Friday, 18 July 2014

ART REVIEW: Irish Art In Derry

Derry-Londonderry's Gordon Gallery enters its final throes with a rich, varied mixture of abstract and pleasurable art

It is the closest equivalent of London's Tate Modern that Derry-Londonderry arguably has, and it is on the verge of closing down. Since re-establishing itself in 2005, Richard Gordon's commercial gallery in Pump Street has added dimension to a gradually developing artistic hub in the city.

From the literature of Bedlam's Little Acorns to the theatricality of the Playhouse around the corner and the splashes of colour all over the walls of the still relatively new Sandwich Company premises, the variety in Derry's Cathedral Quarter appears endless. Less so now that the London Street Gallery has already closed and the Gordon Gallery is days away from following suit, leaving the CCA to fly the flag in this corner of the historic city walls.

The final exhibition, Irish Art In Derry, reveals countless possibilities, all four walls at the back of the gallery adorned with paintings, prints and pictures. A collection of sculptures rest on two narrow, lengthy wooden tables at either end of the seating central to the bright, sterile-looking space.

One particularly eye-catching sculpture is "The Factory Floor" by Belfast-born sculptor Deborah Brown. The appearance of four bronze figurines trapped between two tall metal pillars on a steel grey sheet is symbolic of both the work they do and the routine they have fallen into; a routine they can't seem to break free from, even if they want to. Their shrunken, hunched, lumbering postures suggest anaesthetisation to their jobs, institutionalisation to their surroundings; but it appears to be institutionalisation born out of apathy, with no redeeming features. It is a simply remarkable work.

Another personal favourite is Chris Wilson's Island (Tory), pictured. Wilson himself presents this sculpture as one of a set that juxtaposes opposing perspectives with a single form. With that in mind, one feels he has accomplished his mission statement through sound positional sense and strong attention to detail. The five small houses on the edge of the cliff are emblematic of traditional dwellings; the location of said houses, the cracks in the rock face below them, and the rock supporting the cliff, encapsulate a feeling of consistently living on the edge.

The four walls surrounding these sculptures, and many more (including Brendan Jamison's Tate Mausoleum, constructed entirely out of sugar) consist primarily of coloured oil paintings. The most abstract of all are possibly the works of Feilim Egan, Patrick Bradley and Philip Flanagan, all three using blocks to provide unique takes on overhead viewpoints; a means of creating their own realities. While I admire Bradley's lively colour mixtures, and am intrigued by the dusk and undersea views presented in Egan's work, it is the simplistic vibrancy of Flanagan that impresses most. His work, in a way, captures the spirit of the exhibition: it is more about one's perception of the image rather than the inspection of the subject. It's less about what we see, and more about how we see and symbolise it in our heads.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, such as the still life paintings of Trudie Mooney, the arguably brash but arresting work of Colin McGookin, and the representations of isolation in Martin Gale's "Long Gone" and "New Girl". But, on the whole, Irish Art In Derry is an exhibition that leaves one with more questions than answers; a fine, fitting legacy for this sadly departing gallery to leave behind.

Irish Art In Derry runs until tomorrow, Saturday July 19, in Derry-Londonderry's Gordon Gallery.