Fenderesky Gallery Belfast – Group exhibition, 28 Nov 2019 – 25 Jan 2020

Forty four works of art, the oldest Abstract Painting 81  by Charles Walsh  is a replay of sensitivity to shades of black, an ability  to recognise  quite a multitude of black shades noted by F. Engels among the workers in chemical industry. I compared once  the Walsh’s mastery to graduate the hue to a whisper in a nursery.  It also ages remarkably well, while turning into a classic.

Charles Walsh, Abstract Painting 81, 2011, oil on linen

The installation is airy, “minimalist”, allowing the privacy between the viewer and the viewed, not on offer in most current exhibitions of visual art.  The images do not rain on you, do not jostle for an aura, even if some were given preference for taller visitors.  That little speck above the row of three, is a small  Seed of painting by Natalia Black. It is her autograph, pastose layers of paints dragged across a thought of composition.  She is not alone in preferring this specific technique for its power to define an image by pushing out the ground and instances. I came across three more painters who are devotees.



Conrad Jon Godly  applies impasto  to mountains on large scale to reveal their “spirit”.

Uploaded from Google.com)

Iranian Salman Khoshroo ( https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2016/12/enormous-palette-knife-portraits-and-figures-by-salman-khoshroo/) had made white on white series, switching now to hot hues charged with defining male nudes.  Joseph Lee  (http://www.josephleeart.com)  prefers portraits whose anatomy is masked by forces of emotion.

Downstairs, a tiny  Spiral Star by Dan Shipsides silently plays hide and seek well above the eye level, while the large Rattler and Badass by Ronnie Hughes command the whole space and attention with support of seven smaller  paintings. Small format is favoured by many,  by  Fionnuala D’Arcy, whose paintings appear both here and upstairs. 

Rigorous process feeds the variations on sensuality of the sameness of the format – akin to a musical fugue. The attention to the medium allows the sense of atmosphere to engulf sharp edges of  angular forms. I deliberately avoid to identify these images as made by female or male artist.  Instead, I hope the viewer to engage with it, with the painting, not with the maker, as is the habit in this culture.  “In 2018, male artists created 95 percent of the total value of art sold at major auction houses across the world. And from 2008 to 2018, only 11 percent of the artworks actually bought by major American museums were by women. The art world can posture but, where it counts, less is changing than it might seem, because the underlying idea of the Artistic Genius maintains its hold.”

Louise Wallace

Peter Burns prefers similarly hot palette to stretch, ambulate and contort his busy landscape.

Scenic elements hide a seek on a diaphanous layered surfaces  of David Crone‘s paintings. David Feely intoxicates the rule of right angle with letting the observed to hover between figuration and abstraction.

David Crone


David Feely

Reduced composition  intimates rather than narrate a story  in several exhibits. It appears as preferred mode  of Wilma Vissers   and Felim Egan.

Felim Egan, Prelude, 2010, above it is Vilma Visser’s Utitled, 2019
Installation view with Helen O’Leary’ Air Scale, 2019
Helen O’Leary, Air Scale, 2019

Languid misty high tones embrace the right angles with empathetic tenderness.

Tender delight with details keeps them mischievously playing hide and seek with  meaning, date and technique in the page manquee below.

Tjibbe Hooghiemstra, Haiku, 2018

When abstraction borrows enigmatic quality from an imagined story or performance, it contaminates itself with a narrative. The freedom of choice is left with the viewer’s imaginative habits.

Sinead Aldridge, Sermon to Stones, 2019

Holding the imagination to revoke the real, is often assisted by illusion of space, depth, here between the figure absorbed in contemplation of the cloud and its reflection in the water while that illusion is targeted by the red tree.  It is poetic  to the point of sweet illusion,  perhaps hence the smirking right angle  to subvert it a little.

Paddy McCann, The Cloud in the River, 2017
David Crone, Garden Objects,2015
Top: Helen Blake, Blush, 2019, below Walker&Walker, In Between  o and r

Installation shots.

Shrinking the world to a table op scale is a pre-eminent part of growing up while playing, or playing while growing up. The value of play for cognitive powers is well understood but not often respected. Art has the eternal power to object on its behalf.

Peter Hutchinson, Rounded Square, 2019

Visual art shrinks not from being decorative  while it distances itself from similarity with the observed.

Patrick Fitzgerald, Coast, 2018

If only rarely, the fear of the end of the world visits people every so many hundreds of years – and the humanity’s impact on nature  at present triggers our take on it. The metaphor of darkness,  of a night for end of life is not out of date yet.

James Allen,The last bird in the world leaving, 2018

As if not facing the predicted impact of people on nature, art still potently flirts with  freedom of thought,  be it as a nod to predecessor or to the enigmatic quality of colour.

Tony Hill, Light, 2019
Tony Hill, After Georges Braque,2019

It is perhaps telling about human condition  when the  Shelter, 2019 by Zoe Murdoch  has no opening, no entrance. A closed box on a pedestal.

Closed form also governs  Bill Saunders’s Hide Tide, 2019


Visual art often partners ethics, even if it not exactly follows the kallos agathos…

Images courtesy of Helen G Blake on Facebook.  Without you, Helen, I could not do this essay. Thank you.

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.” (https://iopn.library.illinois.edu/pressbooks/clemenceaumonet/chapter/critique-of-the-critics/

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 (www.mickydonnely.com) 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 (https://www.marmotan.fr/en). 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 http://www.mickydonnelly.com.