Mark McGreevy: Flop Sweat, Tall Gallery, MAC Belfast 19 July -13 October 2019

The calm of the display invites intimacy between the viewer and the viewed.  Conspiracy even, to make what the gallery notes call visual conundrum into an intimate gamble to implant a meaning.

Observing the Cezanne’s faith into a diagonal some colours disobey as if intoxicated by the uncertainty of abstraction (e.g. yellow, blue) while others decisively cumulate into stubborn volumes, e.g. the boat and the kneeling figure while disregarding the visual logic of the receding planes. The pink smoky celestial body and foam are both behind and in front of the yellow horizon pierced by the blue silhouettes of skyscrapers. Reminiscing on Andre Derain’s  Charing Cross Bridge, 1906. The city importance is dwarfed by two vivid multicoloured birds resting on an unbelievable round ground from which an incomprehensible stump reaches to the boat to become its part. The capture of the birds’ attention is mastery.

Bustrucket, 2015-19, oil on canvas

The diagonal of blue slivers on the dress and tree crowns succeed in denying the blue foreground (water) and the sky between the parting trees to flatten the space.  Instead, there are the classical three distances, and sudden intoxication with volume – except the left bottom corner appearing like a forgotten canvas. The tree trunks feel like a homage to Maurice de Vlaminck and Andre Derain.

Cold caller into the nature, 2019, oil on canvas

The diagonal composition allows a flow even if irrational and threatens with breaking down.   Perhaps that determined the title of the exhibition Flop Sweat.  Would central composition support that dynamics between observation and fantasy?

The soft tenderness of the brushmark manoeuvres between heavy illusion and ironic detachment as if the drama of the hues aimed to disable the risk of sentimentality. Subverting Paul Henry through a precarious integration of opposing pictorial energy of keys like in a Kandinsky’s  Murnau paintings.

It was good while it lasted, 2016-2019, oil on canvas
Wassily Kandinsky, Winterstudie mit Berg, 1908, PC, oil on board







Someone, like H Bergson, thought that art never simply is, it is always becoming.

Measuring up the curtain, 2013 – 2019, 0il on canvas

The clumsy, wooden,  figure is modelled with instinctive care to let the caressing light bring it to life, visible in close-up.  The messy ground competes with the figures chance to live –  as if a quasi -Titian like maniera of patches failed openly to tell the grounds apart and remove the cartoon facial definition. The resulting sense of restlessness leaves also the landscape undefined between observed and imagined and ignored. Composed in a high key the composite landscape can not survive without demarcation lines and outlines, and the apparition of the man with a moustache becomes more defined and humorous.


Wig cleavage, 2019, oil on canvas

There is a clearer resolve and control in drawings that form a part of this exhibition, thirty of them.






Some embody the memory of  19th C verism, others are flirting with Twombly’s whispers, both harnessed to deliberate distortion of the observed.

I hesitate to conclude that drawing allows this painter some defence against anxiety, yet they embody what I see in the assured historical Chinese brush drawings: to give value what looks like of no importance.   And yes, McGreevy’s are talkative versions of the decidedly western idiom.

(The following four images taken  kindly by a visitor Joen from Denmark on my mobile to illustrate the brilliant flow between the observation and free imagination)

Quizzical images aspiring to confirm the value of imagination made visible.

All other images courtesy of the curator Hugh Mulholland, MAC, Belfast.



YVONNE KENNAN :It is not that black, it’s not black at all. GTG Belfast 5th Sept-26thOctober 2019

“Movable, stackable and transient”  they are not separate abstract images as in Ellsworth Kelly (e.g.  Ellsworth Kelly at his 2006 exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian)

The title of the Kennan’s installation echoes words uttered online together with an image of underpainting reported as found by the staff of Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow: It’s not that black…

(,  and first reported by Henri Neuendorf Artnet News)

The configuration of the painted surfaces on a white ground evokes interaction among the black low reliefs and the white rectangles of the ground.

Although each rectangle on the wall can be associated with a run of the mill minimalism and abstraction of 20th C, Kennan wiggles them out by a) destabilising the order of display by variation and b/ by scientific precision of the distinction between an image and art.  I make this point because the commonly accepted opposition of art and science is unsatisfactory. I just bring one voice from the top science for support:  Albert Einstein is reported that in 1926 he said this:

” I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Kennan favours presenting many paintings as one all over image in four different permutations: hers, and those by Mark Hackett, Peter Richards(the one I saw) and Robyn G Shiels.  Consequently, the subject is not just what is visible, but what each viewer perceives. Richard Gregory pointed out that our consciousness at times ignores that objects have so-called “emergent properties”,  the sound of an orchestra is not a simple collection of all instruments playing. The dense configuration of black on white can be read as white next to black, but not both at once.  In addition, the natural or artificial light modulates what is perceived more energetically than it may appear in the first encounter.







Kennan’s monochrome rectangles may appear akin to the blue or black in the art of Yves Klein.   One of the significant differences is what kind of seeing matches those “emerging properties”.  Klein calls for a meditative approach securing that call by the singularity of tone.  His appeal to the power of the tonality, of the sameness across the surface connects with the meditative kind of the seeing. In turn, that seeing tolerates uncertainty where it is in the space. As a physical object, it seems to hover just in front of the wall, as an image it is somewhere in the space behind the wall.


That charming dualism supports completely opposite aesthetic judgement: some of us identify it as beauty, others as an unsatisfactory and suspect art. This split has a long history, it is not born just for abstraction.

William Blake offered this: The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way… And it has been proposed that a person of genius makes not just an excellent art but new different way of seeing  ( letter to Trussler in Alfred Kazin, The portable Blake,1987, Penguin) …

A visitor, or funding bodies, may demand an explanation of what the artist’s intention is and what it all means.

Blake argues beautifully: “I cannot previously describe in words what I mean to design, for fear I should evaporate the spirit of my invention”.  Sadly, the pressure on contemporary artists to write proposals, state intentions and argue for some purpose other than an aesthetic experience, sits of the opposite pole to Blake etc.

All that is visible invites us to be attentive, curious, observant and sensitive because the state of consciousness shapes new perceptions.  Kennan’s variations on the configuration of two colours, both the sum of all colours, one ends as black, the other as a white, privilege the quiet impact and reflection over the shock tactics (but still may shock some viewers) preferred for example by Dansaekhwa.  This installation is the art of the encounter, of correspondencies, as grasped by Charles Baudelaire.

Compared to Klein, Kennan’s surfaces are more like vapours, clouds, foam on the sea.

Monochromatic painted surfaces appear also in the art practice of  Charles Walsh(b 1970).


( more on exhibited black abstract monochrome paintings in the Golden Thread Gallery in 2009 each with a subtle addition of another hue, tying the chance to a rigid order. Note the power of tone to define a rectangle.

Walsh, Charles; Untitled Red Painting; Arts Council of Northern Ireland;

He decided on the mix and placement in advance. He made his own paint from pigments and oil.

Charles Walsh, Abstract Painting 100 x 1ft, 1994

One obvious difference between Walsh and Kennan in immediately visible: perfect grid governs his and is abandoned in her display and choice of format.

Kennan prefers open variations of placement by letting others to change the hanging.

Her apparent additions of other hues to the black happens during the process of painting the ground and feels instinctive not planned and measured. The image below may be perceived as a detail from old masters. Its placement challenges that. It does not privilege one viewing points, angle, light, distance – it plays with my freedom to imagine and freedom not to be sure. Is it a sky? A distant planet?  Another galaxy?  A corner of a room filled with smoke?  A corner of our universe, both the one we do not know and the one we live in, playfully whispered with the paint that wants to be a vapour. Like a J.S. Bach’s fugue it goes on giving.

It is about sensibility to the correspondence of what is made visible and the viewer’s power not to miss narrative support, including labels and captions.


Martyn Anglesey issued a cry decades ago: “one of the most disturbing features of the current approach to visual art is shying away from the operative sense, namely vision…” (p.34 in The Visual Force, publ. by GTG, 2009).  Hence the admiration for Kennan’s focus on the visible.  No story, no legend, no political credo, just call for renewing our senses, our seeing. Italo Calvino calls it “a basic human faculty” (Six memos…p92) and quotes Balzac’s view that “literature killed the fantastic”(ibidem p96).

In the first version of  Le chef-d’oeuvre inconnu  “…the elderly painter Frenhofer’s perfect picture, in which a woman’s foot emerges from the chaos of colour, from a shapeless fog, is admired by his colleagues: Combien de jouissances sur ce morceau de toile! (How many delights on this small piece of canvas. )

By changing the display the relationship between forms becomes an edition, a variant, of the other “configurations”. Kennan disables a part of her authorship to achieve that. I applaud that. The “meanings” are now so distant from the first intention that they create a rich field for variations on a theme, a method revered in music.

Painting reached to verbal art in its devotion to the narrative. Here, it reaches to music and nature in a special kind of mimesis:  even figurative art depends on viewers knowing a narrative that exists outside the image they are viewing.  Abstract paintings still have content and subject that is hinted by the physical material in space and time and finished in the viewer’s aesthetic experience.

The resolve not to privilege one configuration to another raises the significance of the intrinsic value of art and lowers the aura of the authorship.  This open-ended installation favours sharing as a moral principle for people’s relationships to all there is.

Images of her (first) configuration by Peter Richards.

Noise of Silence: Japanese Art Now, Golden Thread Gallery Belfast, Aug 10 – Sept 28 2019

The Buddhist monks from Namgyal monastery in India engage in a ritual that involves the creation of intricate patterns of coloured sand, known as mandalas. As large as three meters across, each mandala requires a couple of weeks of painstaking work, in which several monks in orange robes bend over a flat surface and scratch metallic vials. The vials extrude sand from tiny spouts, a few grains at a time, onto areas bounded by carefully measured chalk marks. .... After the thing is completed, the monks say a prayer, pause a moment and then sweep it all up in five minutes.  ( Alan Lightman on

The concept of the curtailed duration of a painted image, the use of materials located in nature,  has thus a long history, and not just in India. It is a strategy that occupies the territory between time-based and all other image-making.

In the GTG pop-up space at the  Castle Court shopping centre, 

the IKIRO by Takahiro Suzuki included low relief od a set of squares defined in dark soil and writing of that word over and over on sheets of paper, thus combining performance with floor installation. 

This work metamorphosed during the two weeks into  this:

Courtesy of Sinead O’Donnell

The writing of a word IKIRO/Be Alive is grounded in decades of the artists’ doing this particular performance. I believe he developed it while living in New York and made it all over the world: eg Dingle!

 It is simultaneously similar and different from mandalas. The time, duration and choice of materials, as well as the aura of the original authorship, are adapted to the western art system. (see the essay on  

The naming of selected  Japanese contemporary art as Noise of Silence has triggered link to poetic tropes, to one in particular: an oxymoron. It highlights the discord of a kind and encourages thinking about paradoxes. It appears in Shakespeare when Romeo cries about loving hate, it appears in pop music: Simon and Garfunkel have a song The Sound of Silence  that includes

And in the naked light, I saw Ten thousand people, maybe more/People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening.

The oxymoron, in relation to this exhibition, signals looking without seeing,  absence of aesthetic experience while looking, while it is the fundamental aspiration of visual art to make visible the invisible thoughts, memories, and intentions.

Working in front of the audience, a strategy similar to that of  Yves Kline in mid 20th C , was applied to one of the paintings made during the vernissage by  YUSUKE ASAI. While the audience was watching and moving, and leaving and adding to the present group he painted with coloured soils on a panel, possibly,  finishing it that afternoon.

Reminding me of the legend that Giotto di Bondone made a perfect circle spontaneously,  also of Jackson Pollock’s dripping,  Yusuke Asai placed thrown wet soil by free movement of his hand  or transporting the clay on a long stick, or throwing a handful aiming at a higher up area, to the hard to reach  places . And then smudged it into various details that do not live in geometry, yet borrow from it (circle, ellipse, etc) The white marks are the masking tape, which he used also on the floor and across to another painting in an impromptu performance.  He is highly skilled in making marks by the whole hand, or just fingers, while the soil is still wet.  The wet in wet technique has been cherished by many significant western painters, enough to make it familiar. (To name but few: Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden.  Diego Velázquez and Frans Hals,  Jean-Honoré  Fragonard and many Modernists like  Soutine, Van Gogh, W. de Kooning…)

Onto the longer gallery wall (Peter Richards the director of GTG says it is 17 m long)  Yusuke Asai painted  Nobody dies forever -narrative repetition”. 

It includes diverse elements from Japanese culture, including reference to Manga.

Delicious freehand details remind me of the virtuosity of medieval scribes. This detail is tiny in size.

 Painting in front of the audience slipped into a genre of durational performance. Both links to the western idiom are not dictated by any failure of the tradition, or by servitude to the younger cultures.

As Peter Richards noted in his curatorial statement, this art reflects on similarities. Nozomu Ogawa raised the crossing over the boundaries between cultures to the highest value of this art: ” …spectacular visual impact, exhaustive research, an indirect metaphor”… became a way to protest the absurd in life and to challenge the received view of Japanese art.

MARICO AOKI presents an installation of attire with a mask on the wall and a video, in which she wears those items. 


Spirit Disco (7 min video) is a disjointed narrative mirroring our inadequate concepts of the universe, perhaps our arrogance too. I could not follow what she read while addressing the invisible audience in one of the episodes.  Her mask, her out of norm duster, the appearance of the grazing goat inject irony as a smiling reminder of our inadequacy.




  presented three art techniques:  drawings on plastic in Items for storytelling (2016), colour inject prints Who is This (2015)  and nine albumen prints Invisibles (2016).  Different techniques, different motives, yet, I sensed familiar similarities.  Perhaps it was the tonality that did it, between sharp vision and the misty one.

The headless figure, masks, ceramics, land, sea, insect, legs, appear holding important message each, an impression negated by a closer look.  Freedom to interpret is both enjoyable and off-putting, the choice while inevitable is not forced. It provokes a search for the meaning when that is very slippery.

The visibility kept between being there and ready to disappear, adds timelessness to the deliberate bleaching of details. 


 With a stronger role for irony, the story, the narrative, forge the tenor of the video The Village’s Bid for UFO (2017, 24 MINS)) by


The subtitles are often undermined by acting in order to accentuate the absence of thinking and critical judgement. The three central characters chat about UVO they claim to have seen or heard of, or not, inviting some other villagers to celebrate by dancing.  Humour and ridicule are acted by hand moves, words, facial expressions and clothing. I feel that they do not act, but live their comic story. 






In the small separate gallery room, SHIRO MASUYAMA presented his mixed-media installation that connects a significant past event ( Great East Japan Earthquake) with a future one (Olympics 2020) hence placing the visual art as a link between them. It is accompanied by a catalogue made in relation to the  Tokyo Landscape 2020,  a mixed media installation, 2018  (in co-operation with cooperation  Tara Ichikawa) being exhibited at two venues in Japan: Contemporary Art Factory, Kyoto, and the Art Centre Ongoing, Tokyo in November/December 1918.

 Ren Fukuzumi and Hiroyuki Arai republished their reviews of the installation.   Fukuzumi thinks of it as of an ecosystem, ‘because human figures are included’, covering their eyes, ears and mouths. Those gestures he connects to statues of three monkeys that “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil”  ( 

Is this art so disappointed with mankind that it is not only without hope but already presents the figures not quite alive? In my European context, they wrestle to be associated with the mourning monks on the catafalque of some significant person, e.g. see Dijon 15th C.

Hence the installation is not a radical gesture, instead, as the light bulb climbs up or down it makes each viewpoint equal, it is reminiscing on all people being equal after death.  An aged idea. The transposition of a natural disaster and Olympic games is possibly intentionally incompatible.  Measuring peoples achievement against the power of the Earth?  Besides attacking the judgement of what is essential?

In the second re-published review, Hiroyuki Arai makes a similar point with greater precision:” In the contemporary age, it is possible to see the proliferation of art directed towards society and defined as ‘socially engaged’ as being driven by the motivation to compensate for a weak raison d’etre.” And he hails Masuyama as someone who sweeps the way clear for political art.  I accept to the extent to which polis means people. Not just the power over them, but also their own power. This idea led Masuyama to work with and about sheep farmers, knitters, weavers etc.

Kyunchome: Making  perfect donuts, 2017 -2018, video 

This is a political art laced by self-irony. It consists of two deeply significant substories: the two artists visit an older man, collector and maker, who built his own house and the protest against the presence of the USA army in Okinawa. The link is the intention of two artists to make an ideal doughnut by filling the hole in it with local bread.  Thus joining the two cultures.


Photo Sophie Daly

The young artists’ pair asks what the older man thinks about their art project of making a doughnut, whether it will work.

The camera holds his face as he stays silent as if searching in his consciousness for an answer. I adored the genuine honesty of: I don’t really know. I don’t really understand what it means”.  The artists repeat their intention: ” We want to know what people think about our art project”. He, after a pause: “I can’t say anything on it…”.  The chastity of the judging mind moves me.

The first part of the story is the clash between the self-appreciating confident artists and the earthbound man, between assured intention and an experience fashioned out of life.

Irony appears in the second part of the narrative: a perfect doughnut is made and offered to the occupation forces in Okinawa as a part of the civil protest against their presence there. The hope is they will go home.

Instead, the artist is taken away by the police, still holding the “perfect doughnut”, which as an embodiment of a perfect idea fails, about to be thrashed. The scenes are visibly arranged, with the makers leaving all pretensions that it is a document.  The freshly pressed uniforms and acted expressions betray a setup. The video is referring to the SACO agreement on making Okinawa into an American military base. Japanese settlers feel it as an occupation.

Making donut is not a problem -it is who will eat it. 

The last gallery room houses an installation saturated with green light.

Caressing and irritating in equal measure. 

The three green bulbs simply make reading details of landscapes on walls deliberately difficult.  MIDORI MITAMURA: Green on the mountain contains light, copies of photographs and old records creating an immersive installation, you walk in and out of it, and a small suspended dark wreath, slightly moving in the centre.

Photo Sophie Daly

She offers a poem that explains it on her website. ( It is calm like a just-opened Egyptian tomb. Treasures around, not easily deciphered.

More videos accompanied Takahiro Suzuki’s IKIRO

 at the Castle Court pop up gallery,   gently adding different visual experiences.  Something not belonging, yet part of the meaning of the words being repeated: Be Alive. 

   Atsushi Yamamoto: An Asian Giant goes to the Japanese restaurant, 2014


 Hikaru Suzuki: Michiko, 2018


Felt like an unnecessary addition, yet, even on quick and superfluous sampling, in the limited space and inadequate light, each confidently offered sensitive visual poetry appearance in their study of the ordinariness. Two artists were both standing on their own and still accompanying the performance, also as its first viewers. 

There is more on

I did not watch the videos but in passing. I appreciate their investigative aim at ordinary, and even personal, life.

The self-documenting work features also in Hikaru Suzuki’s videos.  More here: › Artist › Hikaru-Suzuki.

The Golden Thread Gallery scored with this exhibition high points for many obvious reasons.  One, in particular, stands out for me: the confidence of the artists that they work for mankind, not just for regional audiences with some invented social need. Their work stands against nationalism – even when it does not deny having roots in the experience of particular peoples. It that sense, this exhibition is a political statement about aesthetic experience, of its liberating force to balance differences by similarities. A duet between real and hoped for. Between order and disorder – similar to those traditional mandalas. 

Images courtesy of GTG via Shiro Masuyama and Sophie Daly.



Micky Donnelly: The River As Not, 20 June- 26 June 2019, Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast


The River As not No 11
The River As Not XI

If you cannot afford a Monet, get one of these.

Clemenceau  writing about Monet’s Waterlilies argues against Louis Gillet: Trois Variations sur Claude Monet thus:

“When we see Monet’s brush-tip breaking the natural world down to such elemental particles, it is enough to delight in these transfigurations, so much like those revealed in the modern sciences. I won’t pretend that Monet is showing us “the dance of the atoms”; I affirm only that he has helped us take a great step towards an emotional comprehension of reality through heightened awareness of the dispersions of natural light—in line with what physics has discovered about oscillations, frequencies, waves. If our scientific understanding of the universe changes again, Monet’s achievement, this progress for us all in our intuitive response to nature, will always merit our respect, no matter what the future brings.” (

The River as not VII


The younger artist, born in 1952 , claims to be inspired by John Cage while he applies a sophisticated twist to what appears similar to the above.


On his website ( it reads:

“Micky Donnelly’s art practice is exploratory and multilayered. His paintings, drawings, and installations are notable for their innovative and slightly ironic reworkings of familiar genres. They concern themselves with the poetic possibilities of everyday perception and often include playful references to art history. His work resists a signature style, but employs various ongoing threads and connections, along with elements of chance, to maintain its distinctive momentum.”

The claim offers a thread to consider, a sort of trinity of values: irony, play and chance. At first – none seems applicable to Monet until you experience the installation at Marmotan museum ( When looking at any of the paintings of waterlilies or of the Japanese bridge from near – it is messy energy of brushstrokes with incompatible hues.

Searching for an example  I found Jaclyn Rayman’s close-up online, she does not state what painting it belongs to. It may be either from Marmottan installation or Orangerie.  From a distance that messy cosmic force becomes one of the waterlilies. Monet achieved that in the garden at Giverny. He placed his easel on the small platform from where he saw both the willow on the right and the Japanese bridge on his left.  Embraced by his subject, he embraced it in turn, in the now-famous waterlilies. (I stood there, and vouch that it is possible.)

Claude Monet, Waterlilies, 1906, Art Institute of Chicago


Another example of  Monet’s “abstraction”  is even more confident. Viewed from a distance the sensuous values return to represent, they heighten the joy of viewing.

Viewed from half the length of the gallery, all fall into an optically correct rendering of what is meant to be visible.


I sensed another link – the sincere joy of seeing  one Monet’s painting  in two versions, and playful recovery how that older artist worked the tonality by mixing two primary hues into the “melange optique” ,e.g. Waterloo Bridge, 1903

Waterloo Bridge,1903
Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, 1903


In Donnelly’s “melange optique”  the divided brushstroke is charged with defining the moving water, everything deliquesces.

The River As Not XII

The aesthetic of silence called for a move away from the possible narrative to time defined optical differences.  Both Monet and Donnelly replaced earlier practice focused on contemporary subjects by a timeless one: “One instant, one aspect of nature contains it all,” said Claude Monet.  Donnelly echoes that.

The River As Not 5

Is Donnely activating the fashionable appropriation akin those practiced by Jeff Koon and Damien Hirst?   I am not convinced. Rather, I see a similarity with a long term interest of a number of artists who huddle around a Facebook page run by a painter John Crabtree:


Happenstance has its roots in psychogeography and the indeterminacy of Cage-it embodies the idea of purposeless wanderings and happenings. It is about the incidental and the democracy of seeing -I often think that the biggest obstacle to ‘art’ is the word itself as it presupposes /conditions and structures perception. This is obviously a Yes/No statement at best as art involves the contemplative and cognitive aspects of perception and meaning. It is often said that we all work out of tradition but must not be hidebound by it and in my view and approach that looking/seeing and beholding is a local and intrinsic activity. If you can’t see it in your local bus-station you won’t see it in Tibet -the wonder is before you and within your own heart. The aspect that I like about this process is almost a Taoist way of seeing -what appears ‘found ‘ is almost like an ‘alert’ that awakens a mode of seeing that is not a forced or focussed way of perceiving but arise as a natural event in oneself and environment 

The River As Not X

Donnely elegantly entertains that concept in a statement  on his website:

Happenstance And Celebration: A Way of Working                                                                                                                   My work has always relied on some notion of ‘cultural memory’ as part of its momentum. There has been regular use of references to things known and half-known that condition our thoughts and feelings in all kinds of ways…..….The more recent paintings have gradually moved into a different area of ambiguity. They have now progressed to the point where they can be said to manifest an attitude towards their making that corresponds roughly to John Cage’s ‘music-as-weather’ analogy. Cage said that he wanted to create ‘music-as-weather’, meaning simply that he didn’t want to control what was happening in the production of his music; that it should unfold by its own means, just like the weather. Thus, he often relied on apparently random processes.

 The current series of Donnelly’s River as not stands as twelve painting of the same theme,  format, colour scheme, divided brushtroke and rendering of space,  they all share evocation of Claude Monet, whom Pontus Hulten (1924 -2006) included in five parallel exhibitions in 1992 as one of the “key work of 20thC art”.

The River As Not IX

I cherish his challenge to the dictate of the new, to the endless craving to possess what is available only to the rich, to the insecurity of individual aesthetic judgement, i.e. to the art establishment’s power over individual aesthetic experience. Donnely charges the viewer with one condition: have the courage to value your own taste and judgement. In that, he sends his work to the world on rays of trust and courage.

The River As No VIII.

The installation at Fenderesky did not use all twelve parts of this series, only 1 -7,  adding three from Enclosure Series, one Untitled and nine Overley Series.

The River As Not VI

Donnely’s painting series forges support to  Henri Focillon (1881–1943)  who describes how art forms change over time. He argued that the development of art is irreducible to external political, social, or economic determinants.  Instead, he worked out a concept of autonomous formal mutation within the shifting domain of materials and techniques. His Life of Forms in Art emphasizes the presence of nonsynchronous tendencies within styles that give to artworks a manifold and stratified character.

In this series, Donnelly offers a splendid variation on Monet’s concept of visibility.

In addition, I recognise a significant difference:  I do not need to move away from the picture plane to perceive distinct definitions of forms – there are none, just short solitary abstract tones of one hue at the time. Each hue touches the surface briefly and disappears. Except the pale blues that define the water and sky.

Something else is at work. You may recall  M C Escher virtuoso constructs of figures and ground.

M C Escher, Sky and Water, 1938

Birds and fish -black and white.

It is not possible to see both the black pattern and the white pattern at once. This shortcoming of our visual perception is invited to play, a little,  on Donnelly’s series of river views.  The eye focuses either on the illusion of the depth (be it sky or water) or on the floating brushstrokes, the debris of reflections and objects that sit on the river surface. Not on both equally at the same time (  see M D  Vernon, 1954,  The Psychology of Perception).


The River As Not III




The River As Not II








These vivacious brushstrokes are augmenting spontaneous reveries.

Images of the exhibits are downloaded from





OORLAGH GEORGE:OFFSIDES, 18/4 -25/5 2019, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast



Offsides is superb video art, an exception these days.  The gallery notes say that Oorlagh George is an Oscar-winning filmmaker and artist. I watched the installation without knowing this. Consequently, I did not need to mull over that statement: filmmaker and artist.  Not all filmmakers are artists, not all artists are filmmakers. Oorlagh George is the artist that workes with video installation.  The quality, aesthetics, constellation of values, are comparable to that of Nam June Paik, namely his homage to Joseph Beuys at Documenta 1990 (Beuys Voice) as and how it offers a complete immersion.

Oorlagh George is working the lens based medium of video with flair, visual intelligence, and strong power to transform similarity into a difference.  In the next quote that process is referred to as “recreation”.

The notes state

The project is a recreation of mobile phone footage of an incident outside the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California in 2014… the man’s anger is so frenzied…  that psychologists cited the incident  as a case of a severe type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, called Intermittent Explosive Disorder.”



It is a multiscreen projection of the same scene described in the gallery notes thus:  “Each is a vertical video of a young man violently attacking a car, as seen from inside of the car, where an older man sits in the driver seat, expressionless. As variations of the lengths are compounded, the silent videos grow out-of-synch and become a single, ever-evolving narrative of an attack on one’s self. The piece is an exploration of generational trauma and communal silence in Northern Ireland. A  strange recursive loop of simultaneously trying to confront and escape the past. Peace agreements don’t end violence, they move it indoors… Offsides is about when the violence reappears in the street, disconnected from any meaning it once had”


The out-of-synch parts of the installation felt at first as different parts of the longer story, not as out -of -synchrony repeats.  Picasso thought about art being a convincing lie is quite an apt association.  As the eye gradually, increasingly, recognised similarity, it still joyfully avoided the fatigue of a repeat.  Each view commanded a freshness as if it were a  part of a visual fugue.  The surprising impact of seeing the same as different was indeed the vital value. There is more.

Reading later about the inspiration makes my admiration for this work even stronger. I felt sympathy with both – the violent attacker’s obvious suffering and the stoic patience of the attacked.  The thin skin of the glass between them is a tactile and visible presence of the ease with which peace can grow into conflict. When I turned to leave, there was a screen on the wall with the sequence startingly new: the window of the car was partly down. That increased the vulnerability of the man inside – while it also indicated some trust between the opposing sides.

The installation as a whole manages to present, to make visible, the paradox of an end of an event turning into a continuation.   In this case, the reason for the conflict was a traffic incident and state of mind of both persons involved. If applied to the Northern Ireland Troubles, Good Friday Agreement and paralysis of normal democracy in NI now, the theme renews itself uncontrollably.

The similarities subside to the dynamics of the fresh evolved connections made by each viewer.

Moreover, the “document” gets transformed by emptying it of some data into an aesthetic experience the range of which wiggles out of any particular story but includes all similar ones.   The transparency of the installation embraces each viewer’s particular memories, the case of an almost subconscious application of affirmative “perspectivism” that treats every point of view on the world as a source of meaning ( see Small R: Nietzsche and a Platonist tradition of Cosmos, JHI, Jan-Mar, v 89-104).

Affirmative perspectivism unchains art from a unique centre, it treats every work of art as a likely story about the world.  Each point of view as a source of meaning. This artist not only knows it but masters it with the elegance of spirit.

I cannot resist the thought on the “individual universe” of those things in the world that “slip away and do not wait to be described” (Plato, Timaeus, 49E) as a coda to Oorlagh George magnificent fugue on a fragment of being in the world (anywhere)

Images courtesy GTG






Richard Canning: The Space Between, 01-26/04/ 2019, Atypical Gallery, Belfast —

Richard Canning graduated from the Belfast School of Art, Ulster University, in 2018 with a series of A1 size rectangles carrying line drawings. The current exhibition still flirts with that mute agent of the change, accepting the artist’s intention to make large scale line drawings this time. Drawing is a glorious chapter of humanity’s leaving […]

via Richard Canning: The Space Between, 01-26/04/ 2019, Atypical Gallery, Belfast —

Richard Canning: The Space Between, 01-26/04/ 2019, Atypical Gallery, Belfast

Richard Canning graduated from the  Belfast School of Art, Ulster University, in 2018 with a series of  A1 size rectangles carrying line drawings.

The current exhibition still flirts with that mute agent of the change, accepting the artist’s intention to make large scale line drawings this time.

Drawing is a glorious chapter of humanity’s leaving marks.  Not always to describe the ownership of a territory, Canning stresses the difference between in and out. Belonging and not.


Canning situates the drawn motif in an empty abstract space evoking simultaneous being and nothingness in the world, in the perception, in any intention.

( 1943: Jean-Paul Sartre:

To become one, both the full and empty present themselves with the conviction of the bird’s song, the song, and the pause… echoed in the title of this exhibition: The Space Between

Cut out of the whole, the detail below makes visible the sensibility of the drawn line, stretched or waved or pulsating,  as well as its mimetic force, namely in the open door.

Trace of transitory being

The gallery handout introduces the thought of “intimacy” made visible through the empty spaces and unfinished lines.  I sense an approximation of going down the stairs and through that open door. Its lower vertical edge is equidistant, on a midpoint, between two other points:  the lowest loop of the left balustrade and the top end on the right one.   With the rest of the wall  (glass rectangles ?), it forges a right-angled triangle.

I perceive that as a kind of intimacy between the full and empty, between the mark and its ground.  Canning photographed the Student Union building opposite the Queens University in Belfast in the process of abandonment and demolition.

One of the exhibits in The Space Between translates this view into a line drawing.

Comparing the photography and drawing exposes Cannings process.

In addition, the absences and presences in the drawing remove some haptic weight of the material.  Instead, the drawn objects insist on forging something entirely different – visual discourse between what is visible.

The corner made by a row of many and the separate single invites thoughts on hierarchy and exclusion. The easy chair dominates and prevents the single chair to join the many, like a class barrier may do.  The size of the single chair on the right is wrong in relation to its position.  So are the last stacked chairs on the left of the easy chair.  That perception animates the composition and nudges it to obtain the symbolic meaning of inequality and division of power among people. I can almost “hear” the inflated ego of a person who might have sat in it.  This interpretation is validated by the switch in the scale of the identical chairs, the same design, and manufacture, yet, some are different, smaller.

Canning’s visual intelligence manages to be fresh and measured at the same time.  A good value.  He invents representational minimalism rooted in the prestige of technical drawing, of architectural drawings, but slipping away from the expected “correctness”.

Actually, the drawing dances away from the correctness in another exhibit.   Reminiscent of the freedom of the medieval marginalia, the drawings prefer the subtlety of privacy in visual art –  so rarely presented on this scale.

The viewer is offered a mute proposition inspired by compositional rules, angles, distances, lines, scale,  which Canning made visible. It is a loftier part of the imagination that these drawings activate.

Italo Calvino distinguishes between two types of imagination: the one that starts with a word and ends in an image, the other starts at the image and ends in words. (Six Memos…:83) Canning started with a word and a photograph (“Upon hearing of the imminent demise… as stated in the gallery handout paragraph 3) and ended with a drawing not afraid of absences.


Images courtesy Paula LARKIN.


STEIN HENNINGSEN:CITIZENGAGE, 23 February 2019, Ulster Museum, Belfast

Henningsen has worked with huge blocks of ice almost for a decade.

In  Helsinki 2012 he included running water in a bottle – which signals the particular characteristic of molecules that can be liquid, mass and vapour. That’s his scientific interest, that inserts mathematics and physics into his performances.

Bbeyond co-operated with NI Science Festival and Ulster Museum in Belfast to present a performance by a resident of a distant Svalbard,  the artist Stein Henningsen.  

Its title was given optical play with the meaning by setting the third syllable  ZEN in red colour.   A reference to the particular way of life and knowledge,  I suspect, it is more a playful pointer and less a solution to all the ills in the world today. 

In reading the title as two words, citizen +gage, the last two syllables gage open a Pandora box of meanings.  The Roget’s Thesaurus lists guarantee, bail, bond, collateral, deposit, earnest guaranty, pawn, security, surety, token, and a warrant.

The dictionary entry for gage connects it to the ethics: as a noun, it means a valued object deposited as a guarantee of good faith, as a verb, it is an offer of an object or one’s life as a guarantee of good faith.

I settle on the artist as a citizen to pledge a valued object to the audience: water as a condition for life, its trinity present here in man, flower and ice.  And as the grey clouds.

I do not, however, expect the performance to be an illustration of that intention, although Henningsen writes this: ” I believe it is extremely important at this moment in time to eschew isolationism and develop cultural networks in the current climate of international capitalist hegemony.”  

As a coincidence the Guardian today  (… ) published an article by George Monbiot which contains this:

“What just principle equates the numbers in your bank account with a right to own the fabric of the Earth?”

The fabric of the Earth … is that valued object Henningsen foregrounds in this performance.

Biology, physics, mathematics guide the background for the Citizengage first few minutes. Cut fresh red roses are placed in equidistant intervals on the terrace of the museum between two invisible parallels. That is a careful geometry in practice.  Although executed at flying speed the pathway marked by roses looks engineered to follow a straight line.

courtesy Bbeyond and the artist

courtesy Dominic Dillon

The roses will have no time to wilt for the lack of water, the ice block will grind them, one by one, out of life.

Photo Kasia Pagel unless otherwise stated)

The second part of this performance, pushing the ice block from one end of the terrace to the stairs is the slowest, consisting of progress and frustration, like the continuous play of plus and minus, move and stop.

Physics, geometry, and arithmetic were evoked to produce the optimal weight and shape, but could not predict the duration of the whole and each part/phrase.

He had to turn the block from its dry to surface lubricated by a thaw.

Changing position to focus the force of the whole body to shift the ice.

Pushing with his forehead, his shoulders, his back – and slipping.

The polarity of body and ice block prompts different encounters. The meaning depends on each viewer zeroing on some part that is made visible. The crushed roses signify impermanence of something treasured. The success or failure of the man to move the ice block wiggle out of the same fate, by slipping into a trust that the artist takes care not to harm himself.  The ice block is then delegated into submission as a silent victim (just a mute object).

However, Henningsen gets soaked, tired, exasperated, expelling brief noises born from a strain.

The authority of the art does not allow helpers to support him, even if there were any, even if it were a part of the intention.  He is condemned, like Sysiphus to be alone. Albert Camus ends his essay with””The struggle itself … is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy”. Henningsen evokes a desire for cognitive closure.

courtesy Bbeyond and the artist

courtesy Bbeyond and the artist

Moreover, he proposes that humanity must moderate its current intellectual myopia and increase bio-centric awareness.

He presents a flow in which a work of art meets the ‘world’. Not only because the ice cracks and the rose wilts.  He reduces his own existence to “bare life”, deprived of any other right then to continue pushing the ice block in one direction.  (If this appears like a loan from  Giorgio Agamben’s Il potere sovrano e la nuda vita, it is) 

The interconnectedness of environment and Brexit focuses onto the third, split second, part – pushing the ice block down the stairs, crashing it.  The crossover, intentional or not, reverberates between the visible and audible, the words about the cliff, crash, no deal…  insist on the similarity with crashing a block of ice.

courtesy Bbeyond and the artist

This interpretation is not compulsory – only possible, moreover it would fall under the Deleuze’s warning of inadequacy.  Given the long chain of Henningsen’s performances using a block of ice, sheets of ice, water etc, the significance of water as a subject is not in dispute. This performance draws attention to the need to recognize the true place of mankind in the universe. Starting with nature, here and now.  This performance converged on being-in-the-world, where art and nature are co-dependent. Its meaning may be arbitrary, culture-specific. For me, the meaning of this performance is what  E Panofsky somewhere called ” natural meaning of art” as a challenge to habitual thought.


Images courtesy Dominic Dillon, Bbeyond, Kasia Pagel, Stein Henningsen


09/04/2019 – I came across this:

Francis Alÿs, Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing), 1997. © Francis Alÿs. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner.

pushes ice unnamed

Oh, the lure of nothingness!


Karl Hagan + Aimee Melaugh: Alternate Perspective, Platform, Belfast, Feb 7-28 2019 -Part 2 Karl Hagan



Adam, 2019, oil on canvas,25x29cm

The first look at Adam registers eruption of intense opposition of hues aiming at unease via spacial disorder.

Recognisable eyes, nose, open mouth  – would invite the meaning indicated by this small painting title. The macabre dissolution of the shape dismembered from the rest of the cranium and neck, as well as bizarre flat surface drip-dropped with diluted hues while the background top is treated with precision near bona fide Ellsworth Kelly.  Hagan invades the painting with elements of the nightmare, the cranium explodes in roughly defined coloured particles as if denying to ever be parts of the head.

The question who is Adam is left without answer. A friend? The biblical Adam? Or both at once? The insecure transience of meaning appears as a deliberate part of Hagan’s practice.

The macabre roughly modulated hue (yellow) allows the living eyes to look believable but denies it to the rest.  In that sense,  Adam  is reminiscent of Goya’s Saturn devouring his son, of its ability to render the body both living and dead.

The unexpected facial disorder signals unease of the theme as well as that of the painter who revisits the morbid, menacing elements in his largest canvas, After Goya,

After Goya, 2019, oil on canvas, 250×305 cm

The drama of light and dark achieves ferocious intensity in reds and tiny speckles of white. Hagan’s trust in geometry to hold the menacing macabre elements is not misplaced.  The rectangular planes allow reading the falling bodies as paintings  inside the painting, dislodged from the innocence of the vertical wall by  falling into  a surreal surrounding: cloud in front of a grid, dark triangle like a sail on water  on the left, fat block at the top that  appears to continue outside the frame, two blind spots placed on a diagonal corners of the rectangle,  illogical deep space on  left top – all contribute to a possible judgment that the painting is confused.  My reading disagrees.  The whole crystalises into transient perceptions of each different motif as falling into the hot cauldron of sameness.  It is about trauma, dislocation, turbulence, to invade mind in the way Goya did in Enterrar y callar ( Disasters of War,1810 -14), Bury them and keep quiet.  Hagan gives the opposite advice.

Karl Hagan is dedicated to and serious about painting’s power to invade mind.  The six paintings exhibited at the Platform have nothing to do with “ego importance” and all with the ability to apply what he learns from and values in significant paintings of the past. He constructs his own history of painting rooted in affinity of feeling and morality, rationality and its opposite.  He studies the chosen art carefully to learn. The After Goya appears painted a la prima, however, a study of the cloud recently exhibited at Engine Room betrays a careful preparation.

The soft modeling of tones of the hue in this study are like Goya’s fresco in the San Antonio de la Florida where he used no brush but a sponge, yet managed to render the final version in crispy high tones.

A history painting used to be the top Europen academic category of visual art after replacing the hegemony of biblical stories. Modernism flirted not only with abandoning the narrative painting but also with rejecting the history of art and any remnants of mimicking the observable reality. The inner image took over.  The current generation of young painters are building up the courage to restore some of the most intriguing power of brushes and paints, that which Robert  Ryman called “seeing of painting”, and which Leonardo da Vinci called “mute poetry”. Hagan tests the proposition on contemporary scenes, accessible via printed photographs.

Lacrymogène2019, oil on canvas, 33x36cm

Lacrymogène = Tear Gas connects to the Gilets Jaunes protests in France in 2018.  The painting rehearses newspaper photographs like this one and abstracts it out of time and place. accessed online.

The painting deprives the edifice of stability and clarity seen through the lens while dissolving the transition from matter to experience through chromatically smooth vapours.

Containment, 2019, oil and silkscreen on canvas, 160x190cm

Right angles, vapours, darkness, and exact descriptions (eg: yellow fence – gate) are mobilised to match some indelible strangeness of tactile experiences. The image mines the spatial uncertainty of abstraction by confident geometry paired to high keys (yellow, orange) while the rest is dark and smoky, suggestive of  no escape.  The image is transparent to allow various associations, however, it locks them into the material character of details, eg rectangles (banners? buildings?)

How You Fall Doesn’t Matter, 2019, oil on Canvas, 160x200cm

War image, transparent to apply to any conflict,  thus marshaling deep distress that humanity keeps failing to do without killing each other.  While it is a “window” into history,  the spacial disorder wrestles it out of a particular historical event, sounding a profound J’accuse. The light peppers the composition like shrapnels might, like automatic guns do. It aims to access that quiet part of our mind where the distaste collaborates with hope.

Its noise, its polluted air, its destruction removes any signs of heroism (so loved by socialist realism for ex), letting in the sense that the man operating the gun is a victim.  Hence, this image wears black.



Bela Lugosi, 2019, oil and silkscreen on canvas, 170x200cm

I am not familiar with this actor and his life story.  The painting’s title gives the clue to its subject  – and there are also visual clues to his playing the Count Dracula: the trio of threatening hands.   For those in the know, this would be a transparent image.  It gives me visual access to some boundaries between real and pretended, known and guessed…

This complex composition is nevertheless centreless. I find that telling.


Images courtesy Karl Hagan and Platform.




Karl Hagan + Aimee Melaugh: Alternate Perspective, Platform, Belfast, Feb 7-28 2019 -Part 1 AIMEE MELAUGH


Bhopal 168 x 200 cm aimee melaugh
BHOPAL, 2019, oil on canvas, 168x200cm

I do not need to know the data, the exact time and place.  The arms and hands are those who work with them and who are undernourished. They come to the foreground through green wilting vegetation. The blue tonality replaces the normal skin tone.  The yellow and pink explode above the people’s heads in front of smoky grey tones.  The diagonal composition divides the cause from its impact as an indication of the sequence that caused the demise of life.

In her notes, Melaugh refers to  “theory of affect” by Baruch Spinoza.  I do not know that passage.  In relation to his statements in The Ethics, I sense that it may be near to his thinking about “mode”.

“ID5: By mode, I understand the affections of a substance or that which is in another through which it is also conceived. A mode is what exists in another and is conceived through another. Specifically, it exists as a modification or an affection of a substance and cannot be conceived apart from it. In contrast to substances, modes are ontologically and conceptually dependent.” (Book One, Ethics accessed on

Spinoza makes it central to his theory of knowledge that to know a thing adequately is to know it in its necessity, as it has been fully determined by its causes. In the  Bhopal painting, the need to work and the need to use volatile materials are present in the careful identification of hands and industrial barrels, both ontologically necessary and sufficient.  The descriptive mode ends in the diagonal of wilted plants with a partly hidden warning that reads “hazard” on the yellow ground.  The surrealist element of hands growing out of one barrel and of deadly vapours escaping from another indicate the connection to the explosion rendered in buoyant energy of wilful abstraction.

Both painterly modes are cherished for their singularity and conceptual dependency on the subject.  No doubt where the meaning has its cause.

Aside ,2019. oil on canvas, 163 x 200 cm
Aside, 2019, oil on canvas, 163x200cm

The decision to evaporate the figure and not the three hands as if still engaged in some normal activity is an image unimaginable outside some disaster. The collapse is not yet complete, the perfect seat for no one to sit on screams visual ” j’accuse”.  It does not address a particular perpetrator thus making its reason somewhat commonplace for humanity.  The price? Everything else disintegrates, evaporates, changes its substance. Apocalypse now?

The paintings on a smaller scale invite methods of surrealism and of the informel to forge strong compositions capable of holding together accidental occurrences of negligence.  And of different time and speed.

Blood-shod 28 x 32 aimee melaugh
Blood-shod, 2019, oil on canvas, 28x32cm


Green sea 36 x 31 cm aimee melaugh
Green sea, 2019, oil on canvas, 36 x 32

Green is slower than the red.

Gun position 160 x 190 cm aimee melaugh
Gun Position, 2019, oil on canvas, 160×190

In reference to her grandfather experience during the WW2  this painting exchanges the human fragility for the destruction of the seats for the gunners. See-through seats are reminiscent of sheets of papers on which the various decrees, calls to arm, and agreements may have been written. While the (still)  living naked male appears both safe (the modulation of the muscles) and evaporating (the ever-receding tonality turns his volume into a ghostly plane). The female leg shooting out of some roofs on the horizon  – could be just a wooden model for selling stockings. Or not. Seats and houses are crumbling. And so is the control of our destiny in any war. The case for peace is ever present.

Tuam 210 x 195 cm aimee melaugh
Tuam,2019, oil on canvas, 210x195cm


Icarus? A sexless nude body as if calling in distress moves away from a tiny religious sculpture detailed in the lower region. That headless statuette is silent and as if protected from the troublesome accusation by the purple body.  The tone is ordered to be between life and death forever… akin to the belief in Purgatory? Or eternal life in hell?  The red ground above could suggest that precipice.  A pale variant of the gesture appears on the right-hand side, in front of the two columns lit up by the light from outside.  Behind it something like a bookshelf, volumes of documents? A revelatory moment?

The right-hand side of the Tuam describes some earthly conditions: the power of the architectural order preferred in churches, thus power of the church.  And the flowing habit invites association with nunnery.  Or with actual evidence:

7 Mar 2017 – The Tuam mother and baby home, where human remains have been discovered, was “a chamber of horrors”, the Irish PM has said. (

7 Jun 2014 – Catherine Corless’s research revealed that 796 children died at St Mary’s. …


The painting – mute and timeless- accesses our innermost conscious responses directly, not subject to logic or grammar or correctness.  Perhaps that is what Melaugh had in mind when she recalled Spinoza.


Images courtesy the artist.