Ian Whittlesea: Temple Bar Gallery, 18th May - 10th June, 2001

Aidan Dunne, Irish Times, Visual Art, May 23rd

 

Ian Whittlesea's Studio paintings, at the Temple Bar Gallery, are excerpted from an exceptionally protracted project, nicely indexed (to date) in a separate compendium work in the foyer of the exhibition space. Inside, five adjacent paintings, each four feet square, are hung close together along one wall of the gallery.

Each features seven lines of crisp text, centred, in plain block capitals. And each line is an address. In fact they are, collectively, a record of the addresses at which James Joyce lived and wrote, and hence a portrait of the artist as peripatetic Irishman.

In this he is nicely contrasted with the solitary centrality of the Boulevard Haussman address of Marcel Proust on the opposite wall, prompting one to think of the writer's different temperaments, circumstances, social backgrounds and styles.

One of the felicities of Whittlesea's understated work is the way it throws up such odd reflections from an unlikely premise - or, in Joyce's case, premises (some 35 of them).

It is characteristic of Studio Paintings, an ongoing project based on the working addresses of writers and artists, that its initial simplicity masks successive levels of physical and conceptual complexity. There is the technical methodology, for example.

While from a distance each panel has the polished anonymity of a piece of precision engineering, from close up it becomes clear that the surface is meticulously built up from layer upon layer of pigment.

This suggests the way the individual workaday endeavours of each artist attain in time a sort of stately inevitability, as they become incorporated in the canon.

The stark, monumental presence of the works lend them the quality of ambiguous memorials, leaving open the question of whether Whittlesea is marking and perhaps lamenting the passing of an era of heroic pretensions by focusing on the mundane.

 

Aidan Dunne