Image: Build Your Own Horizon / Kinsale, 2020 prototype cutout, ink on paper, 10 x 29cm
Art for me has always been about the possibility of 'Being' and what it means to be a cultural political gendered thinking consciousness. Based in Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland my work utilises text, photography, murals, painting, drawing, badges, cards, found images, video and neon. Early work consisted of painting and was embedded in romantic and modernist traditions with epic implications. Later works attempted to attain a kind of entanglement with the world through site-specific installations. These works explored representation and how scenarios of separation and domination of the world around us are perpetuated as a hangover of the romantic tradition.
A return to painting since 2014 has focused on the appropriation and adaptation of found images using them as the foundation to create complex multilayered images where visual signifiers become hidden in a forest of jewel-like post-representational camouflage and through the use of Venn diagrams as guides for a self-directed systematic approach to making paintings which place self-expression in the background.
Present workCantos is a text-based artwork 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 concrete prose poem, which reveals the process of creating in the artwork itself. The first chapter Thinking Vessels traces the development of the ideas which led to the Vessels work, including the use of Venn diagrams as a possible framework for making paintings, exploring how the mind wanders in and out and around its subject matter. Here it is transformed into a conceptual writing artwork that explores my thought processes through times of inspiration, self-doubt and trauma working at the interface of visual art and literature.
Vessels 2019-22 is a series of paintings started in 2019 and developed through the pandemic, conceived as thought experiments that use Venn diagrams to explore the illusion of perception. The Venn diagrams become guides for a self-directed systematic approach to making paintings, which challenges the author dynamic by placing self-expression in the background. I explored the history of vessels and how their shapes change through time and in relation to their cultural identities by reducing them to silhouettes settling on seven basic shapes from Turkey, Iran, North America, Sudan, Thailand, Pakistan and Syria. Using separation colours magenta, cyan and yellow I superimposed the shapes one on top of the other to suggest Venn diagrams creating the illusion of layers through colour juxtaposition. The Vessels work is a call for collective global unity and a contemplation of its complexities through the use of colour.
This work has been made in the context of a post-representational, post-romantic thought process, for example using diagrams and images that interact with the world rather than representing it as source material opens up 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 by its nature 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.
Build Your Own Horizon was a public participation project, 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 the horizons through the windows from each of the floors 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 idea of 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 project Horizons with the late poet Derek Mahon. This project involved a poem and a completed prose piece, which were published as part of the collections ‘Olympia and the Internet’ and 'Against the Clock' by The Gallery Press in 2017 and 2018 respectively. This work was exhibited as part of 'Press Play' at Oliver Sears Gallery, Dublin 2019 and received a Cork County Council Arts Grants Scheme Award in 2015.
The watercolours and drawings in this project are based on a variety of images sourced from original photographs and drawings, as well as online images and images from art history. They have been painted in the style of camouflage and layered to create a fragmented confusion of random abstract shapes. Images include photographs of Cork Harbour and Skellig Michael, as well as found images of Star Wars and nature camouflages, and the works of painters James Arthur O'Connor, George Barret and Mondrian. On the verge of the invisible, these works investigate the identity of place and how in the case of Skellig Michael, this identity has been co-opted or displaced for mass media and corporate gain. Their style references early twentieth-century abstraction with a digital twist. By placing the agency of the subject matter, a personal artistic signature and expression in the background the visual signifiers become hidden in a forest of post-representational camouflage-like thought experiments exploring the illusion of perception.
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 of printed digital artworks based on paintings of Cork Harbour by nineteenth-century maritime artist George Mounsey Wheatly Atkinson and paintings 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 of the paintings 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' project at The Guesthouse, Cork 2011. It consisted of a multimedia installation using photography, video, text, lights and smoke. This line of thinking came about through a residency at The Broken Hill Art Exchange, NSW, Australia in May 2011, and the work of Austrian / Australian nineteenth-century artist Eugen von Guérard explores the positioning of power in relation to nature, and how this is influenced by historical colonial perspectives about the landscape. Here nature attempts to fight back, and acquire its agency and rights through the idea of forming landscape unions.
Different materials such as video, neon, drawn and painted murals, printed media, and photographs have helped me explore the relationship between perception and meaning. 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 object of imbued meaning. This work and the Landscape Unions 2011 use politics as a context within which to make artwork. These works are critical of an anthropocentric view of nature.
The Travels of Eugen von Guérard shown at allerArt, Austria 2011 and Sirius Arts Centre, Co. Cork 2012, looked at how the work of nineteenth-century Austrian / Australian artist Eugen von Guérard exported a specific European colonial vision of landscape to Australia. This work explores the idea of the artwork as an ephemeral object imbued with meaning and shows how our ideas about nature are a construct of specific cultural perspectives. Using found objects, photography, text and a painted mural to confound fiction and fact, past and present, exploring the nature of our understanding of images of the 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 explored the idea of fragmented realities presenting a sort of post-modern possibility. The title of the exhibition is a give-away I thought I dreamed of you explores the idea of ‘I’ as a thinking presence, while ‘dreamed’ questions the nature of reality suggesting it is imagined and 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 opposite. The landscapes were 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 suggested valleys, while the blue light of the neon opposite 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 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, through the use of Rotkirch’s drawings, and turned them into vast cold landscapes as wall drawings, exploring and critiquing issues 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 with regard to the role it played in the creation of the dominant white Western male gaze.
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 conceptualization of my practice towards the end of the '90s in 1998, changed the way I approached my central concern the quandary of painting 1998-2003. The work became more research-based and explored how context shapes meaning. Becoming fascinated with the idea of representation as subject matter instead of a means to an end.
Developing a multimedia approach to create installations and exhibitions and exploring the way site affects meaning, for example, in the exhibition 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 2023