Sarah Iremonger

Lumpy Art History 2001-03
The white paintings are based on famous representational paintings from the central canon of art history. In a logical, step-by-step process, the artist traces the outline of the painting in pencil on to a blank canvas, then applies “lumpy” white enamel household paint, letting the drawing reveal itself beneath a three-dimensional overlay. The result of this simple process takes on a life of its own, playing with the viewers’ expectations and providing a commentary on the conventions of both representational and abstract painting. The lumpy paint simultaneously reveals the drawing and hides the familiar colour, perspective and other taken-for-granted pleasures of the original. It is like seeing a ghost: what was once covered in flesh is revealed only as shadowy bones. It is simultaneously a reminder of the original painting, a challenge to our familiar viewing habits, and a disturbing half-way point between famous, full colour original and a minimalist abstract.

The monochrome textured surface confounds the desire for a recognizable representational image, even while it reveals tantalising possibilities of a figurative reading, between the gaps. The shadowy, cartoon-like result challenges the reverence paid to “masterpieces” of painting in art history. The use of white enamel household paint continues a tradition in postmodern art of rejecting high art materials. It deliberately places the painting in a realm not of reverence, but of everyday existence. The whiteness also refers to the high art practice of modernism, Yves Klein, Gerhard Richter and other artists of the post-1950 period, who have produced monochrome paintings.
 
But in Iremonger’s white paintings, the use of this favoured Minimalist technique is subverted by the “picture”, revealed both through the drawing, and in the high, lumpy texture of the paint itself. So her paintings are simultaneously acknowledging the art of the minimalists (and her own past paintings) but also undercutting the premise of the minimalists, who deliberately avoided all representational references – violating the accepted code.
 
In White Landscape, chronologically the first of the white paintings, Sarah Iremonger makes her inclusion of the representational explicit by interspersing the pattern of three different wallpapers among the outline of the painting. The wallpapers in question are called Sea Swirl, Shell and Bark and are an anaglypta form of wallpaper, white but three dimensional, once popular as a hardwearing, paintable compromise between papering and replastering. The reference to Nature in these wallpapers, and the way in which the shell and bark pattern of the anaglypta refers to seashells and trees is an example of the many modes of so-called “low” art, which co-exist with the “high” art canonized in museums. Using dual modes of representation – Constable’s view of nature, and a popular nature-referenced wallpaper – together in a unified monochrome painting, gives the work an unexpected complexity, sense of purpose and meaning. Subsequent use of white enamel without the underlying wallpaper concentrates attention on the shadowy images, leading to a tension between abstraction and representation which is at once more subtle and more direct.
 
Iremonger’s subversion of the conventions of art history is again evident in the monochrome wall painting, “the studio”, made on site. The image is taken from The Painters Studio: A Real Allegory, 1855 by Gustave Courbet. A painting of a painting studio painted by Gustave Courbet is painted directly on to the wall of a gallery in Temple bar, significantly lacking the frame that sets it apart as high art, integrated into the space and colour that surrounds it, visible to casual passers-by, revealing that in this gallery there is a painting in which a group of people are looking at a painting of a painting…….
 
Sarah Iremonger’s deadpan commentary on the conventions on which the art establishment bases its activities, also embodies a strong commitment to the making of art, art that is different by being provocative, using the simple but effective weapon of humour to challenge our habitual compliance with the orthodoxy of the art world.
 
Alannah Hopkin, written for the catalogue Lumpy Art History, produced by Temple Bar Gallery 2001
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Lumpy Art History: Sarah Iremonger Temple Bar Gallery until April 8th 2001.
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........

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........

Extract from the Irish Times 28 May 2001
http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/lumpy-art-history-and-other-social-disorders-1.295480
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In 2003 I was invited to show Lumpy Art History at the Turku Art Museum in Finland and make a response to an exhibition of  the nineteenth centaury romantic Finish artist Matilda Rotkirch, which was held in the Museum at the same time. My exhibition was held in two adjoining rooms to the exhibition (studios) and a corridor.

Nine paintings were exhibited and I created four new site-specific wall drawings.

With these works I wanted to express a sense of exaggerated romanticism, which comes through in her work, by turning three of Rotkirch’s drawings into vast cold landscapes, which deal with issues of the sublime.