Image: Build Your Own Horizon / Kinsale, 2020 prototype cutout, ink on paper, 10 x 29cm

Early work from the 1990s consisted of oil painting on a large scale embedded in the modernist tradition with epic implications. Later works attempted a kind of entanglement with the world through site-specific installations that explored representation. A return to painting since 2014 has focused on adapting found images, using them to create complex abstract paintings and drawings where signifiers are hidden in a sea of post-representational visual noise.

Present work

Ongoing work involves using George Barret’s 18th-century painting of the 'View of Powerscourt Waterfall' 1760 as source material for drawings and paintings, developing them into 3-dimensional virtual landscapes with the help of Digital Artist Daniel Murray, as part of Horizons, which explores the post-representational turn and situationlessness created by the development of digital technologies.

In response to the death of the image, the loss of the visible world and the post-representational turn brought about by digital technologies, Horizons seeks new strategies for painting in the 21st century. Haunted by the history and context of painting a systematic approach is devised, rules are established beforehand to organise what colours will be used and where and how they will be painted undermining any possibility of self-expression. “I am like a one-eyed ambient robot crawling across the surface of the painting eradicating any depth perception and diminishing aesthetic choices to chance encounters.” (Sarah Iremonger 2024) The results are reminiscent of complex AI-generated camouflage designs, where the image is hidden in visual noise. Images used include drawings based on screensavers, nature camouflages, photographs of Cork Harbour, Skellig Michael, Star Wars and the works of painters James Arthur O'Connor 1792-1841, George Barret 1728-1774 and Piet Mondrian 1872-1944.

Cantos is a text-based work that uses visual art notebooks collected over thirty years as found text reframed and rewritten in the style of The Cantos of Ezra Pound as an epic non-rhyming stream-of-consciousness prose poem, which explores the search for meaning through process. The chapter Thinking Vessels traces the development of the ideas that led to the Vessels work, which uses Venn Diagrams as a framework for making paintings.

Recent work

Vessels 2019-2is a series of paintings started in 2019 and developed through the pandemic, conceived as thought experiments that use Venn Diagrams to establish a self-directed internal logic as a systematic approach to making paintings. I explored the history of vessels and how their shapes change through time revealing specific cultural identities. Reducing them to silhouettes, I chose seven basic shapes from Turkey, Iran, North America, Sudan, Thailand, Pakistan and Syria superimposing them on top of each other to suggest Venn Diagrams, creating the illusion of layers through colour juxtaposition.

This work has been made in the context of a post-representational thought process, using diagrams that interact with the world as source material opening the possibility of a different kind of discussion about our engagement with the world. Here the work has been painted from the perspective of colour as transparent refracted light. The framework holding this light, the layered silhouettes of the vessels, resembles a Venn Diagram which uses a self-directed concept that 'generates the thing to be done' (Catherine Harty 2021). The vessels have been chosen because of their multi-time, multi-national and geo-political implications.

“It is clear that the interplay between these vessels which represent such a broad expanse of geography, politics and time is, itself an examination of multi-culturalism; how cultures evolve, influence each other or even remain isolated. As the series evolves, the works become increasingly complicated until the artist sets aside her rigid parameters. Individual colours are still visible but as fragments rather than blocks; colours as federalism ceding from nation states, perhaps.” Oliver Sears 2022

Build Your Own Horizon was a public participation artwork, created as part of the Bealtaine Artist in Residence program for Uillinn, West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen, Co. Cork in association with Cork County Council 2022 and exhibited with Re:Group as part of 'Fragments in Constellation' at the O'Driscoll building for Skibbereen Arts Festival 2022. This project involved a drawing workshop where participants made drawings of horizons through the windows at Uillinn. Uillinn is situated in the centre of Skibbereen town, a contemporary building rising four floors above the town, providing panoramic views of the town on several levels. The work explored the horizon as constantly shifting and ephemeral, depending on the perspective or situation of the viewer. The drawings were reproduced as 1000 cardboard cut-out horizons and installed on the floor of the O'Driscoll Building in Skibbereen.

2014 saw a return to painting through the development of a collaborative artwork Horizons with poet Derek Mahon, who wrote a poem and a prose piece, which were published as part of the collections ‘Olympia and the Internetand 'Against the Clock' by The Gallery Press in 2017 and 2018. The work was exhibited as part of 'Press Play' at Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin 2019, receiving a Cork County Council Arts Grants Scheme Award in 2015.

Past work
Solipsism Series was exhibited at Macroom Town Hall, Co. Cork 2013 as part of the ‘World View of an Oyster’ exhibition curated for Cork County Council and shown at the Royal Hibernian Gallery, Dublin 2014. In this series, printed digital artworks based on paintings of Cork Harbour by nineteenth-century maritime artist George Mounsey Wheatly Atkinson and of the Cork landscape by eighteenth-century artists Nathaniel Grogan and John Butts. The images have been digitally manipulated to remove their subject matter, changing the focus to their backgrounds. This creates the possibility of a different reading of the images and changes the sense of space. These works have been printed on hahnemühle photographic paper and mounted on Dibond.

Landscape Unions include the Desert, Mountain and River Unions. Desert Union was exhibited as part of the  'Worlds End' at The Guesthouse, Cork 2011 consisting of a multimedia installation using photography, video, text, lights and smoke. Landscape Unions explores the positioning of power in relation to nature, and how this is influenced by historical colonial perspectives about landscape reflected in painting. Here nature attempts to fight back, acquire agency and rights by forming landscape unions.

The Hunting Box Party 2005-2021 was shown at the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork in 2005, the Knoll Gallery, Vienna, Austria 2010, the Knoll Gallery, Budapest, Hungary 2011, The Armory Gallery, Sydney Olympic Stadium, Australia 2011 and the Emmanuel Walderdorff Gallery, in Molsberg, Westerwald, Germany 2021. Using video, painted murals, badges and greeting cards to explore the idea of the artwork as an ephemeral dematerialised object in the form of paraphernalia for a political party for hunting boxes.

More work
The Travels of Eugen von Guérard shown at allerArt, Austria 2011 and Sirius Arts Centre, Co. Cork 2012, this work looked at how nineteenth-century Austrian / Australian artist Eugen von Guérard exported a specific European colonial vision of landscape to Australia. Exploring artwork as an ephemeral object imbued with meaning and showing how ideas about nature are a construct of specific cultural perspectives. Using found objects, photography, text and painted murals to confound fiction and fact, past and present and the nature of our understanding of landscape.

In the exhibition I thought I dreamed of you 2009-10 at the West Cork Arts Centre, a painted mural and faked documentation of the same mural installed upside down in the gallery are exhibited together. The documentation took the form of drawing on a photograph of the exhibition space, suggesting a slippage and dislocation of space and time, fact and fiction. Consisting of photography, video, neon, drawing, wall painting and badges, this exhibition explored how we understand our reality. Can we be sure it even exists? Is it just a dream, a series of thoughts? I thought I dreamed of you explorers the idea of fragmented realities presenting a sort of post-modern possibility. The title of the exhibition explores the idea of ‘I’ as a thinking presence, while ‘dreamed’ questions the nature of reality suggesting it is imagined constantly in flux, and ‘you’ is experienced in terms of an existential quandary of the other, questioning how we understand ourselves through others and the world around us.

Upside-down Mountains is an artwork situated at the main entrance of the Northside Civic Center, Coolock, Dublin, installed in 2003. This work consists of two landscapes one in blue neon and the other painted on the wall. The landscapes are based on drawings of Connemara by George Petrie (1790-1866) engravings of his work were used to illustrate guidebooks to Ireland published in the 1820s when tourism first became a feature of Irish life and the Irish economy. Some of Petrie's drawings have been turned upside-down transforming them into reflections and suggesting valleys, while the blue light of the neon animates the wall painting. This work explores ideas of abstraction and representation juxtaposed as symbols of Irish society.

Upside-down Mountains was also part of a collaborative project with Peter Murray and was exhibited as an installation in the Research and Process room of the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork for the ‘George Petrie‘ exhibition 2004. The installation consisted of a wall painting, video, photographs, reproductions of prints, photocopied research documents and an interactive public participation area. The video and photographs follow a revisiting of the sites in Connemara that the artist made drawings of in the nineteenth century.

Lumpy Art History was exhibited at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, Dublin 2001 and the Turku Art Museum, Finland 2003. In Turku, the exhibition was a response to the work of nineteenth-century Finish artist Matilda Rotkirch. The exhibition was held in two adjoining rooms to the exhibition (Studios). The work expressed a sense of exaggerated romanticism using Rotkirch’s drawings and turning them into vast cold landscapes as wall drawings, exploring ideas of the sublime in history painting.

White Landscape and White History were also shown at EV&A, Limerick City Art Gallery 2002. These works were a post-colonial response to the history of painting, particularly the role history painting played in the perpetuation of the Western white male gaze.

Earlier work
The early paintings from the 1990s focused on depicting representations of space and light on a flat surface in layers of dark oil paint, using walls, windows and doorways to create the illusion of space within the picture plane. These works explored how the illusion of space could be created on and beyond a flat surface through layers of luminous dark oil colours on canvas.

The conceptualisation of my practice towards the end of the '90s changed the way I approached my central concern in the quandary of painting 1998-2003. The work became more research-based and explored how context shapes meaning. I became fascinated with the idea of representation as subject matter instead of a means to an end. 

I developed a multimedia approach towards installations and exhibitions in 2002 exploring the way site affects meaning. The Top Half of the Hero at the Triskel Arts Centre, Cork 2002, images of the gallery space and the hidden office spaces were reproduced and included as part of the exhibition, in the form of drawn murals on the walls and photographs. This created a dislocation between space and meaning, creating a heightened awareness of the site.

Sarah Iremonger 2024