Like a photo, nothing like a photo… or somewhere in between?

oil painting by Mary A. Fitzgerald
“Makers of the New World” by Mary A. Fitzgerald


Yes, some people still talk about “Modern” art but you know, Modern art went out in the Sixties! “Contemporary” art is the term for these days. Just to clarify, Modern art emerged in the 1880s (with artists like Monet, Manet and the Impressionists). It continued with artists like Van Gogh, Mondrian and Kandinsky. (Kandinsky is credited with having created the first abstract painting in 1911). Skip over then to America in the 1940s and there’s the Abstract Expressionists (People like Jackson Pollock, Rothko etc). I suppose you could say that Modern art was a reaction to the advent of photography. Some people say that when photography was invented, it killed painting but then, others have said that when photography was invented, it set painting free!

And you know when people say: “Oh, it’s so good, it’s like a photograph”. Well, sometimes that bugs me. Why? Because painters are not just trying to recreate photographs. Why would they do that? Aren’t there all sorts of great little cameras around these days – why spend your time trying to replicate what cameras can do so easily? Of course, many artists these days use cameras as a tool but painting is about something else. Art is about something else. (Oh dear, why did I start on this thorny old subject?).


oil painting by Mary A.Fitzgerald
“Pageant” by Mary A. Fitzgerald


Ok. Well, just a bit about abstract art so… Hang on, if you’re watching the sun go down on Galway Bay, do you ask yourself: “what does it mean?” No, you don’t, you just admire the scene, the beautiful colours, the dark shapes of the clouds, the expanse… you just breathe it in. Isn’t it wonderful? So, what if you didn’t ask yourself: What does a painting mean? Why not just breathe it in? – appreciate the colours and study the shapes and brushstrokes? That’s one way, there are many ways of taking it in… and the longer you stay with it, the more you’ll get to know.

Anyway, I really wanted to talk about some paintings at the Pearse Museum, in the Palimpsest/ Rianú Project (curated by Claire Halpin and myself). The first one, “Makers of the New World”, is by Mary A. Fitzgerald. She was reacting to the romantic idealism of Patrick Pearse’s educational philosophy, how its influence and culture might have been felt by the boys attending his school. Her second piece, entitled: “Pageant”, refers to the plays that were a significant element of the boys’ training. “The idea of manufacturing fantasy”, she writes, “is something that interests me in visual terms in my own work”. Manufacturing fantasy – I like that – but is there a hole in that first painting? Or is it the boy’s eye? Is it perhaps referring to the fact that many of these boys went on to join the great rebellion, the Easter Rising in 1916? – and were shot? It is left to the viewer’s imagination…


oil painting by Colin Martin
“Foley Studio” by Colin Martin ARHA


And then, there’s the work of Colin Martin ARHA. In one way, he leaves nothing to the imagination, he puts in every detail – from the packed shelves and the angle lamps to the electric cables on the floor and the beautifully rendered shadows on the wall. (I’m reminded of one of Vermeer’s interiors, where every detail is so carefully described)

“Foley Studio” is a large painting (120 x 140cm) and it is part of a series of interiors that explore how space is used as a conduit for cultural, political and social value. The Pearse Museum holds so many memories in its lofty corridors. One can almost feel the ghosts passing from room to room.

So that’s what I mean – there are so many different ways of approaching an artwork and, of course, I haven’t even mentioned videos or performance or installations or sculpture in this post. What do you think? – I’d love to hear your comments.


By the way the Palimpsest/ Rianú Project is still on at the Pearse Museum, and Claire Halpin and myself will be giving a talk about the work on Saturday, the 15th of November at 2pm. It’s free and everyone’s welcome.

The museum is open every day except Tuesday, from 9.30 – 5.30pm. Drop out for a visit, it’s in St.Enda’s Park in Rathfarnham and there’s a nice coffee shop there too.

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  1. I agree about the difference that exists between paintings and photographs (I don’t like art that is super-realistic, I’ve never understood why some artists try to replicate/copy every single detail). In my opinion a painting has a soul, while a photograph just tells a story. K.


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