Understated wit, wallpaper and words | Visual art round-up

Ramon Kassam looks for the most elegant solution; Gavin Hogg takes a Jungian path; and a posthumous Martin Folan show exudes integrity

Gallery – Ramon Kassam

Limerick City Gallery of Art


Art about art, isn’t that a bad thing? It brings to mind the ever-decreasing circles of artists obsessed by art and other artists and their own little art world. Limerick- born Ramon Kassam’s work is definitely art that is to a significant degree about art, but it is as outward-looking as it is art world-focused. Even its art world interests have a broad reach, encompassing life through art with wit, sure aesthetic judgment and a laudable lack of pretension, especially given that it ventures boldly into theoretical, philosophical territory.


In his exhibition Gallery, he plays on the processes and concepts involved in making art and staging an exhibition. Perception is key. A few years ago he made a series called Paint-Things. One of the works, built up with thick impasto, featured text painted over an image of an artist painting at an easel (look closely and you could see he was painting the very work you were looking at). The text read: "In art the term painting describes both the act and the result, which is called a painting."

Kassam is interested in the act of making art in the widest sense: as something unfolding in, part of, and constituting life. And he is equally interested in the result. His pictures can appear elegantly minimal and abstract, but even at their most minimal they always incorporate aspects of the real world, often as collage, with a lively inventiveness that recalls Picasso and Braque in the heyday of cubism. The paintings are also replete with references to internal and external spaces, usually specific spaces in Limerick or elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the studio features as a place, as do its contents: objects, paintings, furniture and the artist’s palette.

His balancing act means that, even as he packs in myriad links to the actual, physical world beyond the image, he maintains the sacrosanct status of the work’s imaginative space. Like the drawings of an idealistic architect, his paintings are immersed in practicality, in bricks and mortar, while harbouring dreams of remaking the world as a better place. He is not making architectural plans, but his feeling for form, space, colour and design suggests he could.

It should be said that, despite the mention of minimalism, he really doesn’t adhere to any one idiom. There is always a nice understatement to his approach. He never strives for effect but looks for the most elegant solution, optically, which is where wit comes in. A palette viewed head-on becomes a representation of the sky. His tendency towards understatement means that it would be easy to underestimate him, which would be to miss out on a lot.

Shadow Light – Gavin Hogg

Limerick City Gallery of Art


Gavin Hogg established himself with abstract compositions underpinned by strong geometric scaffolding. His paintings were tightly bound to an underlying grid. About 10 years ago his work shifted gear. Shadow Light spans this period. The shift saw him develop a more expressive visual language while retaining an underlying geometric structure. He looked to the prosaic example of wallpaper, which depends on precise, repeat patterning but is incredibly versatile in terms of what's possible within its constraints.

More recently he applied himself to studying Jungian psychology and art therapy. To take the wallpaper analogy further, think of everyday reality as a flat, predictably patterned surface. Dig a little deeper and the pattern gives way to hidden depths and all sorts of unsuspected creatures lurking in the detail. A Jungian would see symbolic significance in the nature of what lurks within, the archetypes that dwell in the everyday, and that is what Hogg does.

Often he uses newsprint and other disposable materials pasted on – wallpaper – to embody the layered nature of consciousness. The collaged fragments are always blended into sumptuous, luxuriant surfaces, as dense and intensely coloured as oriental rugs, indicative of the richness of individual character and experience. You don't have to be a Jungian, or a believer in the collective unconscious, to appreciate what he's getting at, or the appeal of each piece. Until July 10th

This Rough Diamond – Martin Folan

The Sailors’ Home, Limerick


Last year, Martin Folan was one of those who attended the posthumous Bryan McMahon exhibition at the Sailors' Home in Limerick. Sadly, Folan died shortly afterwards. Recently, his work featured in a memorial exhibition, This Rough Diamond, at the same venue, a classical building close to the Shannon that was designed by Edward Nagle and built in the 1850s. The home was never used for its intended purpose and is now owned by the Shannon Foynes Port Company. The company effected essential repair and preservation measures and the rough, stripped-back textures of the ground floor rooms make it an exceptional venue.

This Rough Diamond was made up of about 40 works from the artist's house and studio. There's a fierce integrity to Folan's work, which reflects both the raw existential reality of individual experience and the responsibilities of the individual as a social being. He used everyday materials, such as household paint, polystyrene, wood and found objects. The wood was carved into letters with a jigsaw and painted. He cut into sheets of polystyrene with a scalpel and painted bas-relief surfaces with bold colour, making vivid, punchy, amalgams of words, images and patterns.

The work has the immediate accessibility of, say, Keith Haring's pictographs. One difference is that Folan never left language behind. A non-stop stream of words flows through virtually everything he made: titles, statements, snatches of song lyrics. Sometimes the words are themselves the work. His Landscape Painting consists of the carved and painted letters of the title, "to be mounted on mantelpiece-level shelf". It's intended that this show is a prelude to others, and certainly Folan's legacy is worthy of substantial exploration. June 8th-July 4th