Richard Gorman: Art that’s as strong as the paper it’s painted on

Gorman’s work on kozo paper is quite something to behold – but don’t ask him how much it cost a sheet

 

Iwano – Richard Gorman
Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
*****

More than 25 years ago, when Richard Gorman first visited Japan’s “paper village”, Echizen, and met traditional Japanese paper-maker Iwano Heizaburo, he immediately wanted to work with the kozo paper he produced. The fibres of the kozo plant, or paper mulberry tree, make for very strong, stable paper, even as fine tissue, but its production is labour-intensive and calls for skill and experience.

Gorman wanted large, robust sheets in which the texture and character of the paper were fully apparent. “I had no idea of the cost,” he recalls. Initially he thought he would buy 100 sheets and ship them back to his studio in Milan.

He asked how much it would cost. “It was eye-wateringly expensive.” So he revised his expectations and ordered 10 sheets. Eventually, back in Milan, he undid the parcel. “There were 20 sheets of paper,” he says. It was an auspicious beginning for a fruitful partnership. Not only did he return many times to Echizen for paper, he developed a method of integrating the process of paper manufacture in his own work, putting himself in the thick of things at Heizaburo’s studio.

As a painter and printmaker, he is know for making elegant abstract compositions of regular curvilinear forms in flat colour. Looking at the way thick sheets of kozo paper were made, he realised that he could create carefully designed dams with steel hoops and introduce areas of pre-dyed paper. In the finished sheets, in other words, the coloured areas would be an indelible part of the fabric, not applied to the surface. The results are hybrids, and he likes to exhibit them unframed so that observers can appreciate their combined painterly and sculptural character. Doing so also highlights another duality: they come across as being both strong and fragile.

Last year, an intriguing commission led him back to Echizen to produce his largest paper works to date. In diptych format, each piece is well over 3m wide. The colours are bright and good-natured, and besides simple circles, the dominant, waisted form, which he calls “Squeeze”, has a buoyancy to it. Encountered in the gallery, the works are amazing, physically imposing yet playful in spirit.

Sadly, Heizaburo died earlier this year, and Gorman has calld this body of work Iwano in his memory. Following on from Heizaburo’s initial generosity, the artist discovered last year that Heizaburo had, ever since, thrown open the facilities of his paper-making studio to him at a fraction of the actual cost. At the end of May, Gorman plans to mark his 70th birthday with a major exhibition at Castletown House in Co Kildare. Until May 7th, kerlingallery.com

Out There – John Kelly
Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin
****

Three main groups of paintings make up Out There. Geographically and environmentally, the locations are radically diverse: Antarctica, the central Australian desert, and the Burren in Co Clare. Antarctica dominates numerically, but Kelly engages with each very convincingly and thoughtfully. He doesn’t just take a particular style of “plein air” painting on tour. Walking from room to room, you experience the transition from one place to another emphatically and refreshingly. He finds a way of dealing with each that is always technically adept but distinctive.

The dramatic contrast is that between the Outback and Antarctica. Kelly travelled to Antarctica during the winter of 2013. He worked from the vantage points of the icebreaker Aurora Australis and on foot – there’s a study of his boots – on the continent. Always he records directly what he sees. Last year, he headed into the Australian interior. Australia to a large extent is his home turf. He grew up and studied art there, although his father was from Cork and his mother from Bristol, and he now lives in west Cork. Which places the Burren pretty close to home as well.

There is a lot of work included in Out There, but it is beautifully installed, never feels crowded and makes for great viewing. Until April 29th, oliversearsgallery.com

Paper Trees – David Eager Maher
Pallas Projects, Dublin
****

With the 19th-century proliferation of printed material, including all manner of ephemera, scrapbooks took off in a big way. A packed Victorian scrapbook can boast a surprisingly eclectic wealth of collage and montage, word and image, in black-and-white and colour. Now a tablet or smartphone linked to the internet and the limitless, instant availability of all kinds of information seem to satisfy that nascent Victorian desire for everything, now. David Eager Maher’s works institute and inhabit an ambiguous, meditative space that looks back but is equally open to premodernity and the hyper-reality of postmodernity.

There is a distinctly retrospective timbre to his work, assemblages put together from scraps and fragments – put together physically with collaged sheets of paper, and visually as printed patterns meet myriad styles of painting and illustration. He has compared his way of working to the creation of stage sets or the backgrounds for animated films. But, as with scrapbooks, he is not aiming for a classical notion of unity. Styles and modes collide and form unlikely but persuasive partnerships. Until March 26th, pallasprojects.org

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