Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gwen O'Dowd at the Hillsboro Gallery

I’ve been an admirer of Gwen O’Dowd’s painting for a long time. I remember picking up an early Snowdonia more than 12 years ago and later buying a big Grand Canyon work in the Kerlin Gallery. Over the past six or seven years she 's been doing a prolonged Uaimh series - dark ambiguous works with areas of rich colours. I also got a kick out of her wonderful characterful self-portrait in the National Self-Portrait Gallery in Limerick.

Her work is usually dark mysterious and vaguely figurative. Is that a womb, the void, or a rock cave in the West of Ireland? Her work lends itself to such speculation. The Grand Canyon series was somewhat of an anomaly in that the work could be related to an actual physical landscape. Although every time I look at my piece I also see ribs of beef - with the red rocks suggesting meat.

Her latest show in the Hillsboro Gallery in Parnell Square proved worth persisting with appalling Pearse Street traffic to attend. It’s a wonderful spacious gallery presided over by the benign John Daly. The work – a lot of it quite large – was given plenty of room to breathe. It could be described as the Uaimh series with added water. You still have the rich colours (greens and blues predominate) and the dark void, but now there are cascades of water rushing from the depths or crashing over the rocks. If there is a flaw with her paintings, and in general I am a big admirer, it's that sometimes her composition jars, they can seem unbalanced. But the colour, texture, and moody drama of her work more than compensates for this occasional shortcoming.

There was a good attendance of art people at the show but not that many punters. Neil Jordan was there, the Campbell Bruces of course, Mary Lohan, and the fragrant Siobhan McDonald. Afterwards Gwen and the amiable Phelim (her partner) held a reception in her splendid studio nearby - great food and plenty of Prosecco.