Gallery building is the star of the show
Visual arts/ReviewedAn Indoor Life, Josephine Grant, Kilcock Art Gallery, until Oct 22 (01-6287619)Making Time, Farmleigh Gallery, until Oct 31 (01-81559900)Rhythm of Light, Mike Bunn, Earthworks, Derval Symes and other shows, The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, until Oct 15 (071-9650828)
The paintings in Josephine Grant's show, An Interior Life at the Kilcock Gallery, fall into a recognisable category. They are faithful accounts of interiors and exteriors of beautiful houses in France and Ireland (plus street-scapes in South Africa). Often, paintings of interiors, particularly period interiors, are encumbered with layerings of nostalgia and privilege, perhaps of a bogus, snobbish nature. At worst, the way the pictures are painted and titled reflect these qualities, making them indistinguishable from pastiche Victoriana.
At first glance you might think Grant's work fits the description: the spaces she depicts are comfortable, furnished and decorated with an eye for period detail and atmosphere. Yet there is nothing false or retrograde about her work. In fact it has tremendous honesty and integrity. It is beautifully made, which is not to say that she has great technical virtuosity or facility, because she doesn't, even though she is technically more than competent. Rather she is one of those artists, like Cezanne or Bonnard, whose limitations become strengths.
She excels in her sense of pictorial order, the coherence of the internal relationships of tone, colour and form in each painting, the patient exactitude of her method, and her fidelity to what is in front of her eyes. The elements of each picture fit together like parts of a complex puzzle. In both oil and water-colour, her restrained but persuasive use of colour is exemplary. It is as if the rooms are designed to make pictures, which they do, very well. They are eminently habitable spaces, momentarily uninhabited but with numerous signs of life and living. The most difficult pieces are a few very symmetrical compositions.
The Farmleigh Gallery's inaugural show derives from a project initiated for this year's Earagail Arts Festival under the overall title Time, marking the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein's theory of special relativity. Five exhibitions were organised under the umbrella of this theme, including a two-part retrospective of the paintings of French physicist Jacques Mandlebrojt and Making Time at the Glebe Gallery. Adrian Kelly, of The Glebe, curated the latter show, with some input from Mandlebrojt and Roger Malina.
One of the striking things about Making Time is that Kelly, largely by approaching private collectors, has managed to assemble pieces by some big-name artists across a range of disciplines, including Bill Viola, Richard Long, Joseph Beuys, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Sam Francis and Tacita Dean, not to mention composer John Cage. All of these feature at Farmleigh, as does a selection of the work of Mandlebrojt. As a painter, he is never less than interesting, though in a rather dry, cerebral way. The Farmleigh show also includes some of the Hokusai woodblock prints from the Derek Hill Collection.
There is an emphasis on audio-visual presentation in most of the exhibits apart from Mandlebrojt's, and it's immediately striking that the new gallery is well up to the task. In fact, nice as it is to see works by Viola et al, the gallery is very much the star. It occupies what were the cowsheds at Farmleigh, which may give you the wrong idea. Cows occupy a special position there, and evidently have done in the past as well, because their accommodation was clearly exceptional. Architect Niamh Hogan, of Gerry Cahill Architects, has done an amazing job on translating the function of what were in any case very fine buildings.
The Dock is a fine new arts centre for Leitrim, located in the former courthouse in Carrick-on-Shannon, overlooking the river. The interior of the limestone building has been carefully restored and remodelled to accommodate a performance space, the Leitrim Design House, artists' studios and no less than three galleries, all of which is very welcome and good for Leitrim - though maintaining programmes in three galleries is a formidable undertaking.
Yorkshire-born Mike Bunn is one of Ireland's foremost photographers. Based close to Lough Arrow in Co Sligo, he is best known for the flair and inventiveness of his fashion and landscape photography. He has an immense amount of work to his credit, and Rhythm of Light is probably too superficial a trawl of a huge and diverse output to do him justice. There are indications of his abilities but not enough.
A series of large-format prints from a shoot for Lainey Keogh and Romeo Chresna is uniformly dazzling (and exceptional value given that each is a one-off, archive quality print). His studies of The Mummers are fine, anthropological, documentary images and a view of salmon fishing on Co Mayo gives some indication of his feeling for landscape. At least this show highlights a subject that merits much more attention.
Also at The Dock, Earthworks is a solo show by Derval Symes. Her mixed media paintings, built up in paint and collaged material and dominated by earth hues, could be described as evocations of presence. The substance of each animal form seems to be the stuff of its environment. There are echoes of Hughie O'Donoghue and Barrie Cooke in what she does, but she has real feeling for process and a grasp of the essence of her subjects. An appreciation of her work is greatly facilitated by the publication of a small, generously illustrated volume Earthworks, by P Kearney Byrne, which surveys her output to date. What is particularly gratifying about this is that it's a local production, very capably put together by backYard Books, based in Carrick-on-Shannon (www.backyardbooks.info).
The Dock also features a collaborative narrative video piece, Soft Margins by Seamus Dunbar, Heather Fleming, Dave Kinane, Jackie McKenna and Niall Walsh, exploring experiences of people living along the border. It's a low-key piece, but informative and visually quite rich. Alice Lyons's ongoing series of Staircase Poetry works, which will eventually be published, is a good idea that seems to be working out well.