Lawler’s work is about landscape and memory and within this she explores the tension between the real and imagined. She explores her own unreliable recollections of human habitats, empty wilderness, abandoned settlements and uses an accumulation of references comprised of an imagined real as opposed to an actual real.
She uses abandoned places as backdrops, empty and laid bare, and these create a vista which allows her 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.
These places are haunted by memories of the past and at times invoke their ghostly inhabitants, acting as sentinels, observing at a distance, travelling perhaps to another place, appearing conspicuous at times or camouflaged by elaborate patterning.
Imperfect recollections of habitats and environments, both real and imagined, pose a surreal, dreamlike sense of discomfort where what appears to have been planned according to perspectival logic is withheld and subverted. and presents the viewer with a fusion of two worlds intertwined.
Since 2014 her work has been inspired by her visit to an abandoned coal mining town in Pennsylvania, USA, called Centralia. This work obliquely documented its post industrial landscape and the forced abandonment of the town after a vein of coal deep below was set on fire in the 1960s.
Current work draws on these previous themes while extrapolating ideas based on boundaries, edges, transitions and transformations. In recent paintings the canvas was split into two territories s with a defined boundary line where forms crossed over, were transformed, dissolved, dispersed or absorbed. In many ways these territories became meditative spaces, allowing these changes to occur.
Of particular impact for her during this time was the grief she experienced upon the death of her mother in late 2017. Ideas on transformation and transition particularly resonated with her mother’s passing and the transformation of her body. Once again platforms and scaffolds appeared in her work and embodied that moment when her mother moved from this world to the next, representing her body in transition. She incorporated new forms based on paper air planes, diving boards and the bones of architectural structures. These elements are sometimes grounded, moving, suspended, tethered, hovering, unfolding and at other times standing apart from the landscape. They describe the journey that she and her mother took during her death and the loss, the release and acceptance she felt over the following years.
These accumulated experiences have haunted Lawler’s work and have led to an exploration of a place where the veil between this world and the next becomes thin and exposed. It captures an ephemeral quality, a fleeting moment which bears witness to a momentary leap of faith, and is suggestive of an inner world situated between the conscious and the unconscious.
Current work also investigates ideas which were 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 Lawler’s work materializes as various structures, resembling bridges or pathways and attempts to span or connect these invisible worlds.
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 exhibited extensively throughout Ireland and has had international exhibitions in America, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Croatia, Poland, Spain, Holland and Italy.
She has won numerous awards including the Graphic Studio Dublin Print Award 2019, the Winner of the Open Selection Exhibition Award at the Eigse Arts Festival in 2009, the Hennessy Craig Award, RHA Gallery Annual exhibition in 2007, the Whytes Award, RHA Gallagher Gallery in 2007. Other awards include a Kildare Arts Services Award 2015/2013/2011/2009, an Arts Council Bursary Award 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 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,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 projects include the 6th Painting Biennial, Zagreb, HDLU, October 2021 and a solo exhibition at The Weber and Weber Gallery in Turin curated by Valeria Ceregini, January 2022.
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