Grand gestures and a forbidding landscape | Visual art round-up

Michael Coleman puts on an almost perfect show; a piece of Birmingham moves to Temple Bar; and Amelia Stein goes close to the edge

Little Yellow Cardigan – Michael Coleman

Cross Gallery, Dublin


Some artists arrive at a medium, a style, a method, and achieve a consistency that defines them. Others are restless. Michael Coleman is one of the latter. You never know what you're going to encounter. He probably doesn't know himself until late in the day, because he is ruthlessly true to his intuitions. He is capable of dismissing a whole body of his own work and reinventing it in a completely different vein.


Go back a few decades and it seemed Coleman was on course to be a career painter of beautifully judged, close-to- minimalist abstracts. A fine-tuned sensibility was apparent in everything he made. But it became apparent that there was something like an opposing side to his artistic temperament, a side that accepted the value of taking a chance.

It’s not just that Coleman moved smoothly between abstraction and representational works (as he continues to do) without any qualms about an abstract- figurative divide. He made grand gestures that deliberately eclipsed any notion of a conventional, predictable style.

It could be that Coleman’s current, thoroughly invigorating exhibition at Cross Gallery indicates a synthesis of his opposite artistic tendencies. He makes very free compositions, mostly with seasonal references to trees and plants, but tending towards abstraction. Their gestural patterning is spontaneous, but spend time with them and you will see that they are also exceptionally well-judged. He ranges far and wide in using bold colour combinations, but they are always perfectly pitched.

Coleman is more specifically representational in a witty composite of silhouettes: Property of a Gentleman and a group of small, charming, still life-ish pieces, including the title work, Little Yellow Cardigan. Add to that several pieces from the gallery's collection of modernist furniture, and it amounts to pretty much a perfect show. Until July 22nd,

Display Show

Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin


This exhibition is curated by Gavid Wade, with Céline Condorelli and James Langdon. Wade is the founder of and the others are associated with Eastside Projects, an artist-run gallery in Birmingham. Since 2008 its has won official support from the Arts Council and other bodies. To describe Eastside as a gallery is only half the story. It's a project that examines what art and galleries are and might be. The gallery is an evolving artwork in itself.

Art, architecture and design are amalgamated in Eastside's initiatives. And, on the evidence of Display Show, cultural theory is the glue that binds the trinity. All of which suggests that it could come under the heading "School of Liam Gillick". Wander into the gallery and you could be at a solo exhibition by Gillick (minus his rare talent for making critical theory sound eloquent). Look more closely, though, and it fragments into individual voices.

Eastside has come to Temple Bar, and the gallery is reimagined in line with Wade's persuasive proposition that "art is exhibition . . . art is not exhibited . . . art exhibits". We are schooled to see "art" by its framing. Here, Andrew Lacon's painted background and plinth would conventionally frame and hold a sculpture. In this case, however, it is the "sculpture". Then we have Wade's version of a rather good modernist Mobile Wall System that references another exhibiting artist, Christopher Williams.

Williams’s work is a photograph of a custom-designed brick widely used in 1960s German department stores. The conceptual artist, an American, is known for using photographic and presentation methods associated with product promotion and advertising. Here a photograph of a brick is presented as a piece of fine art, with all of the exhaustive, ritualistic practices that entails.

Display Show, despite a forbidding intro, is an approachable exhibition of real substance. Intro sample: "Display Show initiates a set of artworks embedded with, and reliant upon, explicit conditions of display as a combination of functional attributes."

Disregard that and just look at the exhibition, which makes the point that art galleries are not fixed, immutable entities. Far from it. Their cultural role and economic viability are increasingly open to question in our current digital age.

Eastside has its finger on the pulse in addressing the issues it does. Several pieces, especially Condorelli’s, inventively address the question of relations between the inner space of the gallery and the world outside.

Precipice – Amelia Stein

Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin


The vertiginous coastal views of tumbling headlands in Amelia Stein's Precipice were inspired by the work of local historians Treasa Ní Ghearraigh and Uinsíonn Mac Graith. They researched and collected the Irish names of locations on a remote north Mayo peninsula, a Gaeltacht area renowned for its spectacular walks, and published The Placenames and Heritage of Dún Chaocháin.

Directly translated, the names are vividly allusive and informative: the Ledge of the Cormorant, the Three Hags of the Promontory, the Fool’s Hollow. Such names, steeped in lore, provide a direct link to the meanings of the terrain for the people who lived there. More often than not, that historical connection between people and places has been lost.

It's a process explored in Brian Friel's play Translations and Hughie O'Donoghue's series of paintings, Naming the Fields, based on the north Mayo landscape where the artist's mother grew up. His starting point was a hand-drawn map made for him by an elderly aunt. When he researched documented maps of the area dating back to the 16th century, none of this local information was recorded. It was part of an oral archive that progressively disappeared as the people disappeared.

There’s nothing of John Hinde’s Ireland in Stein’s photographs. They are in moody black-and-white – actually, they are mostly in deep, dark, lush tones of grey. Grandeur doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a hard, unforgiving environment.

Stein frames each image so that there is little in the way of foreground, emphasising the dramatic, dizzying nature of the topography. To do so entailed an element of risk that was occasionally frightening: she had to keep asking herself if she was “just a breath of a footstep too near to the edge”.

That may account for the brooding, uneasy quality that characterises the images, but it also energises them, making them both sombre and lively.