The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. A rectangle is a shape itself; it is obviously the whole shape; it determines and limits the arrangement of whatever is on or inside of it. In work before 1946 the edges of the rectangle are a boundary, the end of the picture. (Donald Judd ‘Specific Objects’ [essay], Arts Yearbook 8, 1965)

There are instances when the profession of the artist is ‘split’ between writing, curating, educating, ‘PhDing’ etcetera. As a viewer, if you are aware of the other part of the “split” when you see the artist’s work, the ‘other’ could be read as unintentional, excess baggage. But this “excess” has to be taken into account; it is a context, just like the space where the work is situated. As an aware viewer you cannot compartmentalise the parts that make up the ‘art identity’ of the artist. Especially if that identity is one-sided, or weighed down on the part that is not art-making. These questions came to the fore when viewing the work of Peter FitzGerald (the Editor of Circa) at Queen Street Gallery & Studios, Belfast.

Before I comment on FitzGerald’s Wall Works, another context needs to be shared.

The long haul ascent up the stairs of Queen Street Gallery places the viewer in a predicament. Standing in the windowless gallery space, the committed art trekker feels obliged to stay a while longer than the usual street level gallery; there is no quick escape if the art is bad. The gallery has also been ‘renovated’ or altered, from being long and rectangular to square and claustrophobic (or was this a side-effect of FitzGerald’s work?). There is something fascinating about the logistics of Queen Street Gallery that breathes insecurity in the viewer, which is to the artist’s advantage. This is especially the case when the work is ‘difficult’.

I mentioned the words “excess” and “baggage” in relation to identity. Excess can also be ascribed to the hidden history of opinion on the Irish art scene that never made it to the pages of Circa, but which must have left an imprint on FitzGerald’s psyche, even his own art identity: you always bring work home. To carry that type of “baggage” is either a burden or the ‘master-key’ to the psychology of the Irish art  enthusiast or Philistine; the nature of the beast so to speak. Personally, the process of carrying all this baggage up the steep stairs in anticipation of seeing FitzGerald’s work was fascinating. I was expecting canvas. Honestly, I was thinking ‘hobbyist’. I was wrong.

Walking into the gallery with two others – who were equally intrigued – we were met with a series of painted gestures, no canvas, no stretchers; just wall and paint. Also, there were no brush marks, the paint was scraped on with cardboard, creating a series of rectangular frames in black and red. The three of us were left holding FitzGerald’s press release which was succinct. He wrote:

Any line breaks a surface, any deliberate line commences the shift from nothing to form, from silence to message. But a rectangle has a little more: like us it has an inside and outside – though the ground on either side of the rectangle walls may be the same, just as the ground on which our subjectivity rests goes beyond our inner workings ... Our stationary world is rectangles. They frame our lives, they frame art, they frame art spaces, they frame numbers on spreadsheets, and they frame this text .

There is a ‘split’ in FitzGerald’s statement, between “subjectivity” and objectivity, between

“inner working” and “spreadsheets.” Mark Rothko was one artist that came to mind when surrounded by FitzGerald’s Wall works. The reason for this could be partly aesthetic – because of the omnipresent black and red in the abstract expressionist’s work, and the utilisation of the stacked rectangles in Rothko’s most successful works. But there was one instance in particular from Rothko’s oeuvre that stood out while gapping into the blank white ‘between’ spaces of FitzGerald’s rectangles.

Rothko’s Seagram Murals were commissioned by the Four Seasons, NY, in the late ‘50s. Maybe it was BIG Money (the largest paid for an artistic commission), that was the initial reason for Rothko to agree to what could be viewed as a perverse move for any artist, especially an artist who’s serious, almost metaphysical ideology was sacrosanct. The diners at the Four Seasons were not the type to outstretch their arms in benediction before Rothko’s painted idolatry, which was something he would later achieve at the “Rothko Chapel” in Houston, Texas.

Back to Belfast...

FitzGerald’s Wall works give as much as you are willing to bring with you as a viewer. There is baggage concerning the artist’s ‘split’ art identity, and as we all know there is baggage concerning the medium of painting. But what is intriguing is the fact that all this baggage combined with the abstract ‘absentism’ of the painted gestures offered something beyond the slim parameters of the individual’s ‘take’ on the world. The ‘baggage’ that I am discussing is the type that is hidden from the public: THE WHITE ELEPHANT. FitzGerald generously offers us an appropriately shaped rectangular space for us to colour in with our own WHITE ELEPHANTS.


Baggage and Absentism

Peter FitzGerald, ‘Wall Works’
Queen Street Gallery & Studios

Belfast 24 February – 26 March, 2011

Peter FitzGerald, Wall Works, Queen Street Gallery & Studios, Belfast, Feb-March, 2011; image courtesy of artist.



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