Visual art: A Kilkenny collective that recognises no rules

A strong show by the KCat collective is refreshingly free of irony and knowingness

The Laughing Heart
Callan, Kilkenny
Thomas Barron, Declan Byrne, Mary Cody, Sinéad Fahey, Fergus Fitzgerald, Karl Fitzgerald and Andrew Pike

Galway Arts Centre, Galway

KCat – the Kilkenny Collective for Arts Talent – in Callan was founded in 1999. It is promoted by the Camphill Communities and offers artists and students from different backgrounds and with different abilities a chance to learn and work together. In the KCat Studio, artists work full time, with the support of mentors and a facilitator. Now, Galway Arts Centre visual arts curator Maeve Mulrennan has put together an exhibition by seven KCat artists, including Sinéad Fahey and Andrew Pike.

Throughout the past eight months, Mulrennan paid a number of visits to KCat. She has put together a show that allows all seven featured artists to give a good sense of what they are about. Collectively they are about the disciplined production of bodies of work.

It can seem as if much contemporary popular culture prefers us as passive consumers enjoying the illusion of choice and discernment. But creativity is built into our DNA every bit as much as consumerism. Something goes wrong when purely passive consumption takes over. People are more fulfilled when they make things and create things. To make something is to change the world for the better, in however modest a way.


KCat raises the question of insider and outsider art. Who decides? Consensus? The only rule that applies to art is that it outflanks any rules made to contain it. Everyone is entitled to access the magical room for manoeuvre that art can offer.

The title for the show is taken from Charles Bukowski's poem The Laughing Heart in which he writes: "Your life is your life . . . There is a light somewhere. It may not be much light but it beats the darkness."

There is a lot of light in the exhibition, and many enlivening surprises. They include the frenetic wordplay of Pike's excursion into the Joycean universe, in his stop-motion animation film Uselesseas, which adds another dimension to his lively, graphic style of representation. Both Uselesseas and another animation, Going to War over a Banana Truck, with voice-overs by the artist, are ambitious.

Fahey’s feeling for colour, pattern and composition are evident in a series of works that take as their starting points moments in time. Her dense, kaleidoscopic compositions expand outwards from these moments, gradually encompassing whole, complex scenes – small worlds – in careful, precise detail.

Fergus Fitzgerald, a Dubliner based in Camphill Carrick-on-Suir, is a fine talent. His work is inspired by his travels. Italy is of particular importance to him, but he ranges far and wide and pours a great deal of thoughtful research into his paintings. His beautifully free-flowing compositions with a playful, theatrical quality are packed with precise observation and seamlessly incorporate handwritten text in a way that recalls early Hockney. His instinct for colour is exceptional. Of the five works on view, Sienna and Mozart as a Seven Year Old really stand out.

Callan-based Mary Cody’s work is aligned with a body of contemporary painting that focuses on the materiality of paint with the help of gravity, emphasising the painting as object. Cody builds up volumes of pigment that are dragged down by gravity until they solidify into masses. Often she incorporates strands of wool that complement, mimic and work with the paint. She uses colour and materials audaciously to produce very striking pieces.

Thomas Barron, who lives in Grangemockler Camphill in Co Tipperary, has a significant record of exhibitions to his credit. Over time he has developed a form of concentrated abstraction in which blocks of colour find their compositional balance through a process of assertion, negotiation and alliances. He is drawn towards a range of sombre, muted earth colours. His work suggests many artistic connections, for example Sean Scully, Gillian Ayres, and Nicolas de Staël.

Declan Byrne, who lives at Camphill Duffcarrig, makes joyfully chromatic inventions that burst the bounds of the canvas and translate into coloured sculptures: pointillism in three dimensions.

Karl Fitzgerald, based in Camphill Jerpoint, works in extensive series, revisiting sunrise and sunset each day, capturing variations of colour and light in bands, sometimes well defined, sometimes blending together. There is a strong sense of the rhythmic nature of our experience of time.

What you don't find in The Laughing Heart is the knowingness of the official art world, an extreme self-consciousness that can shade over into irony. None of the KCat artists is being ironic. Neither, valuably, are they trying to conform to a particular set of rules. That is their great strength. And it is what allows them to surprise us.