New York

Dermot Seymour

Paula Allen Gallery

Of the bitter conflicts in the world, none seems more touched by insanity—and for a multiplicity of reasons—than that of Northern Ireland. There, aided by their cynical government, the protagonists are engaged in a protracted struggle over ancient mythologies, while the world is in jeopardy from the insidious effects of pollution. This appears to be the subject of Dermot Seymour’s painted landscapes, in which invasion, surveillance, and disaster take place under the baleful stares of domesticated, wild, and exotic animals. It is not an easy subject to deal with in this medium, and Seymour’s work seems at times like a rather clumsy conflation of illustrations for young children of “life on the farm” (or “in the zoo”) and the news media’s war coverage. Nonetheless, it is probably true to the experience of childhood there—an innocence too suddenly contaminated by the madness of the adult world. So perhaps a more appropriate analogy for the paintings would be a literary one: a cross between Gulliver’s Travels, the acerbic allegory of social and political life in the 18th century by the Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift, and Animal Farm, George Orwell’s bleak satire of the 1940s.

If Seymour’s symbolism is not always accessible to those of us outside the events in Northern Ireland, the general tenor is clear enough. The mood is far from optimistic; a thunderous pall hangs with the helicopters in every sky. In the Wake of the Poisoned Wind, 1987, depicts a hilly shore whose promontories are topped with silent gun emplacements (or perhaps Martello towers, built on Britain’s most vulnerable coasts as an early warning system against Napoleon’s anticipated invasion). All is under the surveillance of red zeppelins, a helicopter, and a submarine. A seal appears to have escaped ashore only to encounter a gutted rabbit hooked to a pole in the foreground. Rabbit is a staple food of rural life, and has been made scarce by the effects of armed conflict and the ensuing pollution of the food supply. The problem of pollution reappears in Sometimes Cathcart’s Hereford Wonders If They’re Oak Boys, White Boys, Ribbon Men, Wren Boys, or Even Peep O Day Boys, 1987, and Botulism Over Mullaghcreevy, 1985. In the former, helicopters watch over a rural landscape littered with fragments of fertilizer or animal-feed bags made of plastic, which have been innocently nibbled, presumably by the animals in the field. Part of the word “NITRATE” is visible on one of the fragments. The same nitrates are used to make homemade bombs, and the sparrow is the first victim in the scene. In Botulism over Mullaghcreevy, an Ulster Loyalist with patriotic insignia on his tie and lapels lies in the road with his shoes arranged neatly by his side. He may be in a drunken oblivion; or, like the seagull scavenger beside him, he may be dead from eating something that didn’t agree with him. None of the elements in the picture are stable, with the exception of the tethered goat who, like everyone caught up in others’ insanities, can only stand by impotently and wait for the slaughter.

Jean Fisher