Art in Focus: Therapy Notebook 1, pp. 1-6 by Eoin McHugh

Sketchbook drawings take spirit of simplified Toki Pona language and apply it to images

What is it?
Therapy Notebook 1, pp. 1-6 is a composite of six drawings, each a sketchbook page by Eoin McHugh, part of his recent Sketchbook drawings.

How was it done?
It is drawn with ink on paper.

Where can I see it?
Therapy Notebook 1, pp 1-6 forms part of McHugh's new exhibition, Loje, jelo, laso, at the Kerlin Gallery (Anne's Lane, South Anne Street, Dublin, October 25th-December 7th Together with an extensive set of sketchbook drawings, numbering over 100 in all (creating a comic-book effect en masse), a series of mixed media paintings will be on view. The show's three-word title translates as red, yellow, blue, from the invented language Toki Pona.

The language was created by linguist Sonja Lang (née Elen Kisa) around the turn of the century. Her aim was to make the language as simple as possible – 14 letters, about 120 words of one or two syllables – which could be a philosophical language, capable of conveying complex information and ideas, chiefly by the use of compound words. As far as colour goes, loje, jelo and laso are it: other colours and qualities entail compound forms.


McHugh seems to take the spirit of Toki Pona and apply it to images, but it does not look as if he is trying to invent an equivalently simple visual language. In fact the evidence is that he relishes density, complexity and ambiguity. His work has long conveyed an interest in projective testing, in how we interpret visual information and invest it with meaning – as in the Rorschach test, for example.

Is it a typical work by the artist?
It is, although it should be said that McHugh has moved restlessly through a wide range of means, methods and materials since his enthusiastically received graduation show at the National College of Art and Design in 2005 (Dublin-born, he is now based in Berlin). That show highlighted his exceptional ability as a draughtsman and, as this exhibition confirms, drawing remains absolutely central. It also demonstrated his penchant for working with surfaces and materials with a history, perhaps reflecting a certain retrospective quality in his imagery and concepts. Specifically, his work often recalls earlier eras, including the late Victorian, early Modernist phase of research, discovery and invention, when everything, intellectually, seemed up for grabs and radical new theories redefined the familiar and opened up vast new areas for exploration.

Researchers and experiments have often featured explicitly in his work, contributing to its speculative, metaphysical character, an element that can and does drift over into the surreal.