Different Positions: what defines a work of art?

Exhibition at CIT Wandesford Quay contrasts classical realist drawing with contemporary practices,says Carl Dixon

POSITIONS, which runs this month at the CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery in Cork, mixes conceptual pieces with more traditional forms to challenge its audience to examine their preconceptions about contemporary art.

Participants range from established artists to newcomers, and include Kelly Ratchford, Gavin Hogg, Kiwoun Shin, Eoin Llewellyn, Tiny Little Horse and Michael Cullen.

The organiser and coordinator of the exhibition is Dermot Browne, whose work also features. He says not having an over-arching theme for the show was deliberate. “Each artist has their own message and I believe it can be patronising to imprint a theme on the show, or to tell people what to think,” he says. “By contrasting traditional and more conceptual art, it asks the question as to why different artists have chosen their own particular method. Does traditional art, with an emphasis on technical craft, lose its ability to convey a contemporary message to its audience, or does very conceptual work sometimes alienate the general public?”

Browne’s work is between the two traditions, but he says the range of art on display will provoke discussion. “I do sometimes feel that it is the language of art which alienates many people because it is so opaque,” Browne says. “It seems a prerequisite for any application for funding to quote French post-structuralism philosophy, and the language of art magazines is largely impenetrable. Some artists have travelled so far down this line that they forget they are even on it. However, I believe people are naturally curious and are open to new concepts and ideas if the work is carefully selected and presented.”

Traditional artist Nicholas Robinson is training with the Florence Academy of Art in Gothenberg, Sweden. The academy provides the highest level of instruction in classical drawing, painting and sculpture. His work in this exhibition consists of three classical realist drawings, including a drawing of the Roman Belvedere torso in the Bargue drawing style, which won a student prize in 2011. This style is meticulous in its attention to detail and time-consuming, but all three pieces in the exhibition are powerful.

“After leaving the Crawford College of Art, I did a higher diploma in education but it was the artist Gearóid Hayes who opened this more traditional world to me,” Robinson says. “I started in Florence and then moved on to Gothenburg. The director of the academy compares what I am doing to learning scales on a piano. Each day is spent doing the same thing. The training is extremely intensive and it has just one aim; to develop consistent skill in drawing and painting.

“In the end, every artist needs to find their own medium for conveying their ideas, and this is mine. However, I do think there may be a movement towards slow art in the same way there is a movement towards slow food. I am so cut off from the rest of the world that this will be my first chance to gauge the reaction to my work. I think some other artists are surprised that this style still exists, but, in general, the reaction has been really positive.”

Equally effective, although very different, is the work by established artist Brian Duggan, which consists of lighted neon ‘walls of death’. These were previously shown at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. “When I trained in the early 1990s at the Crawford, it was quite technical, with an emphasis on life drawing and my degree show featured figures in bronze,” he says. “However, I felt the need to incorporate some emotional resonance and subjective experience into the work, so the sculptures were twisted out of shape. It might seem a big jump from that type of learning to the type of work I do now, but it is all about our own individual ways of seeing and talking about the world.

“This work was created to make use of a particular rectangular room with curved ends and I used that to create a wall of death,” he says. “In part, it is poking fun at museums where the walls are hung with the art of the dead. It also plays with the idea that you are on the outside of this wall looking in, but in the circle of life no one gets out alive. I like to bring the real fabric of life into a gallery; people recognise it as such and it can spark a conversation. Traditional art and conceptual art have both been around for a long time, and in the end each person must evaluate a piece of art according to their own preferences and their own individual way of seeing the world.”

* Positions runs at the CIT Wandesford Quay Gallery in Cork until January 31.The exhibition coincides with the 100th anniversary of the building, which houses the CIT Crawford College of Art and Design.

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