The figures in Patrick Horan’s paintings do not fall from the sky like Icarus but seem to float in the ether between heaven and earth. In Pieter Brueghel’s (1525 - 1569) famous painting of Icarus falling from the sky to his doom, we encounter the moment he crashes into the sea where only the bottom half of his torso is seen. Around the catastrophic event life carries on, a man ploughs his field, a Sheppard tends his flock, and a ship passes by, not intervening to aid the fallen Icarus. The happening goes unnoticed but intervention would not have saved Icarus from his fate. Patrick Horan’s figures in these paintings are unable to change their fates and like Icarus in Brueghel’s painting we only see the lower region of the body. The expressive quality of the upper body is removed from the scenario and the figures are forlorn without the ability to communicate fully on the unearthly nature of their existence. They float aimlessly without any perceived goal but are subject to forces beyond their control and are unable to influence historical events.
The darkening skies in some paintings hint with foreboding the vulnerable nature of naked flesh and its inability to defend itself against the coming onslaught. In this vacuum, exposed flesh is helpless against onrushing chaos and entwine closer, searching for comfort and protection. A foot tries to cling to the inside of a thigh; a knee tries to embed itself beneath a foot. They clasp and tumble into one another hoping to prevent non-existence.
Searching for a way to decipher these paintings is difficult. On one hand they are beautifully crafted paintings of human flesh and yet suggest on another level a deeper meaning which the artist does not reveal. It is the search for a greater understanding of these works that the rest of this review explores.
Eugene Delacroix (1798 – 1863) stated something along the lines,”if you cannot draw a falling man from a fourth story window to the ground you will never be able to go for the big stuff”. Patrick no doubt knows his art history and would recognise this quote. Patrick has the skill to accomplish the test set by Delacroix but what about the “big stuff”. My train of thought brought me to Theodore Gericault’s (1791 – 1824) painting “raft of the Medusa”. The painting is based on a sea faring tragedy. A French ship ran aground on a sand bank and to lighten its load and refloat, the captain placed its rich travellers in boats and the poor were dispatched onto a make shift raft and left to their fate. 147 souls were placed on this raft but only 10 survived. The captain and his crew survived unscathed. Later it was discovered the captain had not sailed in twenty years and did not know the waters around the African coast. Delacroix posed naked for one of the figures in Gericault’s painting and Gericault’s extensive research led him to make drawings of amputated limbs, which in a tenuous fashion indentifies a relationship to Patrick Horan’s disembodied figures.
I am wondering are these works by Patrick Horan a reference symbolically to a recent contemporary Irish tragedy. The aftermath and consequences at the demise of the Celtic tiger are still felt by Irish people since 2008. The ship of state had poor leadership, strayed into unchartered waters and ran aground. The Irish people did not rise up in revolt, no banks were burnt or windows shattered. Unable to control and alter events we entered into a numb like state similar to the dream like figures in Patrick Horan’s paintings. Are these paintings a psychological portrait of a traumatised nation, shell shocked, surrendering to a dream world? We are a gentle people and perhaps the only safe haven open to us, was to retreat into the floating realm of dreams. Yet Patrick’s paintings remain enigmatic and appear ready to accept any rendition visited upon them and grant no final interpretation, but engage with the “big Stuff” with quiet restraint and emotional intensity.
07 JUNE – 31 AUGUST 2013 FIRST FLOOR GALLERY
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Desmond Kenny is an artist based in Hartstown, Dublin 15. He is a self taught painter, since he began making art in 1986 he has since exhibited widely in Ireland and abroad, solo shows include Draíocht in 2001, The Lab in 2006 and Pallas Contemporary Projects in 2008. His work is included in many collections including the Office of Public Works, SIPTU, and Fingal County Council. Kenny's practice also incorporates print making and he has been a member of Graphic Studio Dublin since 2004.