`The Great Auk and other stories` ...

May 31, 2010

`The Great Auk and other stories`
An Exhibition of paintings by Michael Mc Swiney at Draiocht, Dublin, June 4th to August 28th 2010

Michael McSwiney

In this exhibition of works by Michael Mc Swiney, at Draiocht, the strong influence of growing up in Cork harbour permeates the surfaces, structures, and meanings in the paintings. Michael has travelled some distance from Cork in the last 23 years, sourcing form and content from far-off places, yet the colour, atmosphere and memory of the Atlantic Ocean is in the layers of paint, tar, pigment and earth. Out of these surfaces, he excavates from the memory and imagery of living in 70’s Ireland, in a working harbour by the sea, where beauty, soul and adventure merge easily with decaying or destructive materiality and man-made structures. The elemental possibilities of the coast are explored through a wealth of medium & materials applied to the canvas and of imagery he draws out; sea journeys, boats, dry docks, harbours, tides, oil rigs, pollution, abandoned buildings and factories and a forgotten bird, the Great Auk.

Michael McSwiney `Rounding the Drydock` 50x40cm Oil, pigment and metal dust on canvas,2009
Michael McSwiney `Rounding the Drydock` 50x40cm Oil, pigment and metal dust on canvas,2009

In this exhibition every painting is a story. The freedom felt as a child travelling out in the boat to where only the horizon and the surface remain as a space to cultivate imagination is recreated. Explorations of run-down or abandoned structures and buildings encountered as a child continues in the paintings of architectural structures like ‘Abandoned factory’ which won Michael a Norwegian Art’s Council Grant in 2003. Considering the sea paintings along with the structures of decay and dilapidation, a liminal threshold is suggested, where things come from and go to, a line between man, the man-made and nature, presence & history, darkness and light, beauty and destruction, comfort & discomfort, material and meaning, narrative and abstraction.

Michael McSwiney - Slag Heap
Michael McSwiney `Slag Heap`

Michael Mc Swiney left Cork harbour to study art in Crawford College of Art and then to the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, later travelling to places like Denmark, India, Egypt and throughout Europe. Returning to Ireland in the late 1990’s, he had several solo exhibitions, exhibited at An t’Oireachtas and won the painting prize at Iontas in 2000. From 2000 Michael was based in Oslo, Norway where he regularly exhibited his paintings, lectured at the prestigious Einar Granum Art School and was awarded grants from the Arts Council of Norway and the Norwegian Culture Department.

Michael returned to live in Ireland two years ago and has presented solo exhibitions of works at Garter Lane Arts Centre Waterford, Linenhall Art Centre Mayo, Sirius Art Centre Cork and Droichead Art Centre Drogheda. He is represented in collections in Ireland, Europe and internationally.

Michael McSwiney - The Spit
Michael McSwiney `The Spit`

The Great Auk is symbolic of this return and of Michael’s process. This amazing bird first caught his attention when he was looking for inspiration in Oslo’s National Museum of History. Attracted initially by the beauty of the bird, and learning it was extinct, research led him to empathise with its tragic demise. These beautiful, penguin-like birds were so curious. They swam out to boats and were easily clubbed to death for the value of their beautiful feathers. Knowing no better and being trusting, the birds kept coming. The story of the Great Auk is indicative of one side of the destructive relationship between man and nature that is explored in Michael McSwineys’ paintings, the other side in this relationship adventures towards soul, imagination and expansive possibility. The last Great Auk was washed up on Long Strand in West Cork in the 1800’s, only down the road from where Michael now lives with his family. These paintings and stories mark a cycle of return in the work and life of Michael McSwiney.

Michael McSwiney, Abandoned Factory
Michael McSwiney `Abandoned Factory`

Further info about Michael:  http://www.michaelmcswiney.com/



It’s been a while since I saw an exhibition of paintings that excited me but when I drpped in to Draiocht last saturday for a bit of peace and quiet after a few hours in the Blanchardstown centre I was blown away by the quality of these paintings.

By Pat McGrath on August 24, 2010

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