this weekends matches, let's get the easy ones over with. Scotland will show that they are not as awful as they appeared against England by hammering Italy. France will confirm my poor opinion of Wales by beating them, not quite so easily. Wales rescued their season by beating us and won't be as cranked up. I had thought we would do a home town job on England but seeing the team I now doubt it. Murray is a huge loss, not least for his cover and tackling but also for his general air of being in charge. Kearney has been poor all season so I'm glad he's gone. His aerial game is as good as ever but after he makes a heroic catch he just charges aimlessly into the cover and the whole thing peters out. Payne is short of game time and I'm not sure a match against England is the place to give it to him. I'd have put Zebo there and added Conway or Gilroy on the wing. Having dropped Toner for being off form Schmidt has still omitted O'Mahony. I'd have dropped Heaslip (where has he been this season?) and rejigged the back row to accomodate O'Mahony. It's beginning to seem that Schmidt has a Leinster bias and that he's reviving that old adage about it being harder to get off the Irish team than to get on to it. I see England winning by about 12 points. I'll be very happy to be wrong as, unlike Cheltenham, it won't cost me anything.

Eh Joe at the Gate

                        Michael Colgan's valedictory season of plays by Beckett, Pinter and Friel keeps up the very high standards he helped to initiate and sustain for 33 years. I saw a great version of Pinter's The Dumb Waiter last week with Lorcan Cranitch and Garrett Lombard. This week's offering surpassed that with a virtuouso version of Beckett's Eh Joe. Not knowing the play I was wondering how Gambon was going to get on because, famously, he had retired because he could no longer remember lines. Of course, as I discovered, Eh Joe is ideal for him as there are no lines. He basically just sits there and responds visually (rather than vocally) to a disembodied woman's voice. She is the voice of his conscience reminding him of how badly he has treated various women and what now lies ahead of him. It's classic Beckett in terms of the stripped down language and the bleak intimations: "Then yourself ...That old bonfire ...Years of that stink ...Then the silence". Bracing stuff.   I knew the play was written for television - the first such one he wrote - and that it mainly features the actor's face and attendant reactions. So I was wondering how it would be staged and was thankful I had a seat close to the stage. But I needn't have worried. They filmed his face as he sat on a bed and projected it giantly onto a scrim (transparent cloth) that covered the entire front of the stage. His read covered an area close to half the size of the scrim so even a visually impaired person in the back row could monitor every twitch. And twitches there were aplenty, and tears. Gambon gave it the full rueful, sorrowful, pitiful works. It was only 30 minutes long but that was enough for such sustained bleakness.      

Monday, March 13, 2017

John Short at the Solomon Gallery

A slightly edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on the 12 March 2017.

John Short is best known for his bright and playful water colours and prints depicting the often portly denizens of South County Dublin going about their bathing business. Short’s work keeps the best of company and can be found in Áras an Uachtaráin, the Shelbourne and in the Law Library. His new show at the Solomon extends beyond his usual haunts to embrace cockatoos and kangaroos in Australia and dancers in the South of France. Large watercolours, such as the striking Cockatoos, Sydney, require a deft touch and Short is a master of the medium. His expertise was recognised with the prestigious 2012 Artist Prize at the Royal Watercolour Society in London. He augments his paint work with ink, collage and occasionally photo transfers. There’s a sense of evanescence in some of these carefree scenes. It is suggested in the ectoplasmic outlines of his swimmers in Winter Bathing Scene, Seapoint as they disport themselves against the stern permanence of a Martello tower. His collected sketchbooks over the past thirty years are also on show, evidence of a long-standing dedication to his art and his capacity for capturing the transitory and rendering it permanent in his warm and colourful paintings.  

Solomon Gallery
Dublin 2

John P. O'Sullivan    

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Six Nations Prognostications - 3

It would be immodest to mention that I got it pretty well spot on in the second series of games. They were, I suppose, fairly predictable. England were lucky to beat Wales - but this is a poor Welsh team and England just grind out the results pragmatically. This week we can leave England and Italy to one side - England will win and get a bonus point. Ireland should also beat France - although if conditions turn nasty it could become a place kicking contest and I trust Sexton less in this regard than Jackson. Otherwise I think we are too organised for them and it would be a major shock if we lose. The Wales Scotland match is the most interesting. I fancy Scotland to win but Laidlaw is a massive loss. Apart from his decision making and sharpness around the field, his unfailing accuracy with penalties could be sorely missed. As a result it may be closer than it would have been.   

 Ireland could win all their remaining matches and still lose the championship unless they pick up a bonus point today or against Wales, or England. Today is their best chance. If we do so we can end up on 19 points. England will get a bonus point today and very likely one at home against Scotland. This would give them 18 points and if they hold Ireland to a small margin and thus get a bonus point they will also end up on 19 points. Then it comes down to points difference so Englands score against Italy today could be crucial. We'll worry about all this if we beat Wales next week.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Siobhan McDonald - Crystalline

 An edited version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on the 19 February 2017.

 Siobhan McDonald does not see herself as part of the standing army of Irish landscape painters, abstract or otherwise. Her art is more concerned with science than with nature. Despite some superficial similarities, especially in her earlier work, she discourages any attempts to place her within the landscape tradition. She maintains that her art invokes patterns generated by the invisible forces of nature rather than the visible. “From an early age I’ve always had a love of rocks. Rocks are recorders of time. As an artist who is deeply motivated by geology, the idea of landscape doesn’t fit easily with me and the world I’m looking at is not abstracted – it is connected in time layer by layer.”  She’s more interested in what lies below the landscape and what lies far above it – in subterranean readings and in the vacant interstellar spaces (see Tycho Star in her current exhibition). Her  inspiration comes from seismologists, geologists, cosmologists, and cartographers. Her subject matter comes from field work in Iceland,  Asia, and The West Indies and from museums, archives and laboratories. “I work collaboratively with cartographers, scientists, and composers combining ideas of interaction on the natural world.” She has found in recent years that painting alone cannot convey her vision. “I need to use different forms of expression”. This interdisciplinary approach is seen in her new exhibition which features pressed plants, seeds in glass vessels, ghostly after images of butterflies on antique paper, a series of mysterious white sculptures, a striking work on calf skin, a few small, eerie paintings, and even a short film with an original sound track.   

McDonald has always been a roamer. A cursory look at her CV shows how wide she has ranged with exhibitions over the past 18 years in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Galway, Paris, New York, Oslo, and at the European Space Agency in Holland. She has been singularly successful in getting travel grants and residencies over this period and has not been afraid to engage with a variety of disciplines. Her itinerant approach to showing her work is perhaps influenced by her background. She was born in New York of Northern Ireland parents. The family moved back to Monaghan when she was a child, and her accent retains an attractive trace of her Northern roots. She studied art in Belfast and Dun Laoghaire. Her first solo show took her back to New York where she lived for a couple of years and enjoyed some success before moving back to Dublin. "New York was really good to me but I always had this grá for Ireland. I wanted my base to be in Ireland".  

While she has always found inspiration from science (her first two exhibitions were titled Elements and Molecule), two specific events triggered her latest show. In 2010 she joined the Irish Geological Society on a field trip to carry out a geological survey of Iceland. "I really wanted to go just to see the landscape." Camille Souter was also on the trip. "She was so much fun." During the trip their guide took them to the edge of Eyjafjallajökull the volcano that had recently erupted. "It was like we were gazing into the core of the earth. Looking at seismology charts to explore how an earthquake can inscribe itself into scientific records I started to visualise these dark fluctuations as patterns generated by the forces of nature. My subsequent drawings of the unseen world under the microscope brought a new element of alchemy into my paintings".   

Then in 2013 McDonald won an open competition for a residency at Parity Studios in UCD working on a commission for the School of Biology and Environmental Science. “The residency at Parity Studios provided me with a real chance to deepen my interest in geology, physics and plant palaeontology.” This residency led in turn to an Arctic Circle Residency and a voyage on a barkentine (an old square rigged sailing ship) to the Arctic. While on this voyage she was lent a copy of a book about the doomed Franklin expedition. In 1845, Sir John Franklin, an experienced but ageing explorer, set off to discover the North West Passage on two ships, Erebus and Terror. They were never seen again despite a number of rescue missions being mounted. Over the years various traces were found, a letter, artefacts and a couple of graves on Beechey Island. There’s a YouTube video featuring the perfectly preserved bodies that were uncovered. Eventually the two lost ships turned up. Erebus in 2014 and Terror last year. They had become trapped in ice and the crews had died of scurvy, lead poisoning from tinned food (a new technology ironically), starvation and exposure. McDonald was fascinated with the story, "I became very upset about the whole thing. I was in the same waters they had died in".   

The trip to the Arctic also brought a new focus to a lingering unease she had always felt about climate change. She saw at first hand the diminishing ice cap and mingled with members of the scientific community who could back up opinion with hard science. She learnt about the Anthropocene, the proposed new geological epoch which begins with the Industrial Revolution. She quotes a European Space Agency scientist’s dire warning: “I told my children not to have children.” The show that resulted from these journeys is both a tacit and an explicit warning about the looming catastrophe that is global warming.   

There are two key exhibits in the show, Crystalline and Solar Skin. Crystalline is a series of white sculptures that dominate the entrance to the exhibition hall. They are an artistic response to the retreating Arctic glaciers. "This installation is made up of 166 pieces and each one represents a year since we screwed up the atmosphere". She dates this back the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The cracks on the surface represent the damage to the polar icecap. They were originated in a collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) last summer and with an Irish company called Enbio. The latter developed the white material coating the surface of the sculptures. This is the protective material made from carbon and bone that will be applied to the surface of the ESA's Solar Orbiter that sets its controls for the heart of the sun in 2018. Another voyage from which there will be no return. The fact that our ice caps do not in fact enjoy such protection from the sun's rays is an irony implicit in the work.   

Solar Skin represents the sun, the hero turned villain. It is a striking piece that dominates the show visually. It consists of a large circular piece of burnished calf skin, a fine layer of woven basalt, and smoked paper inscribed with seismographic markings. McDonald worked with the conservator in Trinity whose brief includes the Book of Kells to garner expertise in this area. A pre-industrial material to balance the super science of her sculptures. She sees the original scars on the surface of the vellum "as a map of the animal's journey". Another doomed voyage.   

Some of the most poignant pieces in the show are small paintings inspired by old glass photographic plates rescued from lost Arctic expeditions. She discovered these in the national library in Oslo and she recreated the faded images in paintings that deliver ghostly intimations of the Franklin expedition. Unknown Landscapes (above) features seemingly lost figures blurred against an Arctic landscape containing ice-locked ships. A figure in the foreground looks out forlornly at the viewer. Her painting skills are evident in Pyramiden, an eerie evocation of the Soviet ghost town on the edge of the Arctic circle. Many other exhibits in the show also contain intimations of lost expeditions. She extracted seeds from plant pressings stored in the Antiquities Department of the Botanic Gardens after an earlier Franklin expedition in 1825. She is involved in a project with Kew Gardens to endeavour to germinate these old seeds. The aim is to produce plants from a period before the Anthropocene began to bite.  “These seeds represent the earth before we fucked it up.” Another exhibit, Silent Witnessing, features melanin traces from the ghosts of past butterflies imprinted on antique paper from an old display case - the original inhabitants  crumbled to dust. The faint traces of the absent butterflies is a metaphor surely for all the beauty and diversity that we are losing.  

 In addition to the paintings, photography, sculpture and found objects that constitute the show an original music score has been written by Irene Buckley to accompany a beautiful and evocative film shot during the Arctic trip. This score is based on McDonald's use of a heliograph, a old device for tracking the sun. She attached it to her Arctic ship to record the sun's track at summer solstice. The recorded pulses as the sun moved across the sky produced the notations used for the score. It also contains the sounds of dying glaciers collected by Professor Chris Bean.   

The sun is central to McDonald's show. The sound score, the large vellum piece Solar Skin, and the sculpture Crystalline all point to a disturbing truth. Since the Industrial Revolution we have been moving towards a situation where the sun has has gone from being the bringer of life to being the agent of our ultimate destruction. We have tipped the balance of nature towards extinction. The melting ice caps are harbingers of doom. Recent events across the Atlantic are not comforting. Artists, who capture the zeitgeist, have a role to play in alerting us in a way that cold science cannot. McDonald's haunting and thought-provoking show reminds us of the fragility of our situation on this vale of tears.      

Centre Culturel Irlandais
Tue-Sun: 2-6pm
 Phone: +33 1 58 52 10 30

 John P. O'Sullivan      

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Six Nations Prognostications 2

While the results of the first series of matches was predictable, the winning margins were not. Scotland and Ireland was always going to be close and a mal-functioning lineout and a slow start cost Ireland a match that they should have won. Oh Jamie, how could you, and at such a crucial stage. I thought Wales would struggle past Italy but they pulled well clear. Conversely I thought England would hammer France but they only scraped home.      The only match this weekend that seems difficult to call is Wales and England. I'm not convinced by Wales, especially their pack so I have a feeling that England might win - I wouldn't bet on it though. It will be very close. Elsewhere Ireland will clearly beat Italy and with the good weather forecast might even grab a bonus point. Scotland puffed up by beating Ireland will be brought back to earth by France. I expect a clear win for the hosts. It may suit us for England to win as otherwise we'll go to Wales facing a team eying a Grand Slam.  

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Six Nations Prognostications 1


At first glance today's programme of matches looks straightforward. England will beat France comfortably, Wales will dispatch Italy with ease and a Joe Schmidt powered Ireland will beat Scotland narrowly. The bookies agree so a straightforward bet won't yield much. So we must look at the handicap odds for value. Even giving France a 13 point start England look worth a bet. But can Wales give a Conor O'Shea guided Italy a 12 points start in a wet Rome (rain forecast)? I wouldn't bank on it. Can Ireland give Scotland 5 points in a similarly wet Edinburgh? That's a hard call. Of course now that there are bonus points available we should expect more tries so maybe that consideration will cancel out the limiting weather considerations. Hmmm.   

Regarding our team, I wouldn't overstate the cost of Sexton's absence. Jackson is a lesser player but a more reliable place kicker and at least we won't have the disruption of Sexton's inevitable early withdrawal. We may be underpowered in the lineout though with both Donnacha Ryan and Peter O'Mahoney absent. There's a huge onus on Toner and little obvious back up - Henderson and Heaslip will have to stretch. Overall it's a strong team but God help us all if Murray gets injured - and the Scots have form when it comes to targeting him.   

 I think the Wales Italy match is the most interesting of the three. What will O'Shea come up with?  The Welsh pack don't seem that strong so maybe he'll surprise us and revert to a 10-man game. Or will he will continue the gay cavalier approach that he was known for at Harlequins. 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Recent Reads: February 2017


  Guilty Thing - A Life of Thomas De Quincey by Frances Wilson

Don't be put off by the fact that this is a literary biography - it's a rollicking good read. De Quincey was a remarkably unpleasant man and unfortunately ill-favoured (tiny with a huge head). He was a child prodigy speaking Greek and Latin and discoursing with his elders in his early teens. The attendant descriptions of the literary circles in which he moved are fascinating as is the tale of his financial ducking and diving and his unfortunate domestic situation. Wordsworth comes across as a fearful old prig - he ostracised De Quincey because he married his maid. Coleridge meanwhile seemed to spend the whole of his time in an opium stupor - it's a wonder he ever wrote anything. De Quincey himself fell into the same trap but he managed to gain literary immortality by writing about it. Otherwise he produced little but journalistic hack work. It works also as a social history of early 19th Century England. One of the reasons De Quincey had no money was that he was an inveterate buyer and hoarder of books. He had to move out of one house as it became completely blocked up with his collection and he continued to rent it as a store for them.

 The Blue Guitar by John Banville

 Anyone familiar with John Banville's public persona and his utterances on TV or at book events will detect that he has much in common with Oliver Orme - the narrator in this novel. That's not to say that he's a thief and an adulterer like the character. It's more a matter of tone. The mordant wit, the bleak view of human kind, and of course the quality of the language. The story is a common place one of lost lust and ageing. Orme is an artist who has quit his calling and after a successful career has returned to his home town to chew over the remains of his life. Hints of Beckett here and there:  "I should stop, before it's too late. But it is too late." Highly enjoyable in an elegiac, bitter sweet way.

 A House in St. John's Wood by Matthew Spender

 This is a curious confection. It's written in a J'accuse tone by Stephen Spender's son Matthew. The gist of his argument seems to be that his father should have got on with his evident homosexuality and not tried to live as a respectable married man. The results of this deception were a litany of increasingly inappropriate and domestically disruptive liaisons and the perpetual misery of his mother. She just wanted a nice marriage to a famous man. Matthew's own life gets a fair share of scrutiny as well and we learn that his wife, the daughter of Arshile Gorky, vowed to remain anorgasmic as she considered sex as rape. Her sexually voracious mother may have had some influence there. Absorbing stuff with cameos from an ash coated W. H. Auden and other literary worthies.

 Curationism: How Curating Took over the Art World and Everything Else by David Balzer

 This book is, to steal a phrase from its introduction, "a poke at the contemporary art world" and especially at the cult of the curator. If you don't know who Hans Ulrich Obrist is you will find out. You'll find out about Documenta and Art Basel and the whole bloated circus that is the international art scene. You might wonder what Art Basel is doing in Miami Beach but that of course is where the rich collectors roam. Balzer sees an end to this phenomenon as artists regain their autonomy and curators fade back into the background. It's an interesting thesis written in accessible language.

 The Best American Sports Writing 2016 by Rick Telander

 I like these American "Best of" anthologies generally. They produce ones for essays, short stories etc.  This particular one is a tad disappointing overall. Too much boxing and fringe sport (rodeo, ice hockey) for me. There's a good essay by Sam Knight on Ronnie O'Sullivan but it's clearly aimed at a US audience who have never heard of him. There's also a revealing look at an off-duty Conor McGregor who's even weirder than he seems from my TV glimpses. The best piece is A Long Walk's End about a hiker nicknamed Bismarck who turned out to be an infamous embezzler and possible wife murderer on the run.

 John P. O'Sullivan
 February 2017    

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New Works by Kohei Nakata and Masashi Suzuki


This review first appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on 15 Jan 2017.

Nag (New Art Gallery) consists of two small rooms tucked away discreetly in the basement of the Cross Gallery on Francis Street. It's presided over by the tall and elegant Mark St. John Ellis, late of the RHA, and its mission is to bring us art that is refined in terms of execution and finish and that combines the functional and non-functional.  Its current show certainly meets these criteria by juxtaposing the delicately beautiful paintings of Kohei Nakata (who studied at NCAD) and the sturdy raku of Masashi Suzuki. Raku refers to the bowls and other vessels associated with the Japanese tea ceremony. Nag represents a number of Japanese artists and they will continue to feature in its future programmes. The inner gallery contains more of Nakata's restrained paintings (on layers of gauze) and a variety of elegant bowls and sculpture by other artists. There's also a dark dramatic work by the Belfast artist Ian Charlesworth. This was created using smoke on gesso and plywood - an idea he picked up from the ceilings of UVF clubs in Belfast.

nag Gallery
Dublin 8
tel: 01 4738978

 John P. O'Sullivan

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Excavations by Hughie O'Donoghue

An edited version of this review appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on 18 December 2016.

Hughie O’Donoghue frequently mines the personal for his epic paintings. His father’s involvement in the Second World War informed his early work and of late he has found inspiration in his ancestor’s homeland, the bleak and deserted landscape around Erris in North Mayo. The crumbling stones of an ancient furnace near Bellmullet is the source of most of his latest show. Photographic images of the ruins are painted over in rich reds and hot whites, simulating the flow of liquid metal. The transformative power of the furnace also stands as a metaphor for the alchemy of art. The furnace was named after an infamous landlord Sir Arthur Shaen, so perhaps the artist is also having fun with the suggestion of Hell fires that point to the old brute’s ultimate fate. A childhood visit to Inis Oirr is reimagined in the other paintings on view. While walking around the island with his father he encountered the great rusting hulk of the MV Plassy - driven onto the rocks during a storm in 1960. It has appeared in the guise of the Medusa and as the doomed troop ship Lancastria in earlier work by O’Donoghue.  Here it becomes the ghostly Demeter - the ship used to transport Dracula’s coffin to Whitehaven.

Oliver Sears Gallery
 Dublin 2

 John P. O’Sullivan