Wall & Plinth

30 Jan - 20 Feb 2008

We live in an age of images. Most of them are photographic images, naturally enough, but much painting and sculpture is also pitched at the level of imagery, pure and simple. While paintings and sculptures are of course images, they should also be something more. Images sacrifice themselves to the things they represent. Once they’ve gotten that message across, they are dispensable. Surely part of the job of art is to encourage us in a deeper engagement with things, to think beyond immediate physical resemblance, to make us look anew.

All of the work in Wall and Plinth does that. Admittedly, the fact that it is sculpture helps. Three-dimensional sculptures are little pieces of the world, solid facts in themselves. They are not ephemeral images to be glimpsed and instantly forgotten. At the same time, because they are in the round, so to speak, and durable, they are also open to sustained appraisal. Any shortcomings are likely to become apparent over time.

So that when we speak of an artist having a sense of form, it is particularly apposite in relation to sculptors. What it means, really, is that the forms they make look as if they are at home in the world, they make sense to our eyes even if they do not conform to any predefined image. They may resemble familiar things and hence be linked to them, and they may amplify our awareness of the nature of what we look at in general. This is true of Eilis O’Connell, whose work has over a long period of time evidenced an exceptional, even impeccable sense of form.

Put simply, her shapes relate to organic and inorganic things in the natural and cultural worlds and enhance our appreciation of those worlds. The same could be said of Sonja Landweer, whose sculptures have a centredness, a gravitational presence, that has nothing to do with sheer mass and a lot to do with her feeling for the rightness of a volume. Deirdre McLoughlin’s work has its origins in a fascinating dialogue with classical ceramic forms and functions, but it is as if the dialogue has moved on to a concern with the body as a kind of container, and her instinct for the contained void, for the tensions inherent in shape, is fantastic.

Gravity, embodiment and given parameters are central to all the work mentioned so far, and they are central as well to Michael Warren, whose sculptures could be described as metaphysical explorations conducted within a remarkably rich formal language generated by horizontal and vertical axes. Adolfo Estrada also takes a very specific abstract language, based on the right-angled grid but incorporating the additional element of colour, in his beautifully considered, constructed pieces, which have a playfully architectonic quality. Sharon Lynch also works in an architectural idiom, creating forms that hint at monumental presence even on a modest scale.

Eileen McDonagh is fond of the magic of geometry, the mystery of how we are somehow attuned to numbers, and the combination of geometric abstraction and natural materials in her sculptures is incredibly fruitful. Brian King takes a repertoire of geometrical motifs and infuses it with human meanings in a lyrical, poetic vein.

King’s use of the elements that make up his piece is evocative of ancient consciousness. He imagines how we humans once understood what was going on around us in the natural world. Something of this instinct is evident in Breon O’Casey’s sculptural pieces, which interrogate familiar forms until they reveal essential truths about themselves. It is a methodology familiar to John Behan, one of an important generation of Irish sculptors who looked back to our historical origins and our mythical frame of reference to devise a contemporary vocabulary of cultural expression.

Robert Janz’s exceptionally nuanced, spirit-like animal and human figures were a revelation when they were first exhibited in his solo shows at the Peppercanister, and now he has translated one of these glimpses of transience and fragility into the durable medium of bronze. In her pieces, Carolyn Mulholland adheres to a narrative, allegorical structure, effected with timeless craftsmanship.

There is sometimes more than a hint of allegory to Graham Gingles’ intricate constructions, and that holds true for those in Wall and Plinth. Yet in a way Gingles’ great achievement – and it is great – is to tell us stories not from the viewpoint of an external narrator, but to bring us right inside the box of tricks itself, the teeming universe of the human imagination, and offer us a world from the inside out.

For various reasons, group exhibitions devoted entirely to sculpture are rare. This one is a good demonstration of why they should not be.

Aidan Dunne, Art Critic The Irish Times