Willie Heron: Sculptures and works on paper, Fenderesky Gallery Belfast, 12 October- 10 November 2017

They  exceed a size of hand, of handheld art like Books of Hours, whose investment in private thought is difficult to surpass.

Yet, the need to protect freedom of thought is as great and urgent as in the 20th C that favoured loud billboard format for painting and memorial sculptures. Even newspapers grew in size.  A preference for a domestic scale, so successful for instance in 17th C Dutch paintings, signifies Heron’s quiet confidence in intrinsic values of sincere re-assessment of  what and how we consume.  Absent is the celebration of riches and plenty.

Still-Life with a Nautilus Cup 1662 Oil on canvas, 79 x 67 cm Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

All  Heron’s 27 exhibits are described  as “mixed media” –  a term elastic to neatly allow different materials in different quantities, hence giving up on the identification of exactly what each is made off.   Since Heron makes the material and its manipulation visible, each object confidently carry its individuality through the way it was made, assembled.  Like  The Willem Kalf’s painting  above, Heron’s assemblages are sincerely showing off the materiality of their existence. On my first visit I sensed that the tenor of all of them was  delivering sensual and somewhat playful experience.

Anew (left) ;Untitled (right)

Awareness of colder warnings  about the absence of unanimity of  confrontational poses,  sharp angles, repeated cuts, dark hues seeped into my consciousness that the layers, outlines, hues are becoming one thing and than another. In the above display the two abstracted figures mime a kind of samurai combat – a quest for dominance.  This becomes absent from seeing it from another angle. Nevertheless, the display openly states that the meaning is changeable – something appears sweetly decorative and morphs into a powerful threat in a split of the second.  To keep the meaning so fluid is not an easy task.

Red Wing

The Red Wing  could easily be a larger, billboard  scale – and that’s a sign of strong composition guided by order/ composition (Apollonian principle)  rather than sensuality-or scale (Dionysian principle).

Some are sculptures. They have a volume and measurable weight and do not move or fall.

 

Some hesitate between a collage and an assemblage.

Rauschenberg solve that slippage thus:

“Every time I would show them to people, some would say they’re paintings, others called them sculptures. And then I heard this story about Calder,” he said, referring to the artist Alexander Calder, “that nobody would look at his work because they didn’t know what to call it. As soon as he began calling them mobiles, all of a sudden people would say ‘Oh, so that’s what they are.’ So I invented the term ‘Combine’ to break out of that dead end of something not being a sculpture or a painting. And it seemed to work.” – In Carol Vogel, ” A half-century of Rauschenberg’s ‘junk’ art,” New York Times (December 2005).

Both Modernism and Art Povera  of 20th C produced numerous examples of assembling of found and often  disparate elements.   They established that defects could be a significant aesthetic feature. The shift from found debris to a complexity of aesthetic object is akin a reconciliation of  neglected, lesser, quotidian effort  with catharsis triggered by recognition.

The found object’s past is seamlessly incorporated by replacing the original values of found material  by the values  found in  intention, imagination and  connectivity between knowing and inventing. Sensual impact is akin to a sophisticated play between knowing and dreaming.  The success of transformation  Herron offers in a non combative manner, signalling preference for sharing.  In that sense this exhibition refuses to hide its critique of contemporary society’s prevailing value system that  governs economy and ethics both grounded in ruthless exploitation of resources. This art,  like the medieval Books of Hours, invites contemplation as critical as you are capable of.  It does not preach. Yet, it includes a morality tale.

 

Images courtesy Peter Richards.

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