MICKY Donnelly’s new exhibition at Triskel Christchuch — Notes on a Minor Scale — has its roots in a concert he attended at the venue last year.
“I was visiting the Jazz Festival,” say Donnelly, “and there was an acoustic gig in the Triskel. I had never seen the Christchurch space before.
“As soon as I walked in, I was very impressed. There was a lovely light in the windows and on the decorative panels on stage. The whole thing had a warm light about it and I thought, that’s what my paintings are about. These little diptyches I do are about a warm feeling, a kind of warm light caught on the canvas.”
Donnelly was born in Belfast in 1952, but now lives in Galway, where he lectures at the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. This exhibition marks a new departure for him, as he has recently decided to downsize the scale of his work.
“I always liked to work big,” he says. “But after I moved to Galway, I fixed a house up just outside Monivea. The only room I had to paint in was a large bedroom, so the scale of the work came down. I actually found that the more I worked on these smaller pieces the more I enjoyed the intimacy and the ease of the small canvasses together.
“Then I started to shuffle them around. I did them very quickly, mostly images of nature. Things that would catch your eye around the countryside or around the garden or things you would just see going around your everyday business. It was a fresh break in some ways.”
The exhibition at Triskel Christchurch includes three distinct series. There are the small-scale diptyches, which employ domestic fabrics worked with oil paint. Then, on the stairwell, there are linen hardback book covers, which he has again worked into with oil paint. Finally, upstairs, there is a collection of more delicate framed collages and exploratory work in mixed media.
Donnelly considers his work to be subtle and contemplative. The Christchurch venue amplifies this atmosphere, and sets the right mood for the viewer as they roam around the show.
“Things are very tough these days, obviously,” says Donnelly. “People are suffering, and artists are sometimes expected to respond to the times and make some kind of critique of political or economic circumstances. I did that back in the 1980s when I was in Belfast and things were very bad.
“But my days of critiquing society are over. That might be an age thing, I don’t know. When you settle into a process of working, it becomes less important. I feel now that the work is about a sense of joy. Let people see something very subtle that they wouldn’t normally see.
“I think if you look at art and train yourself to see colours and their intensities and relationships with each other, it increases your sense of the visual in everyday life.”
As an educator, Donnelly talks about a responsibility to make sure the next generation are equipped to progress where we are socially. In the past, he wrote critically about art and was a founding member of Circa, an Irish art journal.
Now he puts that energy into delivering lectures that dwell on positives in art practice.
“When I went to university first, before art college, I studied mathematics and computer science for a while,” says Donnelly. “I found it very soulless. Then I was a social worker for a few years in these flats in Belfast and then I came to art through a desire to escape all that, the desperation of the social work. It was terrible, I was burnt out after two and a half years of it.”
Art, Donnelly believes, gives a focus to everything, from psychology to ideas about history and how society changes. “You can apply all those things to art,” he says.
“Rather than concentrate on politics on its own, if you understand politics through how our culture has changed — and art is part of that obviously — I think you understand politics far better.
“People have been educated too narrowly in their specialist subjects. I found that everybody I met at university had a very narrow education, they weren’t able to jump outside their own branch and see things from another point of view. Maybe art provides something like that, a kind of lateral thinking.”
* Runs until Feb 1, 2013 www.mickydonnelly.com
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