Review of Edgelands at the Weber and Weber Gallery Turin Jan – March 2022

Different states – Gillian Lawler  

The second of the three Irish artists of the project “Painting through its poetical emotions”, Gillian Lawler, more than an exhibition creates a dimension. Refined canvases of reasoned and emotional painting together, on the border of a poetic abstraction that suggests figuration in which it requires the imaginative participation of the viewer. Different layers of more or less dense pictorial matter overlap in a visionary that tells of parallel dimensions. Seeing and not seeing, because you can sense it. Or seems to remember. A series of figures and geometric solids, empathically anthropomorphic, stand out in desolate lands, they float suspended in an existential condition of rethinking, of nostalgia, of dreams. Projections, shadows and surfacing, made of lines, reflections, splits or thicknesses that seem to press under the canvas, reproducing patterns declared elsewhere, in the same canvas. – Olga Weber & Weber via San Tommaso 7, Torino 

Review of eminent domain II at Pallas Projects – Totally Dublin 2015

Breaker, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm, 2015.
Breaker, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 cm, 2015.

Eminent Domain II at Pallas Projects is the second exhibition of an on-going project by Gillian Lawler which is inspired by the abandoned town of Centralia in Pennsylvania. Following the ignition of a coal vein beneath the town’s foundations in the 1960s, Centralia began to spout toxic gas from newly formed sinkholes left in the disaster’s wake. By the 1980s the town was declared unsafe and subsequently deserted, its residents relocated. Drawing from a field trip to Centralia in 2014, Lawler has channelled the town’s empty landscapes into eerie paintings of an acutely attentive and unique style. Although the works draw inspiration from this particular US disaster, there is an Irish quality to their chilling drabness: the grey hues, the melancholic tones, and the underlying sense of a slight and foolish optimism in the face of a devastating crisis.

The first painting, Relocation II, depicts a misty dreamscape with a superb sense of scale. Lawler’s expert and subtle brushwork is first evident here in the fragmented and scuffed black and white tiling that spans the image’s floor. There is an otherworldly sensibility to the painting, as highlighted by the impossible perspective which spans forever outwards into a cloudy sky that would appear heavenly if it weren’t so hauntingly barren. The tarnished and grubby surface of the canvas suggests flatness, contrasting with the expansive impossible space beneath. A hollow pyramidal shape hangs in an undetermined space above the skewed floor, the first glimpse of one of Lawler’s architectural insertions spread throughout each painting’s territory.

Relocation II, oil on canvas, 35 x 45 cm, 2015.
Relocation II, oil on canvas, 35 x 45 cm, 2015.

Relocation II A tar-black smoke cloud emerges from the grey void of Relocation IV. A pale red shelf hangs suspended in the painting’s centre, casting a slight shadow into the misty nothingness which surrounds the blurred ambiguous tar-smoke. There is no visible source of the smoke. No fire, disaster, or wreckage in the uncertain grey mist – the running motif that encompasses all of the paintings – which is painted brilliantly to create ambiguous spaces and non-spaces. Like some impossibly normal dream there is a wrongness, an odd energy central to each painting that sucks the drabness of things into them like black holes of mundanity.

In Vent, a pale green fog, seemingly tethered by taut cords, bellows up into the painting’s ceiling. A couple of the cords are attached to a bright-red ring which tries to hug the fog as it squirms and leaks around the ring’s circumference. The title, Vent, suggests an attempt to redirect this noxious cloud before it endlessly diffuses outwards, but this looped red structure cannot contain the gas.

Relocation’s colours are reminiscent of Pieter Bruegel’s dim snowy landscapes. A blue sheet of colour is suspended into the painting from some unseen support structure above the painting’s boundaries. The blue sheet evaporates a soothing powder-blue mist into the environment like a trans-dimensional sci-fi relic, leaving ghostly traces of itself in the process of being realised in this new plane of existence. Its unsettling nature stems from its seeming lack of function, like a bizarre Kubrickian structure.

Trautwine Street oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm, 2015.
Trautwine Street oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cm, 2015.

Trautwine Street oil on canvas Trautwine Street depicts the closest thing to what one might call ‘cosmopolitan’ of the displayed works. Lawler’s eerie park scene in Trautwine Street is like a cross between a gloomy impressionist painting and a hazy still from an early German expressionist film. Across the image is smeared a speckled tired row of creamy pink paint: A notably self-aware mark in the context of the show’s other works of near-perfectionist brushwork. The mark adds a sense of movement to the image like it is a passing spectre, or some snow caught on a sudden gust. Trautwine Street is unhaunted by the geometric structures of the other works, but underlined with a dark red line that is disconnected from the scene like blood gathered at the bottom of a receptacle in front of the image. It is a gruesome and subtle touch which is offset perfectly against the hushed scene, closer to horror than the sci-fi projections of the other exhibited works.

The treaded and re-treaded thematic terrain remains fresh in each different landscape due to Lawler’s adept painting technique which is tonally consistent but not repetitive or predictable. A large flat trellis structure is supplanted into the oozing pink-tinged smog of Breaker’s obfuscated rural landscape scene. Rigid diagonal blue lines are built into the painting like buttresses that sever the thick fog. The divide between the fuzzy dismal surroundings of the background and the clear structure in the foreground is broken again by small segments of cloudy smoke which creep up onto the structures edges like a clawing sentient monster.

A projector’s hum and rattle leaks into the gallery from a darkened second room where a slideshow of 76 treated slides, Eminent Domain, runs on a five minute loop. The mark-making in the doctored photos of Eminent Domain is somewhat playful, though the works are still littered with images of swathing black smoke clouds and inferred disaster. Like in black metal imagery, there is a forensic quality to the rural autumnal scenes of back roads overgrown with browning dead foliage. The second room holds the only sculptural work in the show: the diamond shaped Tower looks like a maquette of an extra-terrestrial monument, its checkerboard pattern referring back to the stretching floors of Relocation II.

The works are soaked in an overwhelming sadness that is somehow redemptive and cathartic. The exhibition offers a voyeuristic look into a world that is familiar and reflective of ours, but ultimately foreign and ungraspable. Lawler’s interest in sci-fi representations of desolation and devastation has led to a body of work that feels aptly speculative, although it is also grounded by a sense of close reflection on our society’s history of industry, and its ruinous potential.Words:

Copyright Aidan Wall and Totally Dublin November 2015

Essay : Sublime

By Dominic Stevens

When I was a young architect I was drawn to visit large, often abandoned industrial buildings and power stations, mostly in suburban Prague and Berlin, always on my own. Huge cooling towers, landscapes of pipes with smoke escaping, often discovered hidden in woodlands or down empty train tracks, I used to go as close as possible and feel the hairs on the back of my neck bristle, I would be terrified and exhilarated at the same time.
Like most of the great things we do in life, especially during our young life, I had no words for this experience and I was better for that. I didn’t need words because I never tried to explain or describe it to anyone, including myself. I just experienced it.

Art makes me feel like that sometimes, rarely, but sometimes. I cherish this feeling of terror and excitement simultaneously. Lawler’s art gives me that feeling, particularly when I take it seriously, put myself in the image and imagine it as a real proposition, like a child scaring myself on purpose.

I am writing this commentary as a bystander, I am neither art critic nor philosopher but I do know that ideas about the sublime try to capture this feeling, however following Keats who famously said ‘Philosophy will clip an angels wings’ I suspect that if I explore this too intellectually I may understand it further but wont experience it again as viscerally. Is it important to understand things? I certainly enjoy experiencing and feeling things more than understanding, I’m happy to leave the understanding to others.
Talking to Lawler about her process of painting I get this sense of her being really quite happy not to over-analyze what she is doing while she is doing it. Painting is a process of revealing something which is not yet fully formed in her minds eye. I imagined that these images must scare her as they materialize from her subconscious but rather, she describes a feeling of calm as the painting emerges, as if through externalizing the unsettledness, concretising it into real forms, real shapes she is ridding herself of some unsettling thought, exorcising it from her internal world.


It seems very important to everyone that they imagine that the world we live in is primarily a stable place, we cling to this idea of stability like a proverbial shipwrecked sailor clinging to a rock in a stormy ocean. This apparent stability is a mirage, we all really know everything (for example the economy, energy supply or food production) is in flux, moving, shifting teetering on the edge of some tipping point, yet we resolutely ignore it.

As an architect I am well aware that people want to imagine that buildings are a stable unmovable dependable thing, and as an architect I know that they are not. A good example of this is the Palazzos of Venice. We take them as solid, stone, fixed for centuries yet they are not. Built in the mud with two parallel rows of timber poles as foundations, the sink slowly and unevenly. The floors tilt over time and the terrazzo contractor arrives and evens them up with a new layer, a slice through the floors shows centuries of wedge shaped terrazzo fixing. They excite me in their flux not in their stability.

Lawlers paintings describe a world made of solid looking elements, often made of an ordered checkerboard pattern, that we know due to their positioning, distortion or disposition cannot be stable, it’s a world where a sinkhole may emerge at our feet to engulf us or a hovering building may fall on our heads. In this they are depictions of the ignored actuality of the world we live in, it places this unstable world in the foreground, demands that we pay attention to it and accept our unstable reality.


The feeling I get from the world, of terror and exhilaration, its clear that Lawler enjoys it too. She describes it in her paintings effortlessly and also seeks it out in her travels which she describes explicitly in her more recent work which documents, or at least works from, the abandoned town of Centralia in Pennsylvania. When she describes it and shows me her photographs of it its as if she is saying ‘Look! my world, it really exists!’ Centralia has been on fire underground for many years and all of its inhabitants save one have left due to the noxious gasses and smoke escaping out of cracks in the ground, and to the sink holes that are regularly opening up. As nature begins to take it back it is a truly dystopian setting of the sublime, the unstable and the uncanny.

Lawler gets almost breathless with excitement as she describes Centralia and I wonder if its better for being real or whether I would prefer it as a creation of her imagination.
Dominic Stevens is an architect and lecturer at University College Dublin, 2015.

Essay : Pyramids of Universal Intensity

By Daniel Lipstein

Gillian Lawler has invented a visual language that not only serves her own temperament and painterly visual logic, but it also corresponds with broader universal principles. In the evolution of Lawler’s painting it appears that a fascination with the poetry of architectonic structures has developed into an exploration of the essence of intricate shapes that are contrasted with empty, open and archaic spaces, by which they are surrounded. These spaces are quite ephemeral and soft, they are smoky, cloudy, they stretch to some kind of a macro-cosmic infinity that pulls the mind of the viewer towards unknown territories, while the structures within these spaces are hard, well defined, and extremely potent with the intelligence of the creative mind that invented and constructed them.

The relationship between these curious things and the spaces that contain them creates a strong sense of movement and power. It is a visual poetry that bestows upon the viewer auric fields of intense beauty, and like any good poetry one can feel this without exactly understanding the anatomy of such beauty and power.

So it happened that upon viewing Gillian Lawler’s paintings for the first time without fully comprehending the true intricacies of their content I had a powerful experience that stemmed from a childhood dream. These paintings of those strong and strange pyramids-like structures that were floating in some kind of cloudy and foggy space triggered the memory of a dreaming vision that I had when aged five or six years.  In my dream I was in a room that was packed to the brim with a very soft cotton wool like substance. Then at a one, almost microscopic point of the room there was a pinhead like metal dot that was indescribably heavy. That metal point contained the hardest substance and a most condensed mass as if in its tiny presence in the room all the mass and all the weight of the universe was held.  I was feverish and my mind hallucinated that most clear vision then of the minute metal density bullet running in all directions in the room and piercing with its hard substance all the areas of the soft content that filled the space. I was a small child and had no idea of physics or theories of black holes in curving ether voids, though seemingly my condition then of body and mind has provided such a clear visual mythology that was fit enough to describe the essence of some cosmological occurrences.

Experiencing the power and the beauty in Lawler’s paintings had such an effect that I was transported to that very same strong atmosphere of such visual mythology that chronologically and essentially precedes science, as it provides the atmospheric theater in which principles of science are contemplated.  Those wonderful pyramid like structures and those concave and protruding plains that stretch through continuous and meandering lines of squares provide for the viewer of Lawler’s paintings a comfortable arena in which the truth can be felt.

The non parallel lines inevitably turn into triangles and pyramids which are the most basic, and ancient architectonic forms onto which Lawler has exteriorised the interiors of Renaissance perspectives and dimensions.  These perspectives with their wonderful play of vanishing points evolve into concepts and then from their being concepts they become things that Lawler inserts in space to face the raw and open elements of the universe.  In doing so the painter uses her use of texturing and colouring in fascinating ways that convey a cohesive sense of unity in her work.

Apart from the sense of perspectival depth Lawler’s paintings contain a certain element of narrative depth by the way of the seen and the less seen aspects of the structures as if to tell us, the viewers, that in fact only a small property of the psyche exists at the visible tips of such ‘icebergs ‘, or such ‘pyramidic structures’. Also the placement of the delicate colourful threads in the compositions suggest a sublime narrative element, an entirely visual narrativism  which exists only within the context of the paintings and not in any verbal or other framework that is external to Lawler’s work.  At times these lines appear to have a self deterministic type of existence, life of their own, when in one painting they lead below a trampoline towards a mist shrouded netherworld, in another painting the line pulls or connects the top of a structure-thing to the heavens, upwards, and in another painting such line simply marks the shape of a pyramid at the top of a downwards receding bulk of many plains. Again these lines present a subtle and powerful sense of pure intelligence to the theatre of composition in Lawler’s work as they add an element of mysterious directions and therefore a subtle narrative tension, similar to  the pointed shoes in Jan Van Eyck’s great composition ‘Arnolfini Wedding’, or the arrows in many of Francis Bacon’s paintings.

Standing there in front of those curious and wonderful paintings I found myself again in the visual and tactile arena of my childhood dreaming vision, though now with the help of the painter I could somewhat feel a sense of redemption as if the artist had taken her time to study, organise, construct and express the fine details of my ancient visual mythical experience. In her own unique and honest way her work visits this particular site of my dreaming and validates it with her creative persona, voiced through the mastery of her medium.  I felt deeply grateful to the genius of visual art, the genius of painting, the way it is and the way it should be at its finest practice and form.

Daniel Lipstein is a visual artist based in Kildare, 2015.

Essay : Nothing Engineers

By Linda Doyle

Gillian Lawler is one of my very favourite artists. This is perhaps a completely unintellectual way to begin a short piece about her work. But it is impossible to comment without stating this.

The first time I saw one of her paintings, I had never heard of Gillian. A friend moved into my house temporarily and brought with her one painting with which she did not want to be parted, even for the short time she was staying with me. For whatever reason, despite my very keen interest in art, I never asked who the artist was, though I spent many hours looking at the painting and being drawn in by it.

That painting, Construction [70x80xm, oil on canvas, 2007] looked to me, to be of a large industrial stepped tank, muted shades on the outside and deep greens on the inside, into which a distinctively coloured striped hosepipe was placed, which at any moment now was about to fill the tank. And, like most of Gillian’s work, every time you look at the painting, you see something different. You see something different because of the way Gillian constructs her paintings in a layered manner and those layers reveal themselves to the eye over time rather than all at once. You see something different because of the shadows Gillian creates in the paintings and you see something different as the shadows of the day fall on their surfaces

On the day I came across Gillian’s work myself, I immediately recognised that the work, had to be from the artist, whose painting was hanging in my house. I recognised the geometric forms, the layers of colour, the varied tones, the shadows and the sense of wonderment and calm the paintings induce. I felt elated. I felt I had found an answer to something for which I was not aware I had been searching.

Construction no longer hangs in my house. My friend moved out and brought her precious painting with her. However, the gap has been filled by City Stack II [75×80 cm, oil on canvas, 2009], Accelerated Small Cities [40×40, oil on canvas, 2011], and Nothing Engineers [40×40, oil on canvas, 2011].

In each, there is a mysterious geometric three-dimensional object, angular, constructed from repeated blocks, set or suspended on backgrounds of layers of shadows. A large solid grid like structure of recurring horizontal blocks dominates City Stack II. Yet the painting has a light golden luminous quality to it because the yellows in it catch the light in a way that makes it shine. Accelerated Small Cities is a dusky blue and grey with the main cube-like object suspended by strings. And no matter how much you look you never see it all – more shadows and more shades appear each time. Nothing Engineers is more blunt and static. The triangular geometric object is set firmly rather than suspended, and though angular and hard appears to have a quilted pillow like top to it which is unexpected and out of place. A short striped motif bearing the colours of the ‘hosepipe’ from Construction has been painted on the right hand edge and is only visible if you stand to the right side when viewing. The fact that this motif seems to resurfaced four years after Construction, and is positioned on the side of the painting, for some reason makes me laugh. Some of Construction is still in my house. I wonder is it somewhere in her other paintings?

In all of the paintings, the layers of colour and tone and shadow look like weather forces sweeping around the objects. The objects seem solid and impervious to these forces and yet at the same time fragile. If the weather forces go away perhaps the objects will fall?

I find Gillian’s work beautiful and beguiling. Her paintings represent a built environment cast in a somewhat futuristic context. But they also seem to represent a three-dimensional, coloured perspective on everyday grey parts of our existing cities that go unnoticed. The city is full of gray grid like patterns under our feet. They are part of the very functional aspects of our cities such as sewers, drainage points, and gratings covering access to underground spaces. These are such mundane aspects of a city to reference. But these objects have also a regal, solid and comforting aesthetic and are in themselves beguiling like Gillian’s work.

Linda Doyle is the Professor of Engineering & The Arts and the Director of CONNECT/CTVR, Trinity College, University of Dublin, 2015.

Review : Upending/Difference Engine: Accumulator III

By Michaële Cutaya

10 October – 23 December, 2013

Upending, an exhibition of enquiries’ presented new works by artists who participated to ‘Troubling Ireland’, a mobile think tank commissioned by Fire Station Artists’ Studios that took place in 2010-2011. Led by Danish curatorial collective Kuratorisk Aktion, the participants were invited to reflect on their practice from a socially engaged perspective. During the symposium ‘Art and Responsibility’ which took place on the 12th of November, the artists discussed the impact the think tank and the interaction with Tone Olaf Nielsen and Frederikke Hansen had on their work. Their Danish perspective as well as a specific methodology, such as the time frame and a change of location for each meeting, yielded challenging and exciting ways of thinking about Ireland, its troubles and the role of the artist. The works produced for ‘Upending’ reflect the variety of the approaches taken by each artist.

Kennedy Browne take ‘trouble’ quite literally in mapping out that whatever Ireland is suffering from chances are it produces the drug to cure it. Ireland is Good For You is an archival print of a map of Ireland indicating the sites of production of some of the most popular drugs on the market: Lipitor, Plavix, Enbrel, Remicade or Zyprexial curing anything from cardiovascular disease to schizophrenia. This flourishing industry overlaps with a more ambivalent contribution to trouble. The Special Relationship is a projection of photographs of US military planes at Shannon Airport. The sequence is timed by a voice over going through the 17 questions of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptom scale interview used for diagnostic. Many soldiers suffered from PTSD coming back from Irak, but Ireland’s relationship with the US and its tacit support for the war in Irak might have caused its own traumas.

Anthony Haughey displayed handmade crystal milk bottles sandblasted with texts. This were the produce of Haughey’s collaboration with a group of Waterford Crystal craftmen who lost their job when the factory re-localised its production in Slovenia – now machine made. The bottles are a reminder of how Waterford Crystal was once an integrated, if at times unexpected, part of everyday life in Waterford. For instance, when running in new cutting wheels the glasscutters of the Kilbarry factory would use discarded milk glass bottles. In turn these would find their way back to the creamery and be re-circulated with the distinctive star design cut in the base. The crystal bottles have also been sandblasted with sentences, such as ‘People are the Economy’. These emerged from the collaboration between the group of workers and the artist. This group have now set up a cooperative, Handmade Irish Glass, and are fighting for the Waterford Crystal’s trademark.

The circulation of direct testimonies was the aim of Augustine O’Donoghue’s Souvenir From Ireland. Traditional candy rock stick in various green, white and orange strips designs were wrapped up with a sheet of paper that would be inscribed with a short contribution by those that voiced dissent over the last ten years. The candies were displayed in the gallery in baskets and jars to be taken by visitors. This is part of the Social Archive project, which aims to document recent social movements in Ireland.

In her essay ‘Reflecting on Troubling Ireland: a cultural geographer’s perspective’, Bryonnie Reid recounts her involvement to the think tank and how it led her to confront her discomfort, as a Northern Ireland protestant, towards the notion of Irish post-colonialism. She questions claims of identity or ‘Irishness’ as a form of ‘regulatory fiction’. For The Disappeared she sets out a diagrammatic genealogy of colonialism through thoughts, impressions, historical texts and the ‘disappearance’ of her maternal grandfather. A series of pinhole photographs of the sites along Strangford lough’s shores he was searched for, are lined up across the scattered texts and drawings; forming perhaps a horizon line of absence.

Anna Macleod’s Lonraím Ní Loiscim: I Shine Not Burn is an installation of solar panels on which are projected archival footage of the Shannon hydroelectric scheme at Ardnacrusha from the ESB archives. The projectors are powered by solar panels and a wind turbine set up on the roof of the gallery. The Shannon scheme was a bold ambitious project to undertake for the young Irish republic in 1925, costing as much as a fifth of the national budget then. The plant was to electrify the country in a self-sufficient manner. Macleod contrast this optimism and self-confidence with today’s timorous and often contradictory energetic policies. It is true that it is not only that politician’s capacity for vision has changed, the Irish public has also grown wary of big technological feats since then.

Ghost Empire & Cyprus, Susan Thompson’s video takes us around Cyprus: from stunning landscape to roundabouts. Gay and lesbian activists recounts their experiences and difficulties to be homosexual in the country. Cyprus is one of many territories that still criminalise homosexuality using British colonial laws dating from 1889. The film shot partly in black and white with filters that gives a softer, grainier quality to the HD, suggests a place that has changed little since these laws were established.

The artworks presented for Upending makes connections between the well and the less well known, the past and the present to tease possible narratives for the future. However, as one of the aims of the think tank was to develop new methodologies, the exhibition came across as disappointingly conventional. The impression may have been compounded by the more experimental format used for Difference Engine: Accumulator III on the first floor of the Gallery.

Difference Engine is a model of autonomous curation by artists Gillian Lawler, Wendy Judge, Jessica Foley and Mark Cullen that started in 2009. They produce a series of evolving exhibitions where they ‘manifest’ their work together, to each other, and in response to invited collaborators. For ‘Accumulator’, the catalyst was Gordon Cheung’s portrait of Charles Babbage, Babbage and the latter’s observation that “Jamming is a form of error detection”. The artists take the two possible meanings of ‘jamming’, saturation and free style improvisation, as a form of exhibition.

In the last scene of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, Justine builds with her nephew a ‘magic cave’ as a shelter from the oncoming Armageddon. The ‘cave’ is a tepee-type assemblage of sticks, not unlike the large structure made of fluorescent tubes in the Herbert Gallery 1. For Justified Ancients exaggerated Sublimity, Cullen combines an icon of modern architecture with a primitive structure to conjure a magic space. The reflection of the fluorescent light in the glass protection of the small scale drawings and watercolours of Lawler’s series Untitled I, II and III, draws them into its circle. In turn, the delicate drawings hovers between geometry and architecture, abstraction and possible function.

In the Herbert Gallery 2 there are works by Judge, Foley and Cullen, which feed off and possibly disrupt each other through their very distinction. Foley’s Super 8 film Wallpaper In formation projected on the back of a small screen, takes on the story of a Russian woman who became a genius from having her bedroom’s wall covered with pages from a math book. Only in the film the attempt at covering a room with algebraic figures do not go according to plan, with the paper constantly slipping and folding. Mathematical figures gives a comforting sense of control, there are no threatening contingencies – even irrationality is controlled somehow with its own numeric domain. Thus the attempt, however vain, to control the one room in sheltering it from the world’s chaos with mathematic symbols has powerful resonances. This train of thoughts leads the eye perhaps astray on Judge’s play with scale in Travel Sized View with Early Warning Radar Facility. The ad hoc installation of foam, wood, concrete, plasticene, and tripod stand come together when we focus on the concentrated lighted area designated by the reverse binoculars position. Just there looking through the reverse lens we have a trompe-l’oeil of a radar facility sited in a mountainous landscape; just there the chaos aligns to make sense. The works in the room share similar concentrated dimensions, with Cullen’s light box Toward Super Connection mirroring Foley’s screen, and its circumscribed drawing echoing Judge’s spot lights.

The Carnegie gallery is a combination of works by Judge, Cullen and Lawler with Cheung’s Four Rider (Red) setting the tone. Cheung’s is a somewhat hypnotic video animation projected on a screen in the middle of the gallery: a slowed-down loop of a cowboy riding a bull over a composite background of waves, rolling clouds and mountain peaks in acid saturated colours; on the audio, static noise and guitar accords from The Door’s The End. The slow motion movement and the guitar give an apocalyptic atmosphere to the room. The Door’s sound is picked up by the humming sound of an electric fan’s pals while its projected shadow beats the empty skies over a sink hole in Cullen and Lawler’s No Easy Bird Flight Remains. Lawler’s surrealist architectural extrapolations over smoky devastated areas take on an ominous presence. Judge’s scattered Meteorite Field adds to the end-of-the-world’s impression.

In the text accompanying the exhibition, the artists refer to Felix Guattari’s understanding of subjectivity. In his clinical and philosophical work, Felix Guattari has constantly challenged an individualistic model of subjectivity, exploring its production through collective, machinic or animal combinations. Difference Engine’s evolving exhibition series offers an intriguing model of combination of differences that produce new arrangements and new subjects every time it is produced.

Copyright Michaële Cutaya 2014.

Review of Black Country at the Lion and Lamb Gallery, London, 2013

By Andy Parkinson

Traveling this weekend from the Black Country, that beloved place in the Midlands, famous for its industrial heritage and the regional dialect, where I really did hear someone say “how am ya?” and see a children’s colouring book on sale for £2.99 entitled Colouring the Black Country (Lets See How Colourful We Can Make It), to the Lion and Lamb Gallery exhibition Black Country, curated by Nancy Cogswell, seems an odd enough co-incidence to mention it. In the exhibition the term has a more psychological meaning to do with memory, uncertainty, the dark unconscious, the buried and the hidden.

Two paintings by Gillian Lawler seem to reference dystopian science-fiction terrains where one might imagine that mining has resulted in not just subsidence but actual fissures in the earth’s surface. It’s just conceivable that they could depict real landscapes, the naturalistic style suggests as much, rather in the manner of certain Surrealist painters. And something approaching an updated Surrealism is the effect that the paintings have. They elicit a sense of unease, they disconcert, but only slightly, which somehow makes them doubly disconcerting. In relation to anxiety I have the impression that “less is more” especially seems to apply. There is something unsettling in attempting to work out whether the scene portrayed is “real” or fictional, whether to relate to the image as something abstract or representational and then the difference between the two becomes conflated.

Then I discover that the title of one of these paintings Centralia is named after a mining town in the USA that the artist plans to visit in November. The town has been burning underground since the 70s, built over coal mining deposits, sinkholes have appeared, creating fissures with thick dark smoke. All the inhabitants were urged to leave and only a few people still live there.

Gillian Lawler, Centralia, 40 x 40 cm, oil on canvas, 2012. Image by courtesy of the artist

Nancy Cogswell’s wonderful painting Dopellganger II is similarly “both abstract and figurative”. I know that’s true of any painting (the famous Maurice Denis quote immediately springs to mind: “It should be remembered that a picture—before being a warhorse, a nude, or an anecdote of some sort—is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order”) but I have a heightened sense of it here. The horizontal bands of bright colour makes it highly reminiscent of an abstract painting somewhere between colour field painting and hard edge abstraction, and the precision of the representational drawing is close to being undermined by the paint drips and runs that become visible on close inspection.  This uncertainty at the formal level is mirrored in the content. Is it just me, or is there something eerie about a partially opened drawer, especially when you can’t see into it? C S Lewis seemed to be onto this in the children’s classic storyThe Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Narnia could be accessed only if the wardrobe door was left ajar. As a child I remember finding this truly frightening. But what to make of two drawers open in mirror opposition? Some form of communication seems to be taking place, but thwarted if ever it had been possible in the first place. I get the sense of hidden content that remains hidden even in the attempt to communicate it to another.

Doppelganger II

Nancy Cogswell, Doppelganger II, 2012, mixed media on linen, 145x120cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Julia Hamilton’s paintings here also have an eerie quality. Both are black and white pictures of objects, one is a jar with a lid, a ginger jar perhaps, and the other is a jug or a chamber pot that has the blurred look a photographed object would have if it was shaken on exposure. And there is an analogue-photographic feel to them, one showing more evidence of paintwork, drips etc than the other. I am particular impressed by the way the image seems to form out of nothing or nowhere, as if it had been latent, in the canvas, and somehow ‘developed’ using paint.


Julia Hamilton, Ajar 2012, oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

And that development could be seen as almost magical, a revealing of whats beneath, much as the surrealists attempted with automatic writing, painting as communication with the unconscious.

Julia Hamilton, Séance 2012, oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm

Julia Hamilton, Séance 2012, oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm

Chris Hanlon’s paintings are enigmatic, engendering a sense of something lost or forgotten, or covered over. Untitled, a picture of a curtain drawn around an object, looks funereal, like it might be hiding a coffin, or maybe only a theatre stage. It is familiar enough to be recognised as a curtain, yet unfamiliar, mysterious because we cannot access what might be covered. But then that’s what curtains do, they obscure. Here we have painting as a window on an obscured reality. We wait for it to draw back to enlighten, but it remains closed.

Cave, is a beautifully precise rendering of a fragment of cloth or paper, a crumpled surface that may once have ‘housed’ something else, a gift perhaps, but the thing it covered has now gone, so peering beneath it reveals nothing.

Christopher Hanlon, Cave, 2011

Christopher Hanlon, Cave 2011, oil on canvas laid over board, 40x25cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

Richard Hoey’s Rent covers and reveals at the same time. Behind a slit in glitter encrusted fabric, is a photo of a crucifix, a combination of sexual and religious symbolism, opposing the sacred to the profane as well as questioning that opposition, whereas Reece Jones process driven, dark drawings of places reminiscent of cinematic locations carry an intense and absorbing psychological charge.

Rob Brown examines the way virtual reality penetrates the ‘real’. In Aldeburgh Arch and Chrome Limbo high colour abstract forms are combined with the hyper-real to create places that look plausible as illusionistic spaces, but that could only exist in painting, imagination or in digital media. They are artificial environments built on a sub structure of the natural, that for me act like metaphors for what in Chomsky’s terminology we might call “surface structure” and “deep structure”, abstractions in the sense of (continuing with the Chomskian language) generalisations, deletions and distortions, that serve to conceal the “deep structure” of directly sensed information. For Brown this is “akin to our relationship with dreams and the slippage that occurs when rationalising the unattainable and uninhabitable”.

aldeburgh arch

Robert Brown, Aldeburgh Arch, Acrylic on MDF, 40x38cm. Image by courtesy of the artist

What’s beneath the surface might be unpalatable “truth”, what’s on the surface is glossy and artificial. Painting here reveals its own propensity to decorate, to gloss over, to construct falsehoods. Indeed the children’s colouring book title may be apposite  after all: in colouring the black country, let’s see how colourful we can make it!

Black Country, is showing at The Lion and Lamb Gallery, Fanshaw Street, London until 5 October 2013.

Copyright Andy Parkinson 2013.

Difference Engine: Accumulator II at the Oriel Myrddin Gallery, Wales.
23 February – 23 March 2013
Review by Ciara Healy

The collective nature of ‘Difference Engine’ bridges the gap between artist and curator, and in doing so it shows multiplicity rather than hierarchy. During its journey from the Wexford Arts Centre on the East coast of Ireland to Oriel Myrddin on the West coast of Wales, themes such as convergence, states of being, duality and time were nurtured through conversation, into new manifestations.Dualities are apparent in the titles of the works as much as in the works themselves. ‘Viewing Spectacles’ (2012), for example, by Wendy Judge, is a plasticine Grand Canyonesque landscape on wheels. When viewed through a pair of binoculars, (or spectacles), the spectacle of the landscape is revealed as real, yet it simultaneously remains a fabrication.‘Travel sized view of Early Warning Radar Facility’ (2013) is made in a similar way, but this time the eerie hyper-reality of its fabrication is playfully amplified using green and red gel lights. When the work is viewed through the goggles provided, a disturbing double 3D dystopia is revealed. Surveying these malleable places from a fixed point sets the parameters of where our gaze should be, a method of viewing that has been comparably exercised by the tourist industry for many years.This challenge to fixed perspectives is also apparent in Mark Cullen’s ‘Infinite Preserve’ (2012) and ‘Carpet’ (2013), two works concerned with the way in which Eastern mathematical configurations are currently emerging in Western physics. Using aluminium insulation foil – the type worn by American astronauts in the 1960s, Cullen has carefully drawn a series of ancient Islamic patterns with permanent felt tip pen.Another visual metaphor for the dissolution of binary opposites can be seen in ‘Mandala’ (2013) – a large sheet of plastic tarpaulin, which hangs at an angle in the gallery. The sheet divides the space, but simultaneously allows light through the circle of holes which have been cut into its centre. These holes are analogous to the gaps in the landscapes of our minds, gaps that allow knowledge from different times and perspectives to overlap.Myth and fact converge in Jessica Foley’s ’The wallpaper in_formation,’ (2012) a film installation based on the story of a Russian woman, whose childhood bedroom was decorated with algebra from old maths books. Absorbing this wallpaper into her subconscious, she became, so the story goes, a genius. Foley’s Super 8 film is projected on to the back wall of the gallery, flanked on either side by two iron towers. In the film a woman is desperately caught up in the act of trying to install a series of mathematical notes on her child’s wall. Her efforts however, are fated futile, as the soggy paper crumples and folds. This point of frustration is suspended in perpetuity and serves as a subtle but sophisticated observation of our on-going struggle to come to terms with the alienating world in which we now live. The anxiety in Judge and Foley’s work, far from being introspective catharsis, is a healthy response to a barbaric circumstance. Our contemporary obsession with the pursuit of happiness desensitises us to the fact that social stress, like rigorous exercise, can be adaptive, conditioning and possibly, transcendental.Transcendence of another kind is seen in Gillian Lawlor’s paintings, where terrible destruction gives rise to beauty. ‘Centralia I’ (2012) is based on an abandoned mining town in Pennsylvania, where coal deposits deep underground caught fire. Lawlor has transformed this destruction into spacious flat planes with spiralling columns of ochre-red smoke. Futuristic virtual structures hint at possible solutions in the form of floating or elevated buildings, but disappearing horizons create a sense of unease. The abandoned Centralia in underlying ways resembles the ghost housing estates of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Lawlor’s paintings map out the sinking, sloping architecture of dispossession; their temporary beauty belies the hostile reality of permanent loss.Since the fall of communism, a slow nostalgic revival in early modernist ideals has been taking place in Western visual culture. Writer Jane Rendell argues that these socialist ideals are continuously presented in the West as failures because they do not facilitate economic growth. Difference Engine’s interest in abandoned moments in modernist history is important because it disrupts the idea of this failure. In the rush to find new and better utopias, much was discarded in early modernist thinking before it had a chance to be fully developed. Perhaps this show is a platform for some of those ideas to become what they never had the chance to be in the early part of the 20th century.

However, while it may seem progressive, like it did to the early avant-garde modernists, to bypass hierarchies, this counter-point can also go full circle. Elif Shafak warns of the dangers of “communities of the like-minded” and their resultant tendency to alienate others. So while ‘Difference Engine’ might exist in the context of an art world which has become commercialised to the extent that meaningful content is often incidental, it might be appropriate to remember that in the latter half of ‘The Birds’ by Aristophanes, Euelpidies is absent.

In our digital age the demise of ritual means we have lost touch with the authentic human experience because we have fewer threshold points in which to ‘become.’ Because ritual became associated with authority, we have developed, since the Enlightenment, a secular and now technological way of being. Canadian theorist Ron Grimes stresses the importance of creativity in ritual in the Western world today. ‘Jamming Is A Form of Error Detection’ contains myth, echoes of ancient rituals and, in Judge’s case, gentle humour, to question the spectacle of perception and the supposed respectability of science, so that rites of being can be ritualised in new and creative ways.

If artists aren’t given the opportunity to do this, technology will do it for us. And who wants a technological ritual to support us into or out of this world.

Copyright Ciara Healy 2013.

Painting, Architecture and Archetypes; The paintings of Gillian Lawler

By Catherine Marshall

James Frazer’s (1854 –1941) The Golden Bough, and his less well-known Folklore in the Old Testament (1918) explore the world of myth and legend and, provocatively for his readers a century ago, spell out the common characteristics between the Bible narratives and other great stories and folktales from cultures all over the world. Frazer’s work proved challenging to those who wanted to believe that the bible story was both unique and authentic while all the others were just ‘old stories’. What Fraser’s scholarly exegesis put forward was the view that all of the stories, whatever their source, emerge from universal fears and anxieties and does not preference any faith or culture above another. This sprang to mind, when looking through Gillian Lawler’s paintings from the last decade, especially from the last five years or so, in the same week (Jan 6th. –13th, 2011) that marked the first anniversary of a massive earthquake in Haiti, flooding of vast tracts of Queensland, Australia , equal we are told to the area of Germany and France put together, and an announcement that the human population of planet earth will reach seven billion before the end of the year. Lawler’s paintings present a world in which nature is almost invisible and where urban development is increasingly inadequate for the demands it has been developed to meet. As the artworks and the news items referred to suggest, those demands are not new, but it would seem, if we look back to Frazer or further, to the myths he explored, we are no nearer to solving them now than the citizens of Sumeria or Mexico or the banks of the Zambezi were. If the population of the world continues to grow at its current rate, how are the people to be accommodated? The same news reports point reassuringly to the notion that if the whole seven billion were to be packed into the same housing density as New York City, they would fit into the State of Texas. Thankfully no one suggested Queensland, where population density is currently very sparse, because of course; the threat from flooding makes it an impossible alternative, at least for the moment..

Aidan Dunne said it would be incorrect to ‘tie Gillian Lawler’s work to a single issue’ but there is no doubt that it asks us to think about the built environment in all its frailty, ambition and occasional beauty. The paintings High Density (2006) Devouring Force, 2010, and Submerge (2006) although they precede them, could all have been painted in response to the developments of January 2011. In their scraped-back austerity they express stark human fears in the face of terrestrial forces outside human control and the individual’s inability to ensure personal security. Other works appear to focus on more specific and immediate concerns, – the failure of urban planning to either provide the Utopia that modernist architects like Le Corbusier dreamed of, or to deal politically with the greed of the construction industry and recent economic failures resulting from it.

Unease pervades the paintings. 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. That unease is itself a symptom of the disease of urban planning. Lewis Mumford (1895-1990), who Lawler acknowledges as a source, blamed the structure of the modern city and poor urban planning for many of the ills in Western society. And like a disease, in her work, it produces 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. The lines of the patchwork, like the lines of the buildings and the grids or the furrowed ground on which the edifices are planted follow a definite but skewed perspective, which adds to the discomfort, because they appear to have been planned but according to a logic that is withheld. Familiar architectural motifs are presented only to be subverted, architraves and walls are pulvinated or cushion out like the billowing drills of the field in Lies Fallow, (2010). Nothing in this architecture is as it should be. Most starkly of all there are no traces of human occupation anywhere. The buildings either conceal their ghostly inhabitants or have expelled them. We are confronted with a wasteland.

Gillian Lawler was awarded the Hennessy Craig prize at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 2007.Seeing her name in proximity to that of Patrick Hennessy (1915 –1981) whose painting Boy with Seagull is currently on show as part of The Moderns, at the IMMA, is to open up a minefield of ideas and attitudes to space, politics and people. Hennessy’s very academic painting, very much of its time in the Ireland of 1953 already points ahead to some of Lawler’s concerns. Their work could hardly be more different on the surface but a brief look at the positions they represent is illuminating, not just for the work of the artists themselves, but also for consideration of our relationship to the spaces we inhabit.

Hennessy’s lone male figure confronts a brutally unyielding concrete pier. His path is relentless forward; there is no escape to left or right, while to turn around involves exposure. In his nakedness and alienation from humanity and from the natural world, he is reduced to the tragic image of man described in Shakespeare’s King Lear – ‘A poor bare fork’d animal’. Increasingly the image we get from Lawler’s pictures is one in which that alienation process has been completed to the point that mankind has become invisible, his presence deducible only through the disturbing evidence of maniacal building projects that hover precariously on the most insubstantial of spindly supports.

Lawler cites the American, Lewis Mumford. It might be worthwhile to briefly consider that other great writer about the city, James Joyce, (co-incidentally the anniversary of his death also falls within the week of Jan 6 –13). In Ulysses Joyce presents the city (Dublin) as a place where people interact and communicate within a grid of streets and public transport systems that constantly weave and interweave. He barely mentions the architecture. The people are the city and all aspects of its fecundity and decay are revealed in the course of the day of his journey through it. Lawler’s paintings by contrast, raise anxiety levels by being utterly bereft of people. Like Utrillo’s Paris in the 19th century or Eithne Jordan’s very recent explorations of stretches of city street they force questions about what the artist knows that we don’t.

Most of the paintings show impossible apartment blocks. The Tower (2008) invites comparison with similar architectural constructions. Was Lawler thinking about the biblical Tower of Babel, (Genesis 11: 1 – 9). That story, which as Frazer points out in Folktales in the Old Testament, re-occurs in many cultures, tells of a group of people, with a common language, who built a city with a tall tower to reach the heavens. God was angered at their arrogance and ambition and punished them by destroying their city. He called it Babel and “did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.” The idyll was over. Constant human exchange in Joyce’s Ulysses, is informed by the knowledge that real communication is not possible. Lines of Communication (2010), one of Lawler’s most lively and colourful paintings suggests similar busy interaction but its roots are corrupted and it is going nowhere. Even if we, increasingly share language and communication systems we remain, like Leopold and Molly Bloom in Ulysses, locked in our own private prisons.

Rachel Whiteread revealed the fragility of 1960s Utopian architectural solutions to population density in a powerful series of photographs; Demolished (1996), of tower blocks in London before and after their deliberate destruction by the civic authorities. The mushroom of cloud and dust that the buildings reduce to provide a telling comment on the original ambition, which was to provide housing, but without any of the social infrastructure on which healthy communities are built. There is an element of “I told you so” celebration in Whiteread’s glossy black and white photographs whereas the inevitability of collapse in Lawler’s paintings offers no similar relief. The painted buildings bulge and sway and may collapse at any moment. Accident, deriving from jerry-building seems unavoidable. While Whiteread’s work, for all its documentation of failure, allows for a more informed approach in the future, the degree of repetition and the sense of déjà vus in Lawler’s pictures offer no such comfort. If Whiteread’s photographs spell out the demise of Modernity, ushered in by Joyce, then Lawler suggests that Modernity never had a chance.

Sir James Frazer believed that human knowledge was informed, at first by magic. This later gave way to religion which in turn has been overtaken by science. There are no quick answers to the problems of population explosion and its effects on the earth and so far science has not come up with a panacea. Lawler, however, happily admits science fiction as another source for her work. Science fiction, like any other art form operates in the domain of the imagination, feeding primal fears and emotions. Fears of inundation, scarcity and survival are part of human heritage. Lawler’s understanding of their strength is what empowers her painting. It takes courage to express those elemental concerns in paintings that, at times, hark back to the world of the illustrated children’s book, but it is also a measure of the artist’s intelligence. The childlike approach, as Paul Klee understood so well, forces a sense of our frailty in the face of forces beyond our control, they remind us of something we knew all too well, as children; that we live at the mercy of systems that are not always on our side, and they link the work to the pervasiveness of the anxieties they refer to through their folkloric simplicity. Through their superficially naive imagery, gentle colours and modest scale they insinuate themselves into the viewer’s consciousness only to reveal their explosive contents when the guard is down.

If all of this sounds depressing we can think again. Apart from some wonderfully lyrical paintings such as Urban Song, (2006), and City Lights (2008), to cite two examples, Lawler’s incredibly subtle treatment of colour, texture and scale, make this body of work a celebration of everything that is good in painting. Doubters should look at the almost invisible mesh of white that floats irrationally but wonderfully in the sky in Untitled, (2006), or the insistent delicacy with which she undermines confidence in architectural form in (Untitled, 2009), where what looks at first like a solid cornice, reveals itself to be stratified layers of building that are almost imperceptibly breaking apart. This 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”.

Copyright Catherine Marshall 2011.
Co-Editor of Vol V (20th century Irish Artists and their work), an Art and Architecture of Ireland project.

Systems beyond Certainty, Beers Lambert Contemporary, London, 2011.

Systems Beyond Certainty reconsiders time, nature, and space as ideological concepts that exist as simultaneously real and imagined structures within the natural world. Five artists consider these concepts as metaphor and reality, presenting a contemplative re-evaulation of their surroundings through the aesthetic. Together, the works create a polemical context for reflection and for a consideration of the relationship between structures in the natural world that exist as both definite and imagined.

The exhibition is conceived through several distinct themes: the natural world, the utopian versus the dystopian, the spatial, the psychological, and the futuristic sublime. The work considers abstract representations of the present and future in both the constructed and natural world. These themes lend themselves to further discussion: the status of normalcy versus the pursuit of the ideal, the constructed vs natural world in crisis, imagined representations of the future, or the reduction of the ‘landscape’ to simulacra. Each presents a these concepts in flux: as reduced and reconstructed indefinite structures.

Gillian Lawler’s intimate paintings hint at dystopian landscapes with psychologically heightened perspectives that suggest the artist’s own unreliable recollection of futuristic, free-floating, anthropomorphic habitats. Entitled Two, Three, and Four Hours in the Atlantic Ocean (England), Peter Matthews’ drawings – made while situated in the Ocean for the indicated amounts of time – are temporal recordings of the power of nature. Russell Leng’s abstracted landscapes, entitled Mountain, reduce wintry mountain-scapes into deconstructed (and re-assembled) palimpsest-like paintings. Kevin Cooley’s stark photographs suggest the remnants of a deserted past or post-apocalyptic future; in Path, nature is an overwhelming and sublime subject itself. Jordan Tull’s angular, metallic sculptures are informed by the imagined, logistical, and intuitive parameters of reality, like minimalist monuments to a future world.

Each of the artist takes an engaged perspective of nature and society through a stance that seems polemically charged yet dispassionately psychological; for each the ‘wonders of nature’ are reduced and reconstructed as a series of indefinite structures: systems in-flux, uncertain and reduced to conceptual visions of space, time, and existence.

40/40/40  an Exhibition of Contemporary Art celebrating Ireland’s 40 years in the European Union 2013.

In considering how to approach such an exhibition as 40/40/40, the viewer might think they are being called on to inhabit many worlds, but perhaps it is simpler. Just inhabit the world of the exhibition, as it travels around Europe. With the different demands of each space and cultural approach in Rome, Madrid and Warsaw, perhaps what the curator is signalling to the viewer in the overall selection of 40/40/40 is that the unifying moment for each viewer is their own personal encounter with each work. So how do we make sense of this presented journey – the device used in this essay is to examine the works in terms of the media, and see if there are emerging commonalities or divergences.
By any standards, 40 artists is a large number of practitioners to present in a single exhibition. Being an exhibition of mixed scale and mixed media work, ranging from large works such as Joanna by Oisín Byrne to the smaller works such as Niamh O’Malley’s Pink, it is at the very least a substantial statement of artistic strength and health, as well as being an exuberant presentation, marking the Irish Presidency of the European Union.
Artists presented include Mark Swords, who creates a place with his colour bands that is at once a profusion of bounded colour, as well as a glimpse into a secret space. Nevan Lahart, a creator of absurd worlds, uses his mastery of paint from
his television series to seduce the viewer into a make-believe place in Europe – but clearly time-recorded in numbers, as if it were real. Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh suffuses her lavish paint application with outlines and frames – giving us borders that are
contained in the whole. Sonia Shiel is another painter who stretches the paint within a frame, pressurising the parameters. Kate Warner paints in a suffusion that seems all about surface, but creates a depth with the paint that swallows up
the viewer. These artists use thick paint to show contained worlds within worlds. Sheila Rennick is an artist who uses paint liberally but there is a fluidity to the paint that makes all her subjects, however specific, similarly fluid – her mastery of the boundaries of paint characterises her painting. Other painters such as Gabhann Dunne, Bennie Reilly and Wesley Triggs explode with their subjects and with their enmeshing of paint and over-laying the subject, leading the viewer into sense-experience. Kevin Cosgrove represents a specific world with his paint – deeply atmospheric and controlled, there is urgency in his application that is communicated to the viewer. Contrast this activity of the paint with the formal control of Hugh Delap’s work, having a cool almost graphic quality that transcends. An artist whose paint sits on top of the canvas anchored by structures is Colm Mac Athlaoich – his paint somehow hangs together just enough to make his Handel appear. In presenting these painters, the seductive nature of paint in the hands of the painter inveigles the viewer into many worlds – it is a leap of trust. With Gillian Lawler’s work, the exquisite beauty of the world she conjures up, with such a fine palette and craftsmanship of application, immediately draws the viewer to take a risk into possibly a dark world. Another painter in whose work the viewer can get lost is Darren Murray – this work creates a window into a colour field that has
promise, that is a study of depth and of light. His paint performs.
The Photographic Medium
Lynn Rothwell is an artist who proposes a point from which it all starts: the boundless nature of the world of knowledge, but immediately the viewer escapes into that boundlessness. Dragana Jurisic might re-capture the viewer as she presents a sleeping woman super-imposed with shadowy tree – either we are trapped or climbing. Suzanne Mooney demonstrates the image maker as a captive within the landscape of the image – contrast this with Fergal McCarthy’s swim, where the artist is the romantic hero within the landscape, but in a perspective that is anti-heroic. Jurga Rakau evokes the word filigree as a descriptor with slivers and layers, so delicate as to be almost present or almost absent. Adrian Reilly makes his photographic world cinematic with his colour/pigment interventions, where a tiny point of colour changes the image into a divining rod of magic.
This consideration of the photographic representation in this exhibition ends with Amy Walsh’s cup cakes – infusing these objects of desire with a little hard edge saccharine. Irene Barry in her photography looks and is immersed in the transformative quality of water on the subject, where magic and the surreal is evoked – in looking, the viewer can feel the impact of water on the subject. What the selection of photography seems to do here is to propose the viewer as a
participant in the final narrative.
Mixed Media
Turning to mixed media in this exhibition, Louise Ward’s surfaces are a mixture – obscured narratives with large imposed blurred dark boundaries on a large canvas. In contrast, Niamh O’Malley presents small worlds that are often obscured by our own perception of what we think we can see – the suffused surfaces make it hard for the viewer to commit to what they see – is it the unknown. Steven Maybury confounds any feeling of suffusion with his sense of real and realistic edge in his
Found Object. With Anne Hendrick’s work, even though she specifies what we see, the surface conspires to make us unsure, the outline unclear. The intricacy of David Eager-Maher’s work requires unpacking the narrative which is dream-like arising out of clear roots. In the final mixed media work, Eoin O’Connor renders an unreal landscape as a place of escape, obscuring the unknown. The overall impact of the mixed media works seem to de-stabilise what we think we see.
This exhibition includes objects. Magnild Opdøl is an artist who is a fine draughtsperson as well as a creator of objects that are created and yet real– her bronze, globe-covered eaten apple The Core is worthy of singling out, and is perhaps the heart of the exhibition. Along with this, her pencil on paper plays its part in the emerging drama of this exhibition, cleverly evoking the fairytale where the nature of The Core revealed. However, the exhibition avoids narrow understanding of the 3 dimensional, with Gavin Murphy capturing the locked potential in his Colophon framed as a painting on a wall. Andrew Carson’s paper snaking into the space has an extraordinary sense of movement about it, making it appear kinetic in its nature. With the wall sculpture installation by Amy Stephens, the artist plays with light as a sculptural element, controlling its distribution as it creeps out from under the hard edges, moving outside the enclosed triangle.
Draughtsmanship and image making can reassure – locating an image allows viewers to move confidently into an artwork, as is the case with Colette Murphy’s work, the expanse of canvas allowing the image to move confidently. In Oisín Byrne’s work, quite the opposite occurs as the viewer wonders about the woman’s expression, the dancing shapes and spiked fauna – the atmosphere is unsure. The extraordinary light of Michelle Considine’s work testifies to fine pencil drawing,
each mark considered and deliberate. The peculiar and the surreal nature of the work of Atsushi Kaga and Vanessa Donoso Lopez are complete examples of whole worlds contained in one image – they both evoke unease. Jennifer Cunningham’s drawing fills the frame – the apparently unconscious girl at the centre draws us in – into a nightmare or a game? Mercedes Helnwein uses light and shade to make her figure unknowable. This mark making medium continues with Lisa Gingles’s framed prototype book cover – using text in her work, she has strong interest in story telling. All these elements of drawing and draughtsmanship assure the viewer of talent and imagination – creating a place of trust.
Spending time with this exhibition, the viewer is infused with the life affirming qualities of art from the start. The work examines borders and boundaries; the art works use their different media fully, and also in concert, to make up a wonderful
exhibition for each individual visitor to experience. The only thing that the curator and artists can know of these encounters is that their work has been seen. This ‘common seeing’ might be considered the commencement for dialogue. Even if cultural difference means the journey travelled is different, starting from a common point is a mark of mutual recognition.
The range of work with mixed media presentation from painting to photography and sculpture is dramatic and the selection has an infectious energy. It is a testament to the quiet, confident and consistent engagement of the Office of Public Works with youthful artistic output in Ireland in challenging years.
Copyright Helen Carey 2013
Limerick City Gallery of Art


The Sunday Times, review of the 185th RHA Annual Exhibition June 2015, Widen the circle, by Cristin Leach.

The Sunday Times, review of Difference Engine, Manifestation 5 at SOMA, by Cristin Leach, November 2011.

This evolving touring art project features the Irish artists Mark Cullen, Wendy Judge, Gillian Lawler and Jessica Foley as well as the British-born Chinese artist Gordon Cheung. Lawler’s futuristic- looking, quasi-architectural paintings play off Judge’s hand-moulded mountain peaks, the best of which, Reliable Wonders, appears to levitate. Cullen’s fluorescent strip-lighting tepee (entitled Justified Ancient) firmly anchors the exhibition in sci-fi territory, but Foley’s inquisitive approach borrows more from the conventions of the school science experiment, including the found-object construction Electromagnet.
Cheung’s War video, with its bronco-riding cowboy in a psychedelic landscape, leaks the mesmerizing sound of the Door’s The End, while the largest of Lawler’s paintings, Urban Mountain 3, pictured left – in which one of her trademark chequered structures projects from a charred landscape – is among the shows highlights. Although dark, Difference Engine hums with a pleasingly pervasive atmosphere of possibility.

Copyright Cristin Leach Hughes and The Sunday Times 2011.

New Connections, Review of exhibition, by Cristin Leach, 2011.

New Connections, page 1
New Connections, page 2

Copyright Cristin Leach and The Sunday Times 2011.

The Irish Arts Review, 2010

Irish Arts Review 2011, page 1.
Irish Arts Review 2011, page 2.
Irish Arts Review 2011, page 3.
Irish Arts Review 2011, page 4.

Copyright Catherine Marshall and The Irish Arts Review 2010.

Preponderence of the small, by Sarah Lincoln, Doughlas Hyde Gallery 2009.

Preponderence of the small

Copyright Sarah Lincoln and The Visual Artists Newssheet 2009.

Gillian Lawler at the Cross Gallery, by PJ Nolan.

Gillian Lawler is one of a new generation of young Irish painters who manage to bridge tradition and the demands of an art audience for whom working in paint is verging on anachronism – a falsehood, of course. It is to the credit of the Cross Gallery that quite a number of these painters have been associates of the gallery since it opened its doors in 1999.

I’m thinking specifically here of Sonia Shiel and David Begley, as well as Lawler. Each of these artists can be seen to have re-assessed traditional, if not classical, inspirations in recent years by bringing their own slants; Begley to the human figure, Shiel to the natural landscape, and now Lawler to the urban. All share a love of surface and the materials of the painted medium.

Gillian Lawler’s work first caught my attention with compositions redolent of drumlins or magmatic bulges, seemingly landscape based, but very stylized. However, the decisively appeal for me was not so much the organic geometry of the compositions as the wonderfully worked patina in which they were rendered. There was no hint of that ethereal clouding into abstraction that so many landscape-based abstracts choose to wrap themselves in. Here was a determined and interesting, regimented deterioration of composition and painted surface – allowing the underpinning drafts to become something worked intensely into existence.
Then, last summer, Lawler was awarded the prestigious Hennessy Craig Scholarship and The Whytes Award at the 2007 RHA Annual Exhibition for work which had moved on from the organic curves of previous sources to embrace grid elements and areas of carefully underplayed brighter pigments, bringing a fresh momentum to her destructed grounds.

The current exhibition develops these elements further. While some organic curves reappear, they are as ambients to those grid-based elements which have now moved assuredly to a dimensional centre stage in all of the compositions on show.

The most striking piece, to my eyes, is a large canvas named ‘City on Stilts II’. Here, cuboid forms merge to a distressed, melded plane – calling to mind medieval cities, antique cabinets as well as some possible future tribal habitat. Dominant colours here are the eroded complementariness of Indigo and Apricot (also reminiscent of Shiel’s pallet) but with an aging influence of pale verdigris. A ground of parallels suggest municipality, tillage and the corrugation of machine processes. All is quiet however, the stillness of early morning in the city, or rather of the city viewed from outside.

Herein lies a key strength of the work on show. Each canvas presents a sense of an environment observed, as if by a cultural outsider – but which also realizes itself as a contemplative inner vision. Where are these places – within or without? Who resides in their viewing?

Other standout works are a large ‘Untitled’ canvas, which calls to mind a timeworn apartment or office block, but also resembles some metaphysically chain sawed woodblock in its iteration of negative grid spaces. Of the medium sized canvases, ‘Tower II’ encapsulates that sense of ‘inner habitat’ as its subject suspends between ‘ground’ and ‘sky’ of questionable logic. All are rendered with love of surface that fuses deterioration and destruction with wonder and beauty.

Overall this is an excellent show by a painter who seems to have found her own ‘third place’ between tradition and the new. Larger pieces are fulfilled with no loss of craft compared with the medium sized canvases more familiar to me from past work. Despite the emphasis on ‘modern building developments’ in the artist’s statement and the description of ‘primarily abstract meditations on the possible long-term rise and fall of cities’ – I find these works resonate with deeper instincts. In perusing the common planes and surfaces of the urban human habitat, it seems that Lawler is triggering the locks of inner rooms and perspectives.

The exhibition runs until 3rd May. An edited version of this review appeared in the Evening Herald HQ magazine of April 24.
By PJ Nolan.

Copyright PJ Nolan and the Evening Herald HQ Magazine 2008.

The Irish Times: Wednesday, April 23rd 2008, by Aidan Dunne.

Gillian Lawler’s paintings at the Cross Gallery are finely tuned meditations on the built environment. Around the time of her first solo show in 2002, it was apparent that she was a really good textural painter, and it seemed as though she might pursue a path of increasingly robust textural picture-making. That is not, in fact, the direction her work has taken. Rather, despite the physicality of her method, which involves scraping away layers of pigment, her feeling for nuance and structure has become increasingly central to the work.
This show features the most mature demonstration, so far, of those qualities. There are lots of ideas in play in the images, which use varieties of grid patterns and exploit the tension between the utopian impulse underlying not only modernism but much large-scale architectural thinking, and the sheer abrasiveness of the real world, where things fall apart.
Through the paintings, we can chart a kind of dance involving the opposed forces of construction and destruction, which is not to say that one is good and the other bad. It reads as a cyclical and almost organic process. This conceptual framework is strikingly visualized in interwoven layers of pattern and texture. Monochrome tonal expanses are enlivened with rainbow accents and linear structures.

Copyright Aidan Dunne and The Irish Times 2008.

The Irish Times: Wednesday, May 10th 2006, by Aidan Dunne.

Gillian Lawler’s show at the Cross Gallery marks a significant return to form by a painter who has from the first looked very promising. An explanatory statement notes that her paintings are related to urban environments, notably the rapid transformation of Dublin in the recent past, but also drawing on visits to Mexico City and Istanbul. Where previously she looked at the imperative to make a space within the crammed urban context, now she is looking at the texture of that context in a more considered, reflective spirit.

That could be as reasonable a description of her concerns as any, but it’s probably not a conclusion you’d jump to when you encounter the work at first hand. She has made a series of extremely well judged, muted compositions that combine the play of amorphous textural expanses with various schemes of linear order. So it seems she is dealing metaphorically rather than literally with her urban subject matter. Admittedly, on several occasions she makes very effective pictures based on stylized representations of architectural structures, notably in the perfectly judged City Block or High Density.

Beyond that, though, her densely layered images tend to be more abstract meditations on the long-term rise and, it could be, fall of cities. Urban Mountain on stilts suggests vast though fragile ambitions.

There is more colour in this body of work that heretofore, though it is used judiciously. In particular, she has devised a consistent palette of muted greens, pinks and blues that has retrospective associations, harking back to Roman and even Egyptian art, and putting contemporary urban development in a historical perspective.

Copyright Aidan Dunne and The Irish Times 2006.

The Irish Times: Wednesday, 20th October 2004, by Aidan Dunne.

Gillian Lawler’s paintings have weathered, eroded surfaces, suggesting a sense of durable presence. A recurrent mound shape, horizon lines and the atmospherics of the pale colours link them to a source in the landscape.

They are not depictions of place, but they do evoke a sense of place. It is a very good, restrained body of work, with some outstanding pieces, including no 19 in the catalogue (they are all untitled), with its fore ward expanse of pale blue.

Copyright Aidan Dunne and The Irish Times 2004.

The Irish Times: Wednesday, July 3rd 2002, by Aidan Dunne.

Gillian Lawler at the Cross Gallery is a textural painter, and a good one. But while she is drawn to muted, tonal expanses, she also has a flair for colour, throwing in minute, strategic touches of red and larger tracts of beautiful pale greens and blues. She makes scarred, weathered surfaces that suggest the accumulated marks of time in natural and urban settings. Some touches recall the great Catalan painter Antonio Tapies, but in a more careful, refined vein, at some remove from his gruff, authoritative manner.

Having established a characteristic surface, Lawler introduces various breaks and intrusions in the form of metallic or other additions to the fabric of the painting, or simply in the form of expanses of colour and, occasionally in the form of literal tears, holes in the canvas. There is a distinct sense that she views the space of the painting as a strange, transformative zone, as, not untypically, in catalogue no. 16, where a plank of wood, intruding roughly from the ‘outside’ world, assumes a different, ghostly presence in the picture space. That work, plus no’s 5, 8 and 14 {everything in the show is untitled), are the best pieces from an artist who is shaping up to be a very interesting painter.’

Copyright Aidan Dunne and The Irish Times 2002.

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