Contradictions in an abandoned house


VISUAL ARTS:Many of Jennifer Trouton’s paintings of a dilapidated house are outstanding, Paki Smith exhibits an eclectic survey, and NCAD’s gallery displays two recent graduates, writes AIDAN DUNNE

JENNIFER TROUTON’S exhibition Still, at the Molesworth Gallery, is a pictorial exploration of an abandoned house, from external views of its faded wooden walls and broken windows to snapshots of its worn interior, littered with fragmentary and broken possessions. That’s one way of looking at it, at any rate, though there is no guarantee of exact continuity between the various images, and there are some indications that more than one location is involved. The exterior views, of a dilapidated house resembling a vernacular American clapboard farmhouse, are consistent, and evoke the kind of homesteads familiar from various literary and artistic sources, including Andrew Wyeth’s paintings. They also recall films, and almost all the images in the show have a photographic character, with selectively sharp and softer focus, for example.

With the paintings that depict interiors, though, while we can assume we are seeing what’s inside the house, it’s not quite clear-cut. There are studies of surprisingly pristine-looking swathes of decorative cloth, as well as more obvious scenes of localised decay.

Trouton is a skilled, meticulously realist painter who has been consistently interested in the layers and contradictions inherent in the idea of a single, coherent surface. Her previous show, Ellipses, anatomised an urban house, discerning in its decorative history and the traces of its departed inhabitants’ stories of hopes and disappointments, dreams and realities. In the context of the domestic, the evident, integral surface, she implied, is temporary, necessarily incomplete, full of gaps and clues, and always just an episode in an unfolding drama. It reflects the fleeting human presence.

In one sequence of paintings in Still, we see printed patterns worn down and destroyed by time. They could be symbolic of our best-laid plans and schemes. Overall, a certain unease emanates from the images. There is something slightly forbidding about the abandoned house, and such details as broken crockery and – a particularly strong painting – a doll’s head on the floor could hint at a violent event.

Hence the sense of aftermath, of quietness following calamity, which we can read literally or symbolically. The show works very well in terms of the cumulative interaction of the paintings, but not at the expense of the individual pieces: each is beautifully made and many are outstanding.

WHILE IT’S NEARING the end of its run, there is still time to see Paki Smith’s The Red Threadat the Douglas Hyde Gallery, and it’s well worth seeing. Smith has worked a great deal in the film industry, on props and sets, but he hasn’t exhibited here for a long time. His show is something of a survey, encompassing many paintings, drawings, books and notebooks, sculpture and two film installations, including the marvellous God’s Kitchen. There’s almost too much to deal with, an unusual complaint in relation to the Douglas Hyde, but some of the paintings lose out because they’re swamped by ancillary material. One can easily imagine a much smaller show comprising a limited number of paintings. It would be worth doing.

It’s true that generosity to the point of excess suits the mood of Smith’s work. He embraces sweeping mythical narratives, replete with symbols and portents, magic and mysticism, inner visions and a compelling sense of personal destiny. The mix is wildly eclectic, and although there’s more than a touch of the fairground and the comic book to it all, he is not being ironic in the standard postmodern manner. He may see the epic as entertainment, but one feels that for him it’s still about the nature and meaning of reality and human possibility, still a matter of life and death.

Mind you, it helps that he doesn’t lose his sense of humour when dealing with these great imponderables. In God’s Kitchen, for example, made several years ago, an attempt to rustle up some porridge, pancakes and toast ends in apocalyptic disaster. It’s ambitious, brilliantly visualised, and delivered with great flair.

The Red Threadis appropriately accompanied, in Gallery 2, by a small show of Indian drawings from the early 20th century. They began life as functional things, relating to prayer, spirituality and horoscopes, and are not works of art as such, but they are, on many levels, terrific drawings.

THE NCAD NOW boasts a fine gallery space at 100 Thomas Street. Currently it is occupied by The Wandering Image, an exhibition featuring two relatively recent graduates of the college, Lesley Ann O’Connell and Sanja Todorovic. Both are showing paintings.

O’Connell depicts various kinds of work environments: offices, fast food outlets, shops and so on. The activities vary, but there is some uniformity, notably including the quality of the light. Atmosphere is determined by the unnatural glare and colour of the electric light. She also stylises her images, the more effectively to convey a sense of generic anonymity.

Where O’Connell lays down thin glazes of colour in spare compositions, Todorovic builds up masses of pigment in thick impasto.

Her images are immersed in paint and have an intensity about them. She tends to concentrate on individual motifs, such as Hut or Window, and refers to artistic precursors – Constable and Mantegna – and to one specific place, Coney Island.

For the most part her paintings are tiny and arranged in groups, but the one really big work on view shows that she is well able to handle a large scale.

Still, Jennifer Trouton, Molesworth Gallery until Oct 8

The Red Thread, Paki Smith, plus Indian Drawings, Douglas Hyde Gallery until Sept 30

The Wandering Image, Lesley Ann O’Connell and Sanja Todorovic, NCAD Gallery until Oct 10