Form, farce and faces: the pick of the RHA
It’s a full house at the RHA Annual Exhibition, with invitations to members cut back to accommodate selections from the record open submission. The result is a vast display and a great show
Maeve McCarthy shows a suite of beautifully elegiac tempera paintings, which take their mood and subject from the title of one of them, Leaving the Village. All feature parts of a small town by night, in the subdued glow of electric light, and there’s an uncanny quietness and a sad, wistful atmosphere to works such as Rural Garda Station (right). All this stems from McCarthy’s close observation and meticulous realism, hallmarks of her work from the first.
She has consistently made portraits, still lifes and landscapes. The latter have tended towards urban or semiurban settings, with a strong feeling of domesticity and habitation, and attentiveness to a sense of place. Although the interior and external spaces are unoccupied, the absent inhabitants are strongly evoked. Suggestions of memory, leaving and longing are usually implicit, as when we recall in great, if selective, detail a place in which we’ve lived or from which we are temporarily removed. In feeling, some of McCarthy’s paintings can recall Eithne Jordan’s understated studies of the urban and rural landscape, in which nothing is exaggerated or contrived.
Genre, interiors, still life
Michael Cullen has painted figures in interiors throughout his career. More often than not the interior is the artist’s studio, and the artist and his subjects usually take centre stage. There is a domestic air to Cullen’s studios, as they have usually been the spaces in which he lived as well as worked. As Cullen’s last solo show at Taylor Galleries demonstrated, he has been spending time in southern Spain, and the colour, light and heat of his paintings at the academy are further developments from there.
Cullen has also shown an appetite for tackling large compositions in a way that carries on the central tradition of European representation. His Light Box is an infectiously sunny celebration of Spanish light in which every detail of a spacious interior, viewed from above, is irradiated with sunlight, so that the whole scene, including the painter hesitant at his easel and the model sitting, becomes a dazzling chromatic feast.
SEE ALSO In her miniatures, Stephanie Rowe appropriates film stills from several decades back and reworks them, while keeping them at a certain distance. Sheila Rennick does knockabout farce very well in her Rubbish Riot. Una Sealy infuses her figure study, Remembering, with narrative layers. Pat Harris has a superb flower study, Lupine.
Veronica Bolay has a way of imbuing the everyday landscape with a sense of wonder, and she surpasses herself with the group of paintings she shows this year. Her subjects are distinctly ordinary: typically, tracts of bogland with expanses of sky and perhaps the great mass of the ocean, in the northwest of the country. But her working process is meditative, even ritualistic, and the paintings, almost abstract in the simple rigour of their design, become infused with the weight of light and a profound sense of time. There is an affinity with some of Rothko’s work in the way Bolay creates luminous fields of colour, but her images are always anchored to the landscape. Often, tiny details link them to a recognisable world.