Art in focus: Away by Patricia Burns

Burns’s preoccupation is a certain ambivalence about suburban, in-between space

Away (2019) by Patricia Burns

Away (2019) by Patricia Burns

 

What is it?

Away is an oil painting by Patricia Burns.

How was it done?

The artist has said that she generally does not do preparatory drawing but begins painting directly, with broad brushes. As she builds up the paint, she also takes it away, so that the surfaces of her paintings – although they do occasionally incorporate small dashes of thick pigment and continually alternate opacity and transparency – essentially consist of fine glazes. Line usually plays an important role in her compositions. A representational image is always discernible, even when a painting is dominated by extensive passage of free brushwork and flurries of marks. Memory is central to her imagery.

Where can I see it?

Away is included in Burns’s exhibition Morning Commute at the Taylor Galleries, 16 Kildare Street, Dublin (until March 23rd, taylorgalleries.ie). As the title indicates, her starting point, and it is a starting point, is her early-morning drive.

Bare branches and misty weather reveal that it is winter.

Is it a typical work by the artist?

It is typical or, perhaps more accurately, consistent. Burns has remarked that her subject matter does not seem to change, which, as a glance at the history of creative endeavour will confirm, is a good thing. Or, as Francis Bacon put it, to be an artist you need a subject matter that obsesses you. In Burns’s case, that subject matter is, in a sense, a suburban, in-between space. Her landscapes are glimpsed in transit. The optics are juggled, so that multiple views can coalesce into one, suggesting movement, windscreens, reflections, scenes abruptly illuminated by the beam of headlights or streetlights, or shrouded in mist or rain. The flush of early-morning sunlight is a recurrent feature in Morning Commute.

Always there is a sense of transience, but also a confirmation of departure and arrival, a destination. Variations, really, on the formulation of how we see landscape in terms of our evolutionary past: prospect and refuge. Also, it’s worth saying that there’s a distinct intimation of fracture in the idealised suburban narrative, indicating a disturbing gap or absence or failing. Her contemporary artistic relatives might include Elizabeth Magill, Oliver Comerford and Peter Doig.

Burns was born in Dublin. Her parents had moved there from Cork in the 1950s, settling in a suburban house at Ballyroan. A certain ambivalence about the suburbs and about home and belonging in her paintings presumably goes back to this childhood experience – happy as her childhood apparently was.

She studied at DIT, graduating in 1986, and then at the Crawford in Cork – she now lives and works in Cork. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, however, that she turned to painting full time. Once she had begun she proceeded confidently, making a succession of substantial bodies of work for acclaimed exhibitions at the RHA Ashford Gallery, the Vanguard Gallery, Triskel Arts Centre, Garter Lane and Taylor Galleries – her current show is her third solo at the Taylor. She is adventurous in her use of paint, and she pushes her palette in this recent work, while remaining resolutely true to her essential preoccupations.

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