Deidre O'Connell

Arts Council Gallery

Primitive soundings, echoes and calls, and emergings of one sort or another mark and measure this art-as-journey show of Deirdre O’Connell. The artistic journey oscillates between the past (ostensibly Rome/Ireland) and the future (or is it the present?)—a boat is beached or abandoned; an armored vehicle probes, on the brink, here and there. The drawings and sculptures here have been produced during and since the artist’s sojourn in Italy, as a Rome scholar in the city of church and pagan power.

Public architecture, in one way or another, is about power; buildings are never neutral objects. O’Connell’s work, while it was always about formal aspects of architecture, structure, and skeletal rhythms, is also about enclosures/confrontations, insider/ outsider acceptance, and identity. Rome’s ancient buildings have been the resource for her new architectural drawings. They have an atavistic comfort in their appeal but are also about ambivalence. For example, in Pantheon, 1989, a coffered ceiling can be lightly raised off the surface in graffito crayon scrapings, or in Roma, 1989, a dome becomes a full breast or a nuclear warhead.

Ireland (Insula) and Italy (Peninsula) are on exchange. Notions of identity, culture, power, and change (or lack of change) seep from drawing to sculpture: one to the whole. Enclosures becalm boats. Beached Boat III, 1989, a large charcoal-and-pastel drawing, has a boat fixed as a picture intrusion balancing on the brink of some drained dam—a dependent vessel out of water. There is an exquisite group of small drawings in earth reds, muted pinks, and grays, employing not the language of classical forms but almost mannerist aberrations.

O’Connell uses plaster to make surface markings come through as inherent characteristics, like board-marked concrete. Large white fragile pillars continue from her previous concerns with towers and barriers. And it is not just the formal that is interesting here but the pursuit of narrative signs and reverberations calling or whispering from pillar to post. The artist’s interest in understanding a material like plaster has been extended by way of Roman architecture. The sealed power of Roman building is in the crude concrete aggregate between the brick sandwich. Now exposed, it takes the building back to material essence. O’Connell has produced a series of structures, hand-built as if by some colony of insects, with spiritual intentions. Edifice I, 1989, a simple cottagelike dwelling, contrasts with Doge’s Hat, 1989, whose conical form carries both spiritual charge and a sense of parody.

Unlike the new wave of British sculptors, most of whom are men (Alison Wilding is a notable exception), in Ireland it is women who have emerged most strongly. Assured and articulate, they have invested the art object with a new lush sensualism and with rich ideas and references. Deirdre O’Connell, after her Roman season, has joined the group.

Liam Kelly