Hughie O'Donoghue

Fabian Carlsson Gallery

Hughie O’Donoghue’s paintings succeed in being both vitally alive and calm, even somber. They are rendered with spontaneity and passion, as well as vulnerability. All are oil on linen, and their surfaces vary from smooth and polished to heavily impastoed. O’Donoghue pits the complex colors of nature against those of synthetic paint. He merges deep, complex blacks and subtle, cool green-grays, punctuating them with powerful flashes of fiery red.

These recent works have more explicitly human references than many of his previous works. They are more ambiguous than, say, his studies of the bird and flight, although, like those works, they project a palpable sense of movement. O’Donoghue uses paint in a bravura manner, often to portray a distorted figure falling in a vortex. In the huge Sleeper Bruised VIII, 1988–89, two-thirds of the surface is black; the splash of figure is a spiraling image of elongated limbs. In Compression, 1989, the figure’s crouched, curved body shrinks against the vastness of nature. O’Donoghue himself has suggested a link between his work and archeological excavations, stressing the ties between primitive and contemporary humanity. But O’Donoghue is also frequently placed in the British Romantic landscape tradition, alongside others such as Thérèse Oulton and Lance Smith, who similarly combine representation with abstraction. O’Donoghue’s interest in vastness and the sublime and his fluency of paint handling and broadness of vision link him to Turner. Except for possible hints of cliffs in Chasm, 1988–89, or of a wintry tonality in Sleeper VII, 1988–89, landscape elements are not overtly stated, but rendered in an impressionistic fashion.

O’Donoghue is an artist very aware of the historical and artistic legacy of the old masters; he claims a particular love for Titian. He seeks to avoid the self-conscious irony that runs through much current art. While aware of the inevitable artifice of art, he is not an academic or mannerist painter. Through the power and freshness of his style, his personal, subjective work strikes a responsive emotional chord.

Natasha Edwards