Visions from the virtual world

 

VISUAL ARTS/Aidan Dunne: Reviewed The Captain's Road, 213 The Captain's Road, April 11th-14th Michael Coleman, The Temple Bar Paintings, Draíocht, until May 4th (01-8852610) Paul Regan, Parade, 5th@Guinness Storehouse until May 19th (01- 4084800) Eugene Conway, Paintings, Molesworth Gallery until April 21st (01-6791548) John Verling, Mizen+,Origin Gallery until April 30th (01- 4785159) Cóilín Murray, Behaving Like a Human, Hallward Gallery until April 25th (01-6621482)

The Captain's Road, a curatorial collaboration between Orla Ryan, Maeve Connolly and Valerie Connor, interrupted "the normal activities of two venues, a suburban house and a function room". Temporarily (for four days in the case of the title venue in Crumlin, and one evening in the case of the other, on Wellington Quay), various arts activities replaced the daily routine. I attended number 213 The Captain's Road, where the bulk of the work seemed to be concentrated, to find the small suburban dwelling abuzz and host to a brisk flow of responsive visitors.

They found several kinds of work to engage them, from the relatively conventional - paintings and photographs on the wall - to a room-sized, three-video monitor installation which ran for 90 minutes at a stretch. You could drift through and give time to whatever held your attention, settle down on the sofa, for example, to stare at the television and see Lana Lin's video - which broached her own history, the idea of inherited memories and the endless business of translation, all arising from an interview with her mother about television.

Television loomed large, in fact, with monitors lurking in every nook and cranny. Janine Sack's classy pastiche of a current affairs report, complete with studio set and reporter on location, engagingly conveyed the perfectly normal details of a young girl's life in the form of a television documentary with all the requisite gravitas. Andrea Ray's blank light-box was accompanied by a laugh track from a sitcom.

Korinna Knoll seamlessly edited herself, complete with gown, stethoscope and concerned expression, into an episode of ER, while Dennis McNulty's Decompression 2 tuned into live TV cable transmissions but captured, delayed and repeated - "smeared" - the audio. The result was a curious subversion of various narrative conventions, and also a demonstration of the powerful sway of those conventions, something explored by Peter Fitzgerald in his short video Twisting and Turning, which invited us to draw our own conclusions in a sequence of cause and, possibly, effect. It's fair to say that the atmosphere at The Captain's Road was exhilarating.

The "Temple Bar" in Michael Coleman's Temple Bar Paintings at Draíocht refers to the fact that they were made in Temple Bar Studios. Coleman is a mercurial artist whose work usually manages to suggest two apparently contradictory temperamental qualities: prolonged, patient consideration and complete abruptness. Such is certainly the case here. On the one hand, there are two almost monochrome paintings which, despite the choppiness of their thickly textured surfaces, settle down due to the virtual unanimity of their colour - virtual, because in one case, for example, flecks of blue show through the heavy skin of bituminous black.

Elsewhere, he sets up the conditions for working towards this unanimity, but then changes tack by laying on fast, skittering lines and splodges of colour using oil stick. The medium is probably relevant in that you get the feeling he wants a way of applying material that is somehow separate from the body of the painting, outside of the painting. Pigment on a brush would tend to become part of the painting in a way that the marks applied by the sticks do not. It is as if they try to gain purchase on the surface but continually skid and slide across it, as though it were ice. They are both part of and apart from it, and this in turn affects the way we relate to the paintings, the way they invite us in and hold us at bay.

IN A series of paintings in his exhibition Parade at 5th @Guinness Storehouse, Paul Regan generates a sense of a virtual world that is, he implies, more real than our notionally real world. It is real because it reflects our experience of a heady, promiscuous mixture of phenomena: torrents of pop culture imagery from advertising and television programmes blend with the mundane facts of daily life, with elements of emotional routine or political conflict, say, to produce a heightened, slightly hallucinogenic environment.

Regan's paintings resemble photographic drop-outs - that is, high-contrast, simplified images with the emphasis on graphic rather than photo. The flat, impassive surfaces and stylisation recall the English artist Gary Hume's glossy work.

But Regan's busier, reference-packed compositions are more pop. He evidently enjoys concocting humorous narrative snippets and Monty Pythonesque, surreal juxtapositions. There are hints that he had in mind a more coherent overall project parodying the structure of an advertising campaign or a popular fiction (which would have been a good idea) but has ended up with something more diverse. He aims for a cool, knowing irony and, most though not all of the time, hits it.

Eugene Conway's paintings at the Molesworth Gallery are subdued representations of rural Ireland. They bring to mind the work of Blaise Smith, but they are not in the same league.

It is not just that Conway is less technically assured, though he is - to the extent that he is distinctly uneasy in some pieces. Technical limitations are not an impediment to great painting; limitations of vision are more damaging. Conway tends to gravitate towards the conventionally picturesque, with a nod towards something more. It may seem churlish to carp at what is, within its own terms, perfectly satisfactory, but there are hints of wider ambition.

John Verling's Mizen+ at Origin, which follow on from Neil Gregg's outstanding, spirited, painterly evocations of rough coastline landscape at the same gallery, are also rooted in the Southwest. Verling uses egg tempera in a distinctive, rather graphic way. His work is divided between close-up views of white-washed, weather-beaten cottages and more expansive, though usually smaller landscapes. The latter are less accomplished. His painstaking technique, which relies on the incremental development of masses of textural detail and tonal variation, is very good for dealing with the rich textures of aged wood, metal and lime. The buildings he depicts have an organic individuality to them, born out of prolonged endurance.

In Behaving Like a Human, at the Hallward, Colin Murray draws on totemic figures witnessed during a trip to Arizona. His exuberant paintings and etchings take off from moments and experiences in a way that recalls the work of Howard Hodgkin, who also comes to mind in relation to Murray's delight in intense, vivid colour. It is a likeable, almost conversational show.