The tired, worn textures of a city's teeming streets
It took a long time for Eithne Jordan to approach Dublin as a subject, but her paintings offer a unique way into the city
If you live or have lived in Dublin, chances are you will recognise at least some of the locations depicted in Eithne Jordan’s two exhibitions, Street at the RHA and En Route at the Rubicon Gallery in Dublin.
She doesn’t stray too far from the inner city, north and south. Occasionally a landmark turns up, but not a landmark in any conventional, iconographic sense, more an unremarkable building or a feature, habitually encountered, that lodges in the memory because of its slight oddness or incongruity.
Her city is a quiet domain. Its terraced houses and blocks of flats are inhabited, but they are viewed in the half-light of dawn or dusk, or by night, when there is little movement save a car or two, or a flight of birds. Hoardings, boundary walls and other blank facades situate the viewer firmly on the outside, slightly apart.
If one feels excluded, it is not in any negative sense. In fact, because we are allowed to so thoroughly occupy the vacated spaces, we possess the city in a way we never could when the streets are noisy and thronged with people, cars and vans.
While the big, stark, architectural blocks appear sculptural in a pure, almost abstract way, the paintings never veer towards hard-edged abstraction. Jordan is constantly attuned to the tired, worn textures of the urban fabric, to the fall of soft light on stained, weathered stone and concrete, the gentle erosion that over time softens crisp geometric edges and flat surfaces. What we see is always a real, lived-in, utilitarian place.
The locations are specific and recognisable, but she prefers not to pin them down in the titles. “So many people have said they know where the place in such and such a painting is,” she says. “And that’s fine. I just didn’t want to name them.
“I’m interested in something to do with the way we inhabit cities and I like the idea of paintings things that we pass by every day without noticing. They’re deserving of attention because they are so familiar and so anonymous.”
In the same way, she’s edited out people and cars. “I particularly wanted the big paintings to be very stark, with no clutter. The references to people are implied – lights in buildings, streetlights, advertising billboards, rubbish bins, even a skip. But I found that if you include figures you’re into a whole different narrative.”
After graduating from Dún Laoghaire School of Art (now IADT), Jordan initially made vibrant abstracts. From the late 1980s she moved into figuration, with shimmering images of swimmers, then a powerful, quite sombre series of allegorical works in which a female protagonist is visualised as being the focus of a range of pressures and demands.
When she moved to France in the 1990s (she now divides her time between Ireland and France), she made lyrical, light-filled interiors and figure paintings. Then she began to move out into the landscape, initially looking to classical, pastoral views but gradually responding to the contemporary urbanisation of the rural landscape by motorway schemes, dwellings and other structures. Latterly she began to look into the heart of cities – several European cities, including Paris, and Barcelona.