Soundlines, conté, charcoal on Fabriano paper, 50x50cm, 2020Soundlines, conté, charcoal …
Soundlines, conté, charcoal on Fabriano paper, 50x50cm, 2020
Solomon Fine Art, Dublin
1 October – 24 October 2020
Cross Gallery, Dublin
16 March – 7 April 2007
Tones and Silences. The words evoke so much from so little. But then again, the same can be said of Bridget Flannery’s paintings. Spartan, contemplative and seductive, her work seems to speak to an inner, elemental force, that touches a chord deep within.
The natural elements of wind, earth and stone are a pervasive influence, in particular, the way these erode both the structure and surface of things. Imagine these paintings as timeless arcades that eventually succumbed to nature and tumbled into the sea, leaving only fractured templates half-buried under shifting sediment.
And in art as in life, all things are connected. So, it is no surprise that the creative process followed by Bridget Flannery is a reprise of the cycle of growth and decay in nature. Paint and collage materials are bullied and tormented, stripped away, sanded back until discordance or harmony is achieved. Diligent practice has shaped and refined a language of abstraction that reaches its apogee intuitively, and with great honesty. Contrasts of tone, gradations of texture, conflict between opacity and transparancy are marked by the passage of time, layer by layer and day by day.
But these paintings explore elements other than those found in nature or an artist’s handbook. The ways in which shape and line interact suggest empathy with the purity of geometry. However, such an influence might imply a coldness or inhumanity. Instead, the solution to these equations is closer in spirit to the eloquence and beauty of a musical score. Cycles, sequences, repeated motifs, staccato phrases and crescendos are all here. And so is silence – living in the space between notes, the pause in a conversation and the flourish of a brush.
Therein, the equilibruium truly resides. A diplomacy between flux and stasis, order and chaos. And if synaesthesia – the ability to see sound and hear colour – is a truth, then maybe, just maybe, Bridget Flannery possesses this gift also.
In Stillness V acrylic, collage on board, 2007
Ashford Gallery, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Ireland
25 October – 15 November 2001
…”I leaped into the silence and there was no land, no surface to step on”…
Bridget Flannery chose Jaan Kaplinksi’s poem because his words sparked recognition: “They seem to have put a shape and texture to what I’m always trying to make,” she says. Shape and texture: the two constants to Flannery’s work. And note also, “make”, not paint.
The Space of Sea and Sky I andII use a narrow spectrum of colour to suggest the ferocity of wild seas, coldness, open air. Surfaces meticulously built up of thin layers of pigment, paint, paper and wax have a strong physical presence, equivalent to a three dimensional work. In spite of their large size, the pieces work through small scale, highly detailed play of texture and tone. Subtle, almost colourless layers of paint and pigment undergo a mysterious metamorphosis, evoking a sense of the wide sky and the large empty spaces of the seashore. We have the illusion that air has been painted. Compare Constable on JMW Turner: “He seems to paint with tinted steam”.
The Shore Division series and Strand – March Light series also exist simultaneously in the realm of landscape and of abstract painting. Even without the normal visual referents, we know we are looking at foreshore, sea, horizon, sky. Air, again, has been painted – “No surface to step on” – as Kaplinski puts it.
The smaller series – The Privacy of Dreams I – VII and In a Time of Waiting I – V are unmistakably inner landscapes. A mood, a perception, is expressed – and communicated – through inter-related blocks of colour and texture. The smallest works have the jewel like quality of an Elizabethan miniature. Straight edges contrast with lush organic surfaces. Flat surface gives way to sudden depths, as perspective appears, fleetingly, then disappears. Red, black, yellow and white struggle for dominance, shifting the mood accordingly. These works are both a screen on which to project feelings and experience – “fear behind the darkness” – and a focus for meditation.
Abstract art is often spoken of as the spiritual art of our time. Bridget Flannery’s work speaks – wordlessly, and without recognisable images – of shared experience: the intoxication of wide open maritime space, and its obverse, the private inner spaces, with their unspoken fears, their intuitive convictions.
“The silence closed over my head”.
Two things happened today – the workshop was cleaned and the river walked. Both these actions cleared the way for making and painting.
Clearing and cleaning the workshop gives me an ordered space where paint, paper, brushes and tools are at hand, ready for working with. Benches are painted white. They become clean spaces waiting for the marks, cuts, drips and splashes of colour as ideas move from half formed images into made things. Things, constructed and deconstructed, with paint, paper, card, and rubber. Sanded things that are cut, scraped and gently buffed and oiled. Things that evolve and emerge and reveal themselves from remembered and forgotten events, from detailed notebooks and sketchbooks, from places glimpsed, from sounds and smells which floated past and disappeared, elsewhere.
The river walked today was the Barrow. This river is deep, placid and stately. It may be calm and broad and somnolent. It hides its treasures. Its banks are lush, fruitful and in good weather easy to walk, soft underfoot, edged with birdsong and otter slides. Kingfishers flash by in a blur of blue and gold, swans glide past and in the summer, swallows flit and skim the surface. Today, the river was full with rain water, its surface was pitted with swirling eddies and truculent with waves and under currents. This suited my humour and my need to work.
The making of paintings, in solitude, brings about a strong sense of self-sufficency. In the workshop there are materials to work with and sketches to work from. The rhythms of work are varied but calm. Preparing boards; whitening them, sanding them and letting them dry all give me a sense of their shape and space. Tearing thick paper into shapes that echo those noticed, looked at and drawn. The feel of the paper, the feel of the shape as it is glued down onto the prepared board holds a quiet excitement. Slowly and calmly a composition is built by moving torn shapes around the surface, by drawing into those shapes, tearing parts away, rejigging spaces between edges, making tension and interest. And all the time looking at quick colour sketches made on distant sunny days, remembering the feel of water as it flicked over stones.
Some days a different river is walked. The Lickey in West Waterford flows east to west and the part I know best moves quickly through old woods and high hillsides planted with blue grey conifers. In the summer these woods are every green imaginable, soft pale white, yellow greens, rich glossy emerald and hard, dark greens merge with softer lime tones and softer again yellows that hint at green. Moss covered boulders edge deep brown pools. Here, the river comes slowly through high banks of packed clay held by tree roots of tangled knots. The compacted layers of clay are pink, ochre, and peach and black purple red when wet, the roots are pale grey lines. It’s good to draw them and as I do, I hear the water running over stones, doing its work, the weathering work of water. Later in the year, back in the workshop, I will remember this landscape of erasure as I sand back colour to reveal what had been previously made – a shape, a line, a texture which echoed something seen near the river bank, the cool still air or the sharp stink of wild garlic.
The flow of water heard and seen echoes the flow of ideas and experiences of making when painting. Walking and glimpsing, walking and smelling, hearing, listening, stopping to look, settling in to examine texture, colour, shape and line. Stopping to slide down the bank into the water. Stopping to be in the river and to feel its movement, to see the river bank from below and to glimpse the sky, a blue rag pinned onto the green dome. The water is cool, it tastes peaty and earthy.
Back in the workshop I look at maps of the rivers courses. The Barrow rises in the Sliabh Bloom Mountains, thin blue lines, streams, gather to form wider lines as the river grows in strength to water the south east along with its sister rivers the Nore and the Suir. The maps show fields, forestry plantations, woods, bogs and clusters of habitations along its banks – oblongs, squares, circles, shapes that bend and twist with the blue river line. Sometimes, the blue line divides around a green shape where the river embraces an island, a holm, mid-stream.
Similarly, the Lickey begins as a series of interlinked blue lines, thin, faint among the contour lines that can be read as the hills and lowlands of east Waterford. Along its course are shapes and dotted lines that indicate long defunct mills, pathways and tracks that once led to villages and smaller settlements.
Reading these maps and thinking about walking these rivers, knowing their shape, sound, colour and smell echoes the experience of making paintings. The steady rhythm of walking, the plod of painting, sanding, drawing into a shape, mixing colours, sanding textures back to reveal the underpainting, resting to watch a dragonfly hovering over the water, stopping the rhythm of work to delight in painted colour. Walking rivers and making paintings.