Two shows opened at the Courthouse Gallery, Ennistymon, in the new year. Inside the main gallery were the prints and sculptures of Ben Reilly, and in the Red Couch Space upstairs, the ceramics of Jackie Maurer and paintings by Fiona Woods.
In the dimmed lights of the main gallery space, the sculptures in Ben Reilly’s exhibition appear like manifestations of an ancient surrealism: there is Fog, the union in wax of a horn and a traffic cone; there is
Barge, a rather large fish floating over a small boat, both covered, not in pitch, but black wax; perhaps most striking is Tank, a mummy-like figure whose distorted limbs, either bandaged in rubber inner tubes or covered in gold leaf, protrude at odd angles. These objects look halfway between religious relics and archaeological finds and their embalmed appearance relates to the artist’s enduring fascination with bog bodies.
Reilly’s series of prints, which use photographs or x-rays, are lent a similar decayed, organic look, through the graininess achieved in the photo etching process. In Cancer Head, for instance, the acid bites are linked to the disease, the moss-like growth on the print becoming malignant cells. Sharing similar territories with Hughie O’Donoghue’s paintings, Christian and mythological themes frame the enhanced materiality of Reilly’s bodies, giving them a transcendental horizon.
The name ‘Terrascope’ ties together the two words ‘terra’ and ‘scope’, reflecting upon the work of the two artists showing in the exhibition. Terra, the physical substance of the earth, and scope, to bring the breadth of the planet’s events into focus. As a ceramist, Jackie Maurer’s primary site of engagement is the earthly substance, although the art of ceramics might be conceived as removing the clay far from its primal origin to achieve exquisiteness. Three series of thrown porcelain pieces are presented here, variations on two simple forms: the pot Converse, and the cut out rim Transverse. They have then been twisted and folded, pinched and sealed, lightly brushed with glazes or left raw. The circularity of the rims has been disturbed by a wave-like movement, the capacity of the vessels sealed as a form of self- fulfilment. Maurer’s objects keep close to the function of the craft, while challenging their supposed purpose.
Fiona Woods’ series of paintings present a different approach to her interest in the transitional space between art and life, which she previously explored through posters, publications, installations, or sculptural projects in the public realm. In a folk- like, naive style, the works on paper and reclaimed wood spin together visual elements and references from mythology, history, and contemporary media, to reflect upon our contemporaneity with a simultaneously facetious and earnest purpose. The recurring Babylonian theme, for instance, has direct resonance with our financial woes, as these words in Study for Babylon Landscape suggest: “The eye of Babylon turning everything to gold”. As eyes multiply across several paintings, however, one wonders if the eye-like knots in the wood did not come first after all, suggesting reciprocity between subject and medium. In Wildlife Documentary, the hunting scene is depicted in a style recalling cave paintings, but the TV-set brand name, carved at the bottom of the panel, makes it more likely to be the recorded experience of a viewing audience than a hunter. The paintings on reclaimed wood work particularly well. This support not only offers the specificity of shape, size, and grain of each piece for the artist to elaborate upon, but it also furthers the recycling strategy developed through the imagery.
Although very different, the two exhibitions invite some comparisons. Both Ben Reilly and Fiona Woods have made use of mythology and materials that are found rather than made; the bog oak aspect of Reilly’s sculptures have a counterpoint in the raw, salvaged pieces of timber used by Woods. Furthermore, they both introduce modern elements – image or material – as counterpoints. But, where Reilly grabs the modernity of an x-ray image and plunges it back in the ageless darkness of the Cyclops myth, Woods goes the other way, having the archaic speak to our most recent actuality. In The Black Queen of Ennistymon, for instance, there is a playful interplay between title, form, and style in the effigy of the British monarch as a Black Madonna – an allusion to her recent visit to these shores, which reignited unresolved issues from Ireland’s colonial past.
is a writer on art based in Galway. She is currently collaborating with James Merrigan on the art publication, Fugitive Papers.