My work is about landscape and memory and within this I explore the tension between the real and imagined. I use my own unreliable recollections of human habitats, empty wilderness, abandoned settlements and use an accumulation of references comprised of an imagined real as opposed to an actual real.
Abandoned places become backdrops and create a vista which allows me to imagine an alternative timeline or dimension. These places are like systems in flux, uncertain, with many of the elements reduced and simplified and create a perspective of nature, reconstructed as a series of indefinite structures and reduced to conceptual visions of space, time and existence.
Current work draws on these themes while extrapolating ideas based on boundaries, edges, transitions and transformations. In recent paintings the canvas has been split into territories defined by a boundary line where forms cross over, are transformed, dissolved, dispersed or absorbed. ‘Edge lands’ as a body of work, examines ideas about territory and boundaries and draws inspiration from existing edge lands and wastelands to create work which explores two worlds in transition.
New work explores ideas which surfaced while negotiating the grief I experienced upon the death of my mother in late 2017. Ideas on transformation and transition particularly resonated with my mother’s passing and the transformation of her body and I try to understand the process of corporeal transformation as an intangible connection to this same presence. Forms also now metamorphosize and take on the subtle qualities associated with the transformation of a pupae into its adult form, both a moment of release and rebirth.
Platforms, scaffolds, paper air planes, diving boards and the bones of architectural structures appear in my work and embody that moment when my mother moved from this world to the next.
These forms are at times grounded, moving, suspended, tethered, hovering, unfolding and at other times standing apart from the surrounding landscape. They capture an ephemeral quality, a fleeting moment which bears witness to a momentary leap of faith. They invoke their ghostly inhabitants and act as sentinels, observing at a distance, travelling perhaps to another place, appearing conspicuous at times or camouflaged by elaborate patterning, adding a surreal, dreamlike sense of discomfort, where what appears to have been planned according to a perspectival logic is withheld and subverted.
I was drawn to ideas popular among Renaissance painters where the use of the colour green was believed to create a bridge between this world and the spirit world and it was advised to use it sparingly as it had a particular power. The use of green in my work materializes as various structures, resembling bridges or pathways and attempts to span or connect these invisible worlds.
These accumulated experiences have haunted my work and have led to an exploration of a place where the veil between this world and the next becomes thin and exposed. I imagine a ‘thin place’ as a boundary where real experience and the imagined world meet and cross over, suggesting an inner world situated between the conscious and the unconscious. These portals which are fluid and dreamlike where forms pass through are distorted and upturned. The motif of a fringe or veil which hangs curtain like, invites the viewer to move through in order to view what lies beyond.
The former head of collections at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Catherine Marshall, has written of Lawler’s work that it is pervaded by unease. “It hangs like microscopic atoms of pollution in the air, lingers around multiple ‘blind’ windows, seeks to find a foothold under the high rises, only to collapse into the hollow grid-like like spaces that should be their foundations, and attempts to settle on ground that is subtly curved, billowing or cratered.” The work is marked by “strange blooms of faded colour, dusty pinks, yellows and greens that glow uncertainly against almost monochrome ground colours, surprised occasionally by more accentuated patchworks that remind one simultaneously of Colin Middleton and of illustrated children’s books.”
Yet Marshall also maintains that Lawler’s incredibly subtle treatment of colour, texture and scale, “makes her work a celebration of everything that is good in painting. The work is uplifting because it is always uplifting to find artists with the courage to address difficult issues. When they do it so subtly and effortlessly, we all benefit. The last words in relation to Lawler’s painting are a repetition of those attributed to the great German Modernist Mies Van Der Rohe on good architecture: ‘less is more’.”
Gillian Lawler is an Irish artist based in Dublin. She received a BA in Fine Art Painting from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin in 2000. She has had over 17 solo exhibitions throughout Ireland and has had international exhibitions in North America, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Croatia, Poland, Spain, Holland and Italy.
She has won numerous awards including the Hennessy Craig Scholarship, RHA Gallery Annual exhibition in 2007, the Whytes Award, RHA Gallagher Gallery in 2007, the Parenting Residency Award at the Cow House Studios 2022, the Graphic Studio Dublin Print Award 2019, the Winner of the Open Selection Exhibition Award at the Eigse Arts Festival in 2009. Other awards include a Kildare Arts Services Award 2015/2013/2011/2009, an Arts Council Bursary Award 2022/2020/2009, Culture Ireland Awards 2021/2018/2017/2011 and a studio residency at the RHA Gallery in 2009. She was shortlisted for the Beers Lambert Contemporary, Thames and Hudson publication, 100 Painters of Tomorrow in 2013, the Celeste International Art Prize in 2012 and a Merit prize from the Golden Fleece Award in 2013.
Recent solo shows include Edgelands at the Weber and Weber Gallery, Turin, curated by Valeria Ceregini (2022), the Molesworth Gallery, Dublin (2020), the Weber and Weber Gallery, Turin curated by Valeria Ceregini (2018), The Molesworth Gallery (2018) and Pallas Projects, Dublin (2015).
Group shows include:192nd RHA Annual Exhibition (2022), The Golden Fleece Award 21 Years Exhibition curated by Aisling Prior at the Solstice Arts Centre, Cavan, 189th Annual Exhibition, RHA Gallery (2020), Difference Engine, Altern_nator, HDLU Centre for the Association of Artists, Zagreb, (2018), House Taken Over curated by Hickey + Hickey, The Sonorities Festival, Belfast (2018), Resort Revelations, Lynders Mobile Home Park, Portrane, Dublin (2018), MAD Art Fair Madrid, curated by Jim Ricks (2014), Lacuna ,Taylor Gallery, curated by David Quinn and Sabina McMahon (2014), 40/40/40 Exhibition of Contemporary Art celebrating Ireland’s 40 years in the European Union, Office of Public Works, exhibition touring to Centro Cultural Conde Duque, Madrid, (March – April) Biblioteka Uniwersytecka, Warsaw, (May – June) and Palazzo Della Farnesina, Rome, (June – July) (2014), Difference Engine, Accumulator, Limerick City Gallery (2013), Black Country, Lion and Lamb Gallery, London, curated by Nancy Cogswell (2013), Difference Engine, Accumulator II, The Oriel Myrrdin Gallery, Wales (2013), Pallas Periodical Review, Pallas Projects (2011), Systems Beyond Certainty, Beers Lambert Contemporary, London, (2011), Difference Engine, Manifestation III, CSV Cultural Center, New York (2011), Preponderance of the Small, Douglas Hyde Gallery, (2009) and No Soul For Sale: A Festival for Independents, X-Initiative New York City, (2009).
Upcoming exhibitions include a solo exhibition at the Molesworth Gallery 2023.
She is co-founder/member of the group Difference Engine, an evolving serial exhibition, and a model of autonomous artist curation, by artists Mark Cullen, Jessica Foley, Wendy Judge, Gillian Lawler and featuring Gordon Cheung. Each Manifestation of Difference Engine is based upon an ongoing collaboration, a kind of ‘Jamming’, between the artists. The result yields engaging experimental exhibitions combining installation, video, painting, sculpture and writing