Lumpy art history and other social disorders



Social Anxiety (& other unrelated) Disorder[s]: David Godbold, Kerlin Gallery until April 21st (01-6709093);

Lumpy Art History: Sarah Iremonger Temple Bar Gallery until April 8th (016710073)

New Works, Charles Harper, Hallward Gallery until Mar 29th (01-6621482)

There is a degree of parity between David Godbold and Sarah Iremonger's exhibitions, at the Kerlin and Temple Bar galleries respectively. They both adapt a strategy of knowing, post-modern game-playing. Both quote liberally and ironically from art of the past, both conflate ideas of high and popular culture with provocative, interrogative intent, and both make large-scale wall drawings. Yet despite the level of similarity, their work in the end embodies different sensibilities and personalities. So perhaps the author isn't quite dead yet, even in the post-modern, deconstructed world.

One difference between the two is Godbold's extraordinary verbosity. Not only is every title more commentary than title, each work seems to be qualified by riders and parentheses, so that his show comes not so much accompanied by, as partly in the form of a frenetic, discursive commentary on itself. He shuffles through a range of modes of presentation, from museological to advertising, but only, it seems, to distance himself from faith in any of them. Any proposition is accompanied by an assurance that he doesn't take it seriously.

His show, Social Anxiety (& other unrelated) Disorder[s] is based on the extrapolation of an idea: thumb-nail sketches of faces culled from the backgrounds of history paintings. These have been variously employed: for example, arranged into a grid that looks, from a distance, like a formalist abstraction. The idea emerges of employing a borrowed emotional register as a means of expression, through which Godbold acknowledges and mocks the contrivance and artifice of the sources, but also, simultaneously, holds out the possibility of appropriating and putting to work the emotional content of those sources, or its residue. This notion is augmented by the insinuation of sampled or borrowed images into common currency, via the found or discarded scraps of paper on which they are inscribed. The logical conclusion of this process would be to "lose" the amended scraps again, to allow them to be found by others.

The same line of thought might well apply to his use of religious imagery, and to his textual quotes. If his characteristic tone to date is one of irony underscored by a knowing sarcasm, in the varied reiteration of the message that there is no way out of the postmodernist maze, the endlessly recessive play of signifiers, there is also a probing, interrogative note, a longing for contradiction. It can get pretty cold and lonely out there in the Derridean playpen.

Godbold recurrently evokes notions of the sacred, in the form of religious imagery, perhaps as an equivalent of art's claim to moral or spiritual authority, content or qualities, or as an example of a comparable edifice of belief. Some years back in a Douglas Hyde Gallery show he included a work which went something along these lines: an appropriated image of Christ was painted onto two canvases, one white, the other black, using only some transparent medium. The idea, here, is of an ironic take on the presumption of latent spiritual content in the pure abstraction.

The central strand of Iremonger's show, Lumpy Art History, develops a broadly similar idea. Her "white" (white on white) canvases rehearse well-known paintings from art history in lumpy enamel pigment. The history of art obtrudes into the present. She also references Anaglypta wallpaper. Her wall drawing paraphrases Courbet's monumental painting The Artist's Studio, a seminal modernist work which assertively placed art and artists at the centre of its world. All of which is a relatively new direction for Iremonger, tentatively explored as yet, but interesting in its possibilities.

Charles Harper's exhibition at the Hallward features episodes in two of his long-term series of symbolically charged images, his rowers and his grid composites of figures under stress. However, it is his landscape paintings that really shine. Harper is a highly skilled draftsman with a crisp, precise touch. One feels that he is not at heart a naturalistic painter and is more comfortable playing around with pictorial ideas than with atmospheric description. So in a way the notion that he would make interesting landscape paintings casts him against type. Yet that is pretty much what he does.

In fact, throughout the group of big landscapes included in the show, he is painting with great liveliness and verve.

His Burren View, with its recessive grid of limestone pavement, is terrifically alive, a pendant to the subdued greys of Estuary. In Winter Evening, the dark mass of a mountain in shade looms over a scintillating pattern of reflected light.

Treescape picks up on the hyper-real character of certain lighting conditions, so that it emerges as a kind of playful, virtual landscape. Then, in Western Coast Road, a real gem of a painting, Harper comes up with a work that is quite beautiful, its layered spaces receding from the foreground black tarmac, thrown nicely off an even, classical balance. All in all, a fine body of paintings.