The tired, worn textures of a city's teeming streets
Dublin is different. An outsider in other cities, she was an insider in Dublin but, for that very reason: “I knew by 2009 that I wanted to paint Dublin, but I just couldn’t find a way into it. I could approach the others in a fairly generic way, but Dublin was too familiar to me, and it has more emotional resonance for me. Painting it is a much more intense experience. Also, as a city I think it’s very much itself.”
Initially, her way in was a series of small gouaches of a quintessentially Dublin subject, the area around the Guinness Brewery. Then, at the end of 2010, she was living temporarily in a house in Rathmines when snow arrived, and stayed. She set out on walks in the immediate locality, taking photographs. “I love that eerie snowy light – I think most painters do. There’s a curious reversal, with light reflected upwards from the ground, and everything is muffled and still.”
A means to an end
She has long used photography as a means to an end. “Digital photography changed the way I work. I think, with a camera, you’re framing things from the start, and the camera itself creates a certain distance. Before, I was more spontaneous. I’d make a quick sketch and leap into a painting. Now, everything is more worked out. I take a lot of photographs, trying to find what I’m after, and print relatively few of them. They’re not that interesting as photographs, I should say. I wouldn’t make any claims for them on that level.”
She doesn’t square up or project a photographic image. “I’ve evolved my own eccentric way of using them, measuring distances between two points, that sort of thing.”
A series of small gouaches she made, of snow-mantled streets, finally provided her with a way into Dublin as a subject. Several changes of living space and studio extended the range of her locations. She was based for a time, for example, in a studio on the top storey of DIT’s Fine Art department in Portland Row: “A fascinating part of town. On balance I prefer the north inner city to the south when it comes to painting. It has always seemed to me that there’s a kind of sadness to Dublin, or at least to the inner city, which has to do with this feeling that the buildings are a bit forlorn, past their best.”
The large paintings in Street are all derived from the gouaches and they are, as she says, starker and emptier. They depend not on greater detail but less, and on surprisingly delicate surface nuances.
“If you look at them, you’ll see that I was drawn back again and again to the older blocks of corporation flats, because I found them intriguing to paint. To take something that is almost banal, visually, and to paint it in a muted light, so that the painting is all harmonies of dull grey tones, really, and yet to convey the atmosphere of the place – it’s something beyond realism. And that something is what makes it interesting to me.”
Street. Gallery 1, Royal Hibernian Academy, Gallagher Gallery, 15 Ely Place, Dublin 2, until December 21st.
En Route. Rubicon Gallery, 10 St Stephen’s Green, until December 8th