After an Act. Golden Thread Gallery Belfast, 26th May – 14th July 2018

I just read that Boo Saville  sands back painted layers until the canvas gleams. (


(Left) Ganymede 2015 Oil on canvas 110cm x 130cm (Middle) Perigee-syzygy 2015 Oil on Canvas 40cm x 45cm (Right) Aoede 2015 Oil on Canvas 110cm x 130cm (Far Right) Thebe 2015 Oil on Canvas 110cm x 130c 

Vanishing of  brushstrokes and tones  until the canvas shines   vanishes also a  painting canon like  the albertian window, gesture paintings etc.  Reminds me of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s poem The Vanished.  The first line:  

It was not the earth that swallowed them. Was it the air? 

  Boo Saville’s all over fields of paint are  a labour intensive sibling of industrial shiny surfaces like  those on cars.  Her shiny surfaces cannot be mass-produce, but do display similarities, in the way they look.  Still, however similar, each  is unique.  Their subject is themselves as a result of reversed process of painting.  

The world is airtight 

yet held together by what it does not house

by the vanished

In the Golden Thread Gallery  the curator brought together four artists exploring the “vanishing act” … He, Peter Richards,  and the four artists: Deb Covell, Jo McGonical, Susan Connolly and Brian Fay,  think of their art objects  as paintings or drawings or sculpture,  judgement derived from the link to the way material  is employed.   The displayed objects  are thus   “outsiders” held together  “by the vanished”.  The term “outsiders” is traditionally hooked on a hierarchy between talent and academia.  Among the proposals to leave this term  behind, another, “outlier”, has been recently introduced by Lynne Cooke thus ” a mobile individual  who has  gained recognition by means at variance with expected channels and protocols.” ( see Catalogue for travelling exhibition Outsiders and American Vanguard Art, 2018, National Gallery of Art/University of Chicago Press)

I sense that Cooke became aware not only of the creative force not dependent on academia, but also of  the value of alienation from established, habitual norm by seemingly unfathomable creative process.

In the After an act  exhibition painting/drawing/sculpture twists and folds chipping the established ways  by allowing,  for example, the paint to imitate behaviour of malleable clay or damp cloth,  to forge tromp l ‘oeil of nothing that existed before, to out-turrell – Turrell, to discipline your eye to subdue the image and instead  observe and focus on craquelage.  That’s the prefer mode of Brian Fay  who exhibits five  traditionally framed sheets of paper.


The skillful blend of light  and hues on the original paintings is overrun by an “otherwordly” observation of decay by time. It is a reserved and hard document of seeing   Ingres’ intention consistently dismembered. Art  erased  by process of aging as if it were a living organism.

After Ingres: Portrait of Vincent Leon Palliere, 2008, ink on paper, 55 x 47 cm Photo credit Peter Richards. also on


This profoundly modern realism entangles the sight in the selective  self- control: to see what  Brian Fay wants to see.  It is sober, logical, coherent intention  not to present an image as painted by  Ingres, instead Fay selects pathways of chemical changes in the materials Ingres used to paint that portrait.  The materials  used by  Ingres    gave “birth” to the painting, they are now gradually erasing it.  Not as shockingly as the dark ground on Titian’s  Pieta (1570-6) at Gallerie dell Academia in Venice,  rather as a gossamer of short marks.  In all his the five exhibits Fay  illustrated that   ” disembodying” of older art is not just a  passing whim.   Vermeer’s  narrative force  gets even harsher treatment.

Brian Fay , Restored areas of the Love Letter, 2017, pencil on paper, 44 x 38.5 cm

The Vermeer’s painting  is erased completely, except for selected marks of recent additions/changes, marks left by the bite of  being in the world.   It narrowly adheres to the idea of completion (replacing lost  surface), only to be drowned in the paradox of white empty area.  The empty is the area of the original, the new marks indicate fake, if the aura of authorship is your focus this difference becomes significant: Ingres’s art is not visible.  Fay’s chosen “iron cage of truth of what is observed”   cannot cope with spontaneity or complexity.  However, your response to the final image can do precisely that: by harvesting  associations with abstraction, abstract art of 20th C or with Tantra art, while consciously following Fay’s lead to ignore make the original painting invisible.  In particular, when  the imperfections of modulated black draw attention away from the magisterial white emptiness. The intimacy of the white emptiness is rooted in memory of Vermeer evoked in the title, by words.  And quickly disappears  when the eye moves on to the darker  restoration marks.  Different  rhythm takes over.  It feels  not  as estrangement, its fons et origo is in visual perception.  The sight alternates between the two constantly forging a tacit dialogue.  ( see M D  Vernon, Visual  Perception, 1937)

Art offers an intrinsic value not just by what it does not do, but also by what it does.  It is a self- perpetuating system in particular when the process and the system become one.  I have in mind the current re-working of the high Modernist call for the  preference over the story telling  of “how” it is made… dripping, cutting, assembling  etc … and in this exhibition a convincing lie of tromp l’oeil  lifted out of memory of  the baroque narrative and slimmed down to tacit (often one hue) magic.

I walked into the first room of After an Act playfully reminiscing  on Kandinsky’s memory of walking into “a picture” and fell for Covell’s optical play.

But first – the installation is  the monolatry of visual beauty, it  presents a shy beauty, silent one and  patiently waiting to be discovered.  A kind of chamber music  with solos in visual means.

Deb Covell’s  black and white  low reliefs, one tossed nonchalantly on the floor, alienate themselves from an established norm by seemingly unfathomable desire to look like a cloth or  potter’s clay.  Rolled out and folded over. (

This is not a view from After an Act, accessed on www. – It is included to illustrate the three dominant types of folds and compositions.

Her savant intuition ships the established ways towards the chain of behaviour of amino acids,  more adroit  to twist and fold.  In her 2014 interview  for Studio International she describes the process as  starting with a single brushstroke  on polythene sheet, continuing with more layers until the paint becomes robust enough to hold together.  Folding, creasing, cutting and collapsing  lead then  to the new stand alone form.  In that interview she put emphasis on  her need to  diminish the noise ” of my painterly gesture”.  (

Deb Covell, Double Edge, 2014, acrylic paint, 33 x 52 cm

Although the look sits comfortably with the tradition of low relief  and modern assemblage, intriguingly it evokes sensibility of a potter and a dress maker.  It has to hang elegantly and  to hold its volume, however slim, comfortably and in  (visual)silence.

Back Flip, 2014, acrylic paint, 52 x 62 cm

Intriguingly, I hear the story  when viewing these. Or imagine it rather?  Although visually complete and confident  her painterly sculptures  are open ended, the end receding from any possibility of one conclusion, as long as I look.  Presence of the present again and again. Akin to philosophy or  meditation on time.  In that interview Covell allows: ” My paintings are aimed at bringing a form  into the world and keeping the viewer in the present…” I associate this kind of inspiration with  Constantin Brancusi  and hence embrace her work as fragments of rebirth  of senses today so  saturated by  noisy pollutants of many kinds.

Fold 2, 2014, acrylic paint, 52 x 62 cm

Her savvy decision to dispose of habitual support of painted surface  rhymes well with our awareness  of connectivity of all that exists.   Her bold decision to make a painting as a paint capable standing alone supporting itself is not a marginal idea.  It shifts my attention back to the Earth as a ground for all life, our judgement and priorities  still ensnared  by the old model of hierarchy of being.


Submerged Form (Red), 2017, acrylic and alykd paint, 12 x 17 cm

In this exhibition  each art object has confidence and power to be itself thus  an amicable metaphor for human condition.  An admirable merge of intrinsic and social function of art, superbly visual and tactile.

Susan Connolly  exhibits  acrylic paint  either  as a skin, or on canvas and  armature.   I enthusiastically respond to her  “convincing lies” ( words I borrowed from Picasso). In her exhibits she offers intimate magic of puzzling my senses.  Yes, I love the freedom of the visual thought –  it has been, of course, recognised by Schiller as a conditio sine qua non of poetics as kingdom of freedom.  At times she reverses the proposition – what you see is what it is.   Painted cloth.

Susan Connolly, E+N: A painting project , P1 (2015/18), canvas and acrylic paint , 200 x 160 cm

Sometimes it is not what you see.  On the largest exhibit, installed on its own in a dark room, the fold on the right is not painted, it is not cloth, it is malleable paint in  layers.  Under blue purple neon light it operates as process and system at once.  Palpably tactile, the light saturates the space  in the manner described by James Turrell: “lights unites the spiritual world with the ephemeral  world”. The whole  interior becomes a work of art- one you can walk into, around, back and forth.  Not just an elaborate screen patiently built from layers for one  directional viewing.  Demand we operate in nature.


M,B,C/Neon, 2017/18, acrylic paint on canvas, 200 x 180 cm

This painting  carries its beauty without becoming overtly triumphant.  Beauty differs from the truth, good or justice, by being present in the world. It is a fact of ordinary perception, and people freely disagree  what is and is not beautiful.  Often, beauty connotes physical appearance, patterns, structures, eg. golden ratio, elegance of scientific proof.  In all it is individual sensual response. Connolly’s extravagant manipulation of conventional materials is to invent reality, not to represent, describe, an object and or image, but be one.

Y,M,C,C,Y,M,M,C,Y,YMCCYMMCY,YMC,CYM,MCY, (Highlanes Gallery),2015 -2018, Acrylic paint skin,

Leaning to the aesthetics of pealed poster board, this white wounded sheet refuses to seduce by beauty. It is ugly with confidence resulting from unknown conflict.  Getting old, getting used up? And yes, it manages to awake empathy (and a touch of drama in those torn up edges).

Displayed like a triptych, Everything+Nothing,  plays up the illusion of  hanging cloth.  It is the paint alone anchored on an invisible  wooden holder on the wall.  Three parts, three objects.

Everything and Nothing (GTG), 2018, acrylic paint, armature, 120 x 150 cm

Connolly placed layers of acrylic on directly on the wall, let it settle, and peeled it off.  On some the white surface of the wall stayed attached too.


Some of the marks echo their twins  in a mirror image, like the pink below.




In one case, the rectangle imprint on the wall  of the layers before Connolly pulled the “skin” down is visible as a friendly accuser.



As if accustomed to the conflictive process of forming opinion the tromp l’oeil gives up its truth  hesitantly. As if  in acknowledgement that public sphere has disintegrated. What is, is the art object and a discerning eye of each  viewer.  Connolly places her trust into the mute poetry without consecutive narrative. The story is the story of being and viewing. Not enough?  It is the view of good thinkers, like Italo Calvino that  the power of thinking in terms of visual images is value to be saved and protected.  He proposes to learn how to control our own inner vision without suffocating it or letting it fall ( Six Memos: 92). These art objects embody Kant’s questions: What can I know? What should I know? I allow that philosophy and that belief in visibility to embrace Connolly’s art as its true support.

Jo McGonigal  dips into the minimalist aesthetics by assembling contrasting materials.

It has been done – a half  a century ago, for ex by Isamu Noguchi. (I failed to locate the one where he used glass and stone … internet is full of his tables combining the two.)

McGonigal focuses both on the sensual story of ordinary experience with cloth and wood, and on the subversion of it by invention. It is reminiscent of Duchamp’s conversion, but substantially different, by rejecting the egoistic posturing.  It is not a  hard cold concept –  her composition celebrates the difference, while avoiding conflict or crush, or power struggle.   Her objects are peaceful within themselves and with us.   They exude joi de vivre with a touch of mischievous knowing.


Dirty Gold, 2016, Lycra, pigment,Wood, 100 x 80 x 7cm

They do look pretty, confident, with no trace of competition with another,  reminiscent of natural forms, stones, grass, flower…

Side, (Cadmium Yellow Deep) , 2016, Lycra, pigment, wood, 35 x 15 x 7cm

Origami, plisse, are somewhere near this idea, when it was coming to be.  A comparison to a less intimate beauty  perhaps secures the  appreciation of  McGonigal’s  mastery .

Below are two views of fabric tree stumps by Tamara Kostianowsky  (accessed on

The tree stumps look too near to her series of carcasses to escape the charge of description.  Whereas McGonigal charms with something  ordinary becoming something else and beautiful.  It is the state of that secret that makes the visual experience exciting.

More of her work  and interviews are  accessible on her website:


For me, the hanging on to older system of art as a ground for a denial,  or a departure, may be an illusion. The more drastic case I know, is Marinetti and the Futurists.  Instead of taking apart an anatomy of the past, I cherish connectivity of this new art with Earth and some indigenous crafts and children’s imagination. A piece of wood does become a sword or  a  princess. A skill to fold paper, layer paints, celebrate crinkled   fabric  – all have aesthetic power independent of art institution or theory. Perhaps visual art is flirting with magic here…

Duchampian arrogance turn play  reveals our level of honesty and thus is an ethical issue: for our stewardship of the Earth we need to nurture imagination.  “The imagination” writes Italo Calvino (Six Memos:91)  ” is a kind of electronic machine that takes account of all possible combinations and chooses the ones that are appropriate to a particular purpose, or a simply the most interesting, pleasing and amusing.”

This exhibition  is all three by sharing where the beauty comes from ….



About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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