Thursday, January 15, 2015

Patient Staring

Patient Staring
Works by Anne Hendrick, Aileen Murphy, and Emma Roche. Curated by Paul Doran
Wexford Arts Centre
19 October – 3 December 2014

Review by Susan Edwards

Tucked upstairs in the Wexford Arts Centre was a group of some feisty, thought provoking little paintings. It consisted only of eight works of art and coincided with the Wexford Opera Festival. Even before looking at the body of art, one is met with the exhibition title, Patient Staring, and the connotations that statement brings to mind.

Webster’s dictionary gives three descriptions of the use of the word patient.


1. able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.
1. a person receiving or registered to receive medical treatment.
2. the semantic role of a noun phrase denoting something that is affected or acted upon by the action of a verb.

In the case of this exhibition the action of the verb is “staring”, which is exactly what I did.

In combination these paintings present confusion, aesthetic pleasure, grotesque caricature and disturbing contemplation. The press release explains that the bond in all three artists is using their own vulnerabilities and insecurities in the art process:

In their aspects of making, these artists share encounters with anxiety and confidence, silence and noise, and the insufficiency of verbal language to express these experiences.”

It is possible to stare at these paintings and to tolerate that any immediate comprehension of their meaning might not occur. So, as this review begins, I can affirmatively state that there is little comprehension as to what the paintings are about, though a vague undercurrent of artistic history is present, as well a pointed application of materials.

Why these paintings were selected, exhibited and titled as Patient Staring is because the binding link to all of them is to not being easily understood. The viewer patiently stares at the art on the walls in hopes that some light bulb might click on above their head, but each click, of each viewer, will be individual. Therefore, it is plausible these artists give to us an enormous personal freedom of interpretation, free from right or wrong insights. 

Paul Doran stated that when selecting the paintings for the exhibition, he was drawn to work that was 'a bit off' and having a lack of clarity.

This was shared during an event near the end of the exhibition on November 29th as Doran hosted a conversation with the artists and the audience. He began with a quote from the artist Chris Martin, as to what constituted a good painting:

Who cares what’s a good painting? How about a painting that’s disturbing, raw or we don’t even know what it is? That’s probably more helpful to all of us than these very well made abstract paintings….. and so we have this amazing work that very few people pay attention to, not valued by the culture, examples of paintings that we don’t understand, a wild energy or freedom.”

We all have seen those types of paintings, the ones that illicit the cliché: 'a child could have done that'. Except they didn’t and that really isn't the point. 


Aileen Murphy’s work included three paintings with a central imaginative figure in each. Tender Wave, oil on beeswax in tones of yellow, gold, oranges and browns of a crudely drawn hand with a smiley face marked in the middle of the hand. The sort of doodle one might do when sitting in a meeting, bored as hell. Only this wasn’t a doodle, but a thought out artistic endeavour. Paint had been expertly layered, brushed, moved, scratched. Subtle blending, quick brief marks creating the outline of the hand and a rooster comb type of hair-do of the fingers, the smiley face giving it a naïve cartoon effect. The simplistic image was disappointing, one must expect more of a painting. But this initial disappointment created the need to dig deeper, so as to validate our art experience and Murphy’s skillful use of her materials and tools gave this painting depth, but not necessarily comprehension or a 'prettiness'. 

Her other two paintings, Kissing Wetly and Eye Believe were images of bats. The bats might have been of a nightmare quality, sickly sweet, garish and grotesque, a caricature gone terribly wrong. Eye Believe, consisted of blue, purple, and grey toned marks, this bat having outstretched wings and eight eyes on its head. It was at once creepy and fascinating. Kissing Wetly was a multi-coloured bat or even gargoyle image that looked as if it might have flown from Rio’s Carnival with its brushstrokes in orange, pinks, reds, yellows, and blues. The smushed about paint resembled a finger painting extravaganza. Murphy’s art process is intuitively led, leaving massive amounts to the imagination of the viewer. This process does not necessarily produce a lovely painting or a 'good painting', but it does give the viewer the opportunity of working out deeper connections, weighing and balancing meaning, or even to dismiss. 

The second artist in this exhibition was Emma Roche, whose work included two oil paintings. Roche has developed her use of paint in a three dimensional way, often making more sculpturally than painterly. She constructs with the materials of paint, building up structure and texture, incorporating bits of external debris and sometimes allowing that accidental debris to remain. Her paintings were the largest in the exhibition. Both appeared to have a theme or reference to bondage, or other dirty secrets, with images of restraints, ropes. Both included a centrally placed 'graphic' that hinted at being a representational symbol of warning or hazard. 

The Joy was oil on linen over board. Black and variations of grey tones of a horse head with an orange diamond shape placed exactly in the middle of the painting below the head. On either side of the head were descending rope nooses, or maybe stirrups. The painting was unframed, but painted around the canvas were beams of wood. Perhaps the horse’s stable? These wooden beams gave an illusion of depth to the image which was skillful. The mood evoked was dull, unevenly erotic, and tragic. While images of horses might not necessarily conjure up ideas of tragic, one need go further than that garish scene from The Godfather. The image was so jarring, broken up, and distorted with random design qualities as to give forth a notion of pointlessness. Again I was provoked to patient staring.

Punched or Bottled was the second large painting. Pale grey tones interspersed with bold black marks making visible a cubicle or room with a yellow and black crudely painted trampoline-like hexagonal shape (again, vaguely a warning symbol). This shape is placed dead centre of the image, not to be overlooked, which would lead one to think it has high significance for the painting. Above this trampoline shape is a wooden crossbeam positioned on the ceiling of the room. Tied to this are ropes that attach to a suspended u-shaped 'tube' of pale green. The perspective drawn to create the depth of the room demonstrates skilled draughtsmanship. There is a feeling of entering the domain where another episode of Salad Fingers might be enacted in all its weird uneasiness. In the artists conversation, Roche discussed that elements in her paintings which admittedly 'don’t work well' are a large part of her artistic practice, describing her work as “uncomfortable and disturbing with meanings not easily grasped.” Certainly, these concepts were excellently achieved. And yet this statement does not by default imply the paintings were either 'good paintings' or that they might enjoy popular appeal. But instead that the artist identified a message that could be delivered on a visual level to provoke a specific set of questions or feelings. And this requires a certain level of expertise.

The third artist and work to be explored is Anne Hendrick. Her three pieces evoked immediate historical art references fro me to Jasper Johns and his American flags. When she talked about her method, she said, “several themes are running at the same time... but flip-flopping from intuitive to academic research.” In the end, she did confirm that Johns was a reference point for these three works. Her style is described in the press release as “slow and meditative, seducing with silky and textured surfaces”. It also contrasts the familiar visions with unknown meanings at the same moment. Hendrick's work, again possibly guilty by association, can benefit from something John Cage once wrote of Jasper John’s artistic craftsmanship: “looking closely helps, though the paint is applied so sensually there is a danger of falling in love”. 

Recherche is oil on board, with red, blue, and grey squares of paper composing a checked pattern. It comes across as a woven textile piece with its depth and layers. Across the checked pattern, red paint is sprayed and splotched, tiny glimpses of raw paper show through. This gives it a pleasing distressed appearance. Recherche is an adjective meaning unusual and not understood by most. Indeed, there is no obvious meaning, as it is purely an abstraction of colour, shape and geometry, but the effect was not uneasy. 


Her second piece, The Solitudes, oil on board with wood, fabric, and mirror was the most 'flag-like'. The base of the work is red and white horizontal stripes, and in the upper left corner, on top of these stripes, is placed a piece of found wood. It is covered with small mirror circles of various sizes. The effect is so that the reflection of light and opposite objects are seen. Lashed in horizontal lines around the entire work is a length of green fabric twine or rope. The combination of found objects was at once familiar, but unexpected. The objects might have been scoured up from a hike along the sea discovering washed up driftwood and rigging lines. Yet the feeling of romantic optimism was produced, there was also regulated pattern and constraint perhaps offering a counter balance to this optimism... with disenchantment. All psychological, but if you take all the cerebral bullshit out of the equation, it was purely a lovely thing on which to gaze. 


The third of her works was an oil on board titled Magnificent Desolation. A base formed an illusion of a frame painted in colours of indigo, white, and wine. These square patches of colours again, formed a pattern to reference geometric flag symbolism. A second board was layered on top of the base, using the same tones of indigo blue plus white, on this she painted a night sky over a frozen landscape sprinkled with white stars across the sky and into a checked pattern. The impression of frozen ice and rocks was created with smudging, scraping and layering of paint. It was clever, creative, meditative, and comforting.

To be honest, Hendrick's work didn't seem to fit the criteria of being 'a bit off' or having some lack of clarity. The connection with the other artists' works was a stretch really. It is possible this part of the exhibition was an indulgence purely for aesthetic pleasure. And in terms of not being easily understood, I might concur with Mr. Martin, “who cares?”. Because it was pleasant, patiently staring at them. Her intuitive process joined with academic research and references produced work capable of reaching beyond an expiration date.

Yes, all the paintings in this exhibition were successful. But, not all were 'good paintings', and that shouldn't prevent us from seeking out nor from patiently staring. 

All photos courtesy the Wexford Art Centre. 

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