Unafraid Red, April 6 – May 4, 2017, QSS Belfast

Unafraid Red  (and the following U-Yellow, U-Blue and U-White)  curated by Dr Colin Darke has been inspired by Barnett Newman’s  Who is afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue ( four paintings made between 1966 -1970 as a pun on Albee’s play)) and not directly  by Edward Albee’s 1962 play Who is afraid of Virginia Wolf   even if it shares is principle, e.g. Act 1:Fun and games)

Albee described the inspiration for the title thus:

I was in there having a beer one night, and I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” scrawled in soap, I suppose, on this mirror. When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who’s afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke.[5


Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Ellsworth Kelly, had begun to reclaim primary colour, using it on their own terms. Newman, who had previously always mixed his own colours, felt compelled to respond. ‘I was now in confrontation with the dogma that colour must be reduced to the primaries, red, yellow and blue,’ he said. The challenge as he saw it, was to make the colours ‘expressive rather than didactic.’ (Tate Gallery room 13)

1966.Oil on canvas.

The hue is inherently validating a meaning. Why? Because it is there.  Because it is a voluntary discrimination of the rest, because limiting selection of art to “red or yellow or blue or white” is an “unnecessary obstacle” that carries risks.  I recognize it as a principle motivating  climbing an Everest as well as  Albee’s play, Newman’s minimalism and Darke’s curating.  F. Nietzsche’ ” superficiality out of profundity” defines it well.

Darke hoped that focus on one hue will provide ” a level of visual cohesion, while retaining the conceptual and aesthetic diversity that defines Queen Street Studios.”( Gallery handout – worth reading all of it: the curator researched the hue’s flexibility to symbolize life, love, class struggle, fire, charity, gravity, dignity, grace and attractiveness)

Displayed in two rooms, it had to borrow the back space for the   performance by the superb Amanda Coogan.

Amanda Coogan, Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, performance Saturday 29th April, 12 noon – 4pm

Her  decision to fragment the body into hidden static and visible moving  is one of those “unnecessary obstacles”. The spiritless container  still squeezes in the idea of a game even a smile, thus acting like voluntary discrimination against “body art”, inflicting contrary thoughts of imprisonment and disability.  The grace of arm movement, the drama of frozen open mouth, slow movement of head, all combine forces to disgrace, to overcome the obstacles.  Illusion of a whole body alive and well.

The ability of the artist to work through imposed limits  to protect the  freedom of thought, joy of unpredictable imagination  and to contain various skids and shifts of meanings  bounds the exhibition together.  A comparison of “Rose” and “Red Rhythm”

Catherine Davison: above “Rose”, below “Red Rhythm” ( both acrylic, n.d.)

Although in both paintings Davison  allows the red to look continuous over the colour field,  both tonality and brushstroke make obstacles to it.  As well as other hues. Yet – the red holds command over the “light” and “temperature” , a reminder of Cezanne’s rule that the painting should hold the same temperature from the left top corner to the lower right.

In a nod to symbolism  the red oscillates between several meanings (blood – fire) with holding on to its history as one of the three used by early humans, i.e. black, white and red)

Gail Ritchie. Wounded Poppy, watercolour on paper

The graceful fragility of the plant silently engages with Ritchie’s other set of the  hundred tracings of war titled Century (ink on tracing paper)

The technique of transfer and historical themes  attract also Jennifer  Trouton presented here as a grid of  “tiles”, each capable of standing alone, titled  What Remains (oil, decal transfer and wallpaper on board)

Her forte, the painterly illusion is represented by oil painting “Yield”.  On comparison, it seems  somewhat unfinished.

 Sinead McKeever  installed two of her crawling “relief/drawings” made from recycled material.

Sinead McKeever, Some Velvet Morning, Mixed Media

And when  this fragile looking velvety  tangible “line” got stepped on

it survived the change by embracing it. Her larger piece  Untitled  has not taken that risk of contamination, “crawling” safely on the wall as if coming out from the line between it and the ceiling.

Cheerful and melodic, it voiced the visibility of youth, energy – life.

For the way these artists treat humanity this exhibition was a very welcome alternative to the more brutal slogan like art  in some other current exhibitions. I particularly applaud   the curator and the artist for “raining the images” on the visitor as stimulus to their own imagination. While their points of departure are different, they coalesce  independent play with growing the meanings from different soil/sources  to make art that silently stimulates visual thinking.  Formed by intrinsic logic of visibility they -as if – obey Dante Alighieri’s celebration of imagination ” stealing us away from the outer world and carrying us off to the inner one…”. Not forgetting how they shelter under Goethe’s thinking about the red – cited by the curator – that it ” conveys an impression of gravity and dignity, and at the same time of grace and attractiveness.”


Images courtesy Dr Colin Darke and artists.


About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
This entry was posted in essay, review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.