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FLOWERS!?

REALLY!?

I can hear it now.

The first sightings of Mairead O'hEocha's new paintings online:


'Flowers!? Really!? Must be more than... Can't be just... Can that work... No... Flowers!? Really!?'


Why does the very notion of painting a series of still lives still raise nostrils and sink eyebrows? In Vasari's time still life was an artisanal warmup rather than artistic vocation. Today still lives are found hanging on city park fences: the signage of the Sunday painter rather than the every-other-day painter.


But Caravaggio didn't have an issue with the genre, upstaging a resurrected Jesus with one precariously perched still life. Robert Mapplethorpe thought much the same, flowers and fisted asses same neighbourhood. Manet waited until his deathbed to paint at his painterly best in sixteen still lives of flowers in glass vases.


O'hEocha's seven still lives now showing at Dublin's mother's tankstation limited are, from a distance, in the order of Manet. Up close, however, they are an entirely different genus. They don't have those showoff pips and flecks of impasto. They are more constructed than caressed, implosive than explosive. The brush strokes delineate and exaggerate the surfaces and shapes of objects, manmade and botanical, as if coated in glass jars.


Closer again, the stems and stamens and stigma of the flowers articulate like bendy drinking straws. Some of the heads of the flowers bow down heavy like cumulus clouds in warning of the gathering storm. There are pinwheels of raw colour imploding in dark curtains of paint. In one instance a green brushstroke sidewinds through a leaf. In another an escaped cobra with a red-eye-glare springs from a vase. Suddenly, eyes are everywhere, in fat petals, in prismatic shadows, in plain sight.


So, what of flowers? Well, there's love, death and courtship. You might be surprised to know that the only remedy for a still-life Narcissus, gazing at his own reflection in a pool of water, was to turn him into a flower. Nymphs! Men! But what we generally ask of flowers to show, to represent, to cure is always too much, whether in our expressions of love or mourning. Like language, flowers are merely tokens of the senses, and there's always a disparity between what they can say and how we feel.


But what of O'hEocha's flowers? I feel that her paintings flex rather than flirt; tendons over feathers. The old masters taught us to pick either colour or light in one painting, not both – O'hEocha pairs disparity against itself: colour vs. light, night vs. day, inside vs. outside, still life vs. portrait, content vs. form, serious vs. frivolous, representation vs. imagination. O'hEocha's paintings of flowers close the gap between disparity and discrepancy.


[James Merrigan]


Through 29 October.




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