John Murphy

 

THE TITLE of this show many or most exhibitions have titles nowadays, is A Portrait Of The Artist As A Deaf Man. The most overt reference to this is in a rather peripheral work hung in a corner and easily overlooked, a kind of reproduction of an 18th century portrait of a man with his hand cupped over one ear (incidentally, or accidentally, it resembles an early self portrait by Joshua Reynolds). Yet this small and rather uninteresting work is virtually the theme piece for the rest.

The actual core of the exhibition is five large, almost monochrome paintings which would be quite abstract if it were not for a single small image in each - a human ear, again alluding to the deafness theme though more obliquely. It is curious that this should coincide with Louis le Brocquy's exhibition at the Taylor Galleries, which also features semi abstract paintings with a single human orifice emerging; however, the imaginative worlds in each case are very different.

Without these tentative, barely visible human ears, we would almost be in the territory of Ryman and Mangold and certain other recent manachrome, quasi minimalist American painters - who in turn were possibly influenced by the colour field abstraction of the 1960s. Murphy's canvases, however, are not painted in the flat, uniform, deliberately impersonal manner of so much minimalist art. The paint seems to have been laid on latitudinally and with a delicately varied emphasis, so that at a small distance the pictures faintly resemble a sea which is calm, but alive with tiny ripples.

The mood is almost, ran, antic, and these canvases invite not only contemplation but yearning. Like the best of colour field painting, they open out into a void at abyss of colour, though the tones are quiet and restrained mostly a paleish mauve. The four canvases entitled A Clearer Conception Of Vision form a kind of suite a visual symphony; the big, and impressive, work called The Tone That Calls The Time stands alone. Nat a strikingly original exhibition, perhaps, and the linking theme is a little contrived or strained but taken even without this almost extraneous element, the pictures stand up firmly on their own.