Sharon Kelly introduces the viewer to her exhibition by a brief paragraph on the gallery handout:
“The seeds for the MIND FUEL project began in the closing stages of the World Championship 24 Race held in Belfast Victoria Park in July 2017, a race in which competitors run continuously for 24 hours. The race organizer and director, Ed Smith, had invited me to engage as the race Artist in Residence…”
As a keen runner herself, she accepted the invitation from the organizers and made over 40 sketches then. In 2918 she stayed for the whole 24 Hour Race, and recorded the Endurance runners, in drawing and interviews. She also added video.
The sentence The Solitude is the Comfort comes from an interview.
Kelly’s observations, and numerous sketches of people taking part in both the World Championship 24 Race (2017) and Belfast 24 Hours Race (2018) fill all three gallery rooms and the corridor.
For some time – at least since 2013 when she made The Liminal Space of the Runner – Kelly reflected on the similarity between drawing and running:
“finding something out of nothing and that both running and art can take you to another space – it is a force that involves heart, head, and hand (body) just as it is in the process of drawing… trusting your instinct, finding focus – an expression of energy and passion” (her statement on the gallery handout print).
As if new forms of self-knowledge and respect for nature were born from similar sources, a mixture of endurance and exhilaration fired by an intention to dissolve one’s ego in a kind of resonance.
Shared aesthetics of a calm respect for visible truth within each image unifies the different sizes and media, not just in the series of Table sketches (2018, mixed media).
The appearance of cut-outs, the stark choice of what is visible and what is erased by the ink, accommodates the altruism of three runners. The black and white contrast visibly carves the pain of an exhausted and unwilling body as if out of the light behind the black surface. The bodies appear in front of it. The tree in that background marks that light as the will to go on, as sublime nature, as energy. The powerful constructs of hiatus and foregrounding secure the truth of the experience in a remarkably chaste use of poetics.
The simile born from both observation and memory forges such truth through confident verism in some other drawings. The drawing below is a convincing transfer of the dynamics of moving into a still fragment, overcoming the need for “correct” proportions.
There are two lens-based exhibits both edited by Kelly’ son, the young film maker Éanna Mac Cana: Stop Motion Drawing animation of Kelly drawing a head etc. The other is the video Mac Cana shot, directed and edited: The Long Path (2018).
It includes the technical background to such events as well as inventive shots of runners behind trees, on the pathways. The trees erase the chance of identification of the persons taking part, instead, they offer the feeling of two kinds of togetherness: with the people involved in the race, and with nature willingly embracing it all with dignified disinterest.
In a series of eight powerful ink drawings With My Breath (2018, each 38x28cm) Kelly maps the stages of growing fatigue. Usually, her forte is a sensitive and sensual charcoal mark viewing carefully every detail, whereas in this “confession” the brush stroke and the selection of hue are brutally resolute carving details from the observed real. Reminiscent of Goya’s portraits of physical and mental pain. Kelly’s (red and) black paintings?
That intensity of conflict between will and nature is somewhat hidden when she revives her classic way of grading, modulating blacks and greys. The observed reality is subsumed into the distance measured between verism and abstraction.
The deliberate, honest and intimate, insecurity in the drawing of the left hand in her large drawing below, reminds me of Alberto Giacometti’s complaints.
The moment before the move.
Giacometti complained about his insecurity when he worked on the portrait of his brother. His drawings also contain evidence of his sensitive mapping of the gap between the visible and the perceived.
Images courtesy of Sharon Kelly.