Shaping The Landscape Of Half A Century - Aidan Dunne reviews 50 Years of Modern Painting in The Irish Times

SINCE IT OPENED in 1999, the Peppercanister Gallery has pursued an interesting exhibitions programme, alternating early and later modern and contemporary artists, predominantly Irish or with strong Irish connections. It has also championed several relatively neglected, sometimes underestimated figures, such as Robert Janz, Sonja Landweer, Deirdre McLoughlin, Breon O’Casey and Joseph O’Connor.

It was launched as a partnership between mother and son Antoinette and Bryan Murphy. With her husband Pat Murphy, Antoinette is an art collector of long standing, and from early on Bryan shared his parents’ enthusiasm for art. 50 Years of Modern Painting is a compact survey show reflecting this lengthy family involvement with Irish art and in particular Bryan’s close personal engagement with the work of painters from the mid-20th century to the present day, encompassing figures beyond the gallery’s own stable of artists.

The earliest piece in the show is by Camille Souter and dates from 1961. The most recent – just completed, in fact – is Liam Belton’s The Last Time I Saw Paris, a still life in a crisp, realist manner. But landscape is perhaps the main strand of subject matter in Irish art – its default setting – and it’s naturally central to the Peppercanister’s show. Three other areas are evident too: the human figure, including portraiture – abstraction, and interiors.

The Figure

The Artist (2011) by Andrew Vickery

The Artist (2011) by Andrew Vickery

ANDREW VICKERY is best known for his sequences of narrative paintings about journeys. There is an appealing storybook quality to them, but they also withhold information. We rarely see the people or the interactions implied by the images. By contrast, the series of character portraits showing in this exhibition focus on the people, casting each individual in a role defined in terms of profession, vocation, family or emotion. Again, Vickery’s style is simplified and approachable, and each work hints at a potential story.

Also featured in the show are Graham Gingles and Neil Shawcross. The latter is one of the best-known portrait painters per se in Ireland. He too has long employed an informal, conversational, graphic style that cheerfully embraces elements of caricature and whimsy, all in the cause of conveying a subject’s character more vividly. Gingles, best known for his intricate box sculptures, is an exceptional draughtsman, approaching his human subjects with incisive precision, often on a miniature or close-to-miniature scale.


Spruces by Gavin O’Curry (September 2011)

Spruces by Gavin O’Curry (September 2011)

GAVIN O’CURRY’S Spruces (2011) is a big monochrome study of a forest of spruce trees on a mist-wreathed hillside, an image that evokes the spirit of Casper David Friedrich. It is typical of a great deal of contemporary painting in using a second-hand visual source and making clear that it is doing so. Rather than trying to disguise its documentary photographic origins, the painting highlights them, inviting us to speculate about representational style and meaning. By comparison, Sean McSweeney’s Shoreline, Ballyconnell (1987) clearly emerges from the painter’s prolonged, attentive familiarity with a specific place. It’s a direct, nuanced response rather than an investigation of artifice.

Somewhere in between, perhaps, is the Barrie Cooke work included. Dating from the mid-1970s, it is one of the extraordinary rainforest landscapes made following a sojourn in Borneo. In the dense linear patterning of the paint surface, Cooke suggests the rainforest as a labyrinthine network of interconnected organic processes. This analytical approach to the landscape prefigures his subsequent treatment of Irish-landscape subjects in relation to environmental pollution rather than traditional picturesque concerns.

Interiors and still life

Liam Belton's The Last Time I Saw Paris (2012)

Liam Belton's The Last Time I Saw Paris (2012)

LIAM BELTON is one of Ireland’s foremost academic painters, and has built a considerable following for his meticulously realistic still lifes. They are characterised by his liking for very formal compositions and a spare, almost monochrome palette, with an emphasis on white or, more accurately, whites. He also likes to build allegorical hints into his work. The Last Time I Saw Paris, painted this year, simply marshals a number of items from the city in a tightly organised arrangement.

Graham Gingles could also come under the heading of interiors given that his sculptures are rooms within rooms, infinitely recessive interiors packed with myriad images and objects that hauntingly suggest the strange workings of memory.

Galway-based painter John Brady’s small, intensely chromatic works are based on interior spaces. That may not be immediately evident as he seems to begin with a straightforward image of, in this case, an art gallery and overlay it with areas of colour that convey an emotional response to the space.


PERHAPS SURPRISINGLY, abstraction has flourished in Ireland, even if there are often associations with aspects of landscape in otherwise purely abstract works. Camille Souter’s Pale Shapes (1961) is a case in point. A wonderfully warm arrangement of forms, it came at a time when landscape, still life and human subjects were increasingly finding their way into her pictorial language, a language that had strong links to Abstract Expressionism. Here, it is in texture and shape that we sense a world beyond the composition itself.

No such ambiguity is evident in the work of Albert Irvin, Ciaran Lennon, Richard Gorman or Makiko Nakamura, although none of these artists would discount the importance of the real, outside world in their painting. For Gorman, the world as embodied in his sensibility and awareness is always there in the process of making a painting and is inescapably part of what we see. Nakamura’s rigorous abstracts with their lustrous surfaces are partly – but significantly – about time and memory.

50 Years of Modern Painting

Concise overview of modern and contemporary painting in Ireland. Peppercanister Gallery, 3 Herbert Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6611279

Touching The Void - Aidan Dunne reviews gallery artist Deirdre McLoughlin's show at The National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny

Form and function: ceramic 
sculptor Deirdre McLoughlin takes a break in her Amsterdam studio where 
she is finishing the final pieces for her exhibition, Shaping the Void. 
Photograph: Aidan Dunne

Form and function: ceramic sculptor Deirdre McLoughlin takes a break in her Amsterdam studio where she is finishing the final pieces for her exhibition, Shaping the Void. Photograph: Aidan Dunne

Also unusual is the way her language of form is derived equally from craft and sculptural vernaculars. As a medium, clay is more or less wedded to the vessel and the plate, to functional objects and shapes that cannot be denied. Nor does McLoughlin deny them, but the Netherlands (like many other places) does not have the hang-up about craft translating into fine art that is still evident in Ireland.

Born in Dublin, McLoughlin went to school with the Sisters of Charity and then studied philosophy, history and English literature at Trinity. After that she went to Amsterdam and her life changed direction dramatically.

She came across the work of Rosemary Andrews. “Rosemary made sculptures in clay, which was a revelation. To use clay as a medium of expression was something new to me.” It sparked something in McLoughlin. “I had really never thought of working with my hands,” she says. “Then one day someone gives you a lump of clay and says: ‘Make something with that’. Little things like that can change your life.”

She started working in Andrews’s studio on the Keizersgracht and then, on her return to Ireland, shared studio space with Anthony O’Brien and other ceramicists in Dublin.



Sonja Landweer, who had lived in Ireland since the mid-1960s, was a major and enduring source of inspiration and advice. “It’s not just her work in itself, which I very much admire. But also her absolute level of commitment.”

Nonetheless, it wasn’t all plain sailing. “There came a time when I really had to decide if I was going to commit myself to this – I mean, I didn’t want to do it, I could see making a living was going to be a big problem, and I just didn’t want to be as poor as I’d been when I was a student. But it was something I had to give in to. It was the only way I could get any peace.”

Since then she has followed her work: “I don’t lead it, it leads me. And I must say I respect artists – and I don’t mean myself – who magnificently don’t care about the money question.”

In the early 1980s the work led her to Japan, “because there was a thriving tradition of making sculpture with clay there”. She spent several years working and learning in Kyoto and, in 1985, travelled in China. Back in Ireland, she had a studio on Mountjoy Square before moving to Amsterdam in 1988. She exhibits regularly in Ireland with the Peppercanister Gallery.

From shelves at the back of her studio she brings out a succession of substantial ceramic sculptures comprising several series of works, each making up a family of forms. Broadly speaking, there is a group of rhythmically bulbous shapes, a group of cup-like shapes, each with a single “heel” or spur and, the largest and most recent, a group of vessel-like shapes with spouts.

They all evoke both functional ceramic objects and living things – those spouts, for example, could be noses. McLoughlin likes the notion there is a vitality to them, that they have character and personality.

 White Life III

 White Life III

The ovoid form that is “absolutely basic to everything I do” could be read as a metaphor for the human body, the human being. The renowned ceramacist and writer Betty Blandino had no doubt McLoughlin is continuing a tradition of figurative sculpture that extends back to the earliest surviving human artefacts. She included her in her authoritative study, The Figure in Fired Clay , published in 2002.

The word McLoughlin favours is biomorphic, a term most commonly used in relation to ambiguous but curiously life-like abstract shapes in surrealist art.

While the forms she makes are elegant, and the coloured glazes she uses sumptuous – this is often achieved by polishing and repeated firing – there is also a distinctly humorous quality to the work, a playful sensuality. She’s happy if our first engagement with a piece takes the form of a question: what is that? It’s a question that is never definitively answered, but her intention is that in an effort to answer the question, the viewer is led into an intriguing labyrinth of associations and possibilities. The uncertainty is emphasised by a certain precariousness about the way each piece is ingeniously balanced, something she came to value in Japan.



“That a work is beautifully poised is important to me,” she says. But the appreciation of poise stems from something more than sculpture as such. “I dance,” she says, “I mean, I’m no dancer, but I enjoy dance.” In Ireland she attended Kalichi’s dance workshops. “I’ve learned more about form through dance than from drawing. That’s where the feeling in the work of being alive comes from.”

Communicating that vitality is essential for her. “You could say everything’s been done, but as with dance, I think sculpture is capable of constant renewal. I know I am more deeply alive when I’m working. It’s an adventure.

“The tingle you experience when something is happening in the work, when you are finding a new direction, is very exciting, when the shapes you are making guide you in what you are doing. And when you encounter that, you feel that, somehow, it hasn’t quite happened before in this way. That is what you work for.”

Shaping the Void: Ceramic and Bronze Sculptures by Deirdre McLoughlin is at the National Craft Gallery, Castle Yard, Kilkenny from January 20th-March 21st, then travels to the Wandesford Quay Gallery, Cork from March 27th-April 23rd

Exhibit A: Nothing's too square when Eilis is around - Sophie Gorman reviews Wall & Plinth in The Irish Independent

Eilis O'Connell 'The Square Inside'

Eilis O'Connell 'The Square Inside'

Twisting and turning, light bounces off its reflective curves and it resembles a tear drop fallen out of this blue sky.

Derry artist O'Connell uses a wide range of materials in her work and the results range greatly in scale, but all share developing themes of geometry, archaeology and architecture.

And this distinctive sculpture features in a major exhibition of contemporary sculpture, 'Wall & Plinth', opening next Thursday at Dublin's Peppercanister Gallery,

O'Connell is just one of a number of important artists on display and her piece will be joined by works by the well-respected likes of Sonja Landweer, Carolyn Mulholland, Graham Gingles and Robert Janz, who will be exhibiting cast bronze versions of one of his delicate mixed-media figures. Work will vary from the figurative, by John Behan, Breon O'Casey and Robert Janz, to the abstract, by Michael Warren.

This show will also have the premiere outing for two major pieces by succesful Argentinean artist Adolfo Estrada.

And the gallery will be exhibiting the work of two Irish artists for the first time; established ceramicist Deirdre McLoughlin and budding sculptor Sharon Lynch.

Aidan Dunne reviews Deirdre McLoughlin in The Irish Times

Deirdre McLoughlin 4

Deirdre McLoughlin is a ceramic sculptor with a cool, precise sense of elegant form. Her current show, at the Peppercanister Gallery, features two formal types: torso-like bands and vessel-like cups with appendages. The latter proliferate in big, relaxed families of various sizes and colours. The basic cup shape attenuates to a flattened spout or handle that in most cases plays a role in balance. You could read human anatomical and social connotations into these works, which are collectively titled I Am Too.

The implication is that they are all typical and all slightly different, cheerfully diverse but unmistakeably related. If the show consisted just of them it would be noteworthy, but it also features a much smaller number of another series of larger works, the Empty Forms. And at least two of these are exceptionally good sculptures by any standard.

They are eloquently economical ceramic bands that almost magically conjure up a sense of human presence and absence, loss and memory, through their use of subtle, ambiguous forms and positive and negative space. In a way they are hardly there at all, but they are amazingly strong works.