Sunday, July 21, 2013

First-, Second-, and Third-Hand Perceptions

If you’re in Dublin anytime between now and September 29, consider visiting the National Gallery of Ireland and see the lovely exhibition, “From Galway to Leenane: Perceptions of Landscape.”

William Evans, "Old Killary Road, West of Leenane, County Galway, "1838
The display features watercolors by William Evans of Eton (1798-1877). In 1835 and 1838 he traveled to the area of Connemara and painted images of the landscape and the people. His watercolors provide a valuable view of pre-Famine Ireland.

Evans’ work is joined by two new works by the contemporary Irish artist Wendy Judge, who examines the idea of virtual travel and the authentic experience. Her works here are two sculptural landscapes and accompanying drawings. As the exhibition description indicates, “While loosely related to Evans’s watercolours, these [Judge’s] works, specially created for the show, will prompt visitors to think about the connections between Victorian and contemporary travel and tourism.”

In an article in The Sunday Times Ireland (Culture section, 23 June 2013), art critic Cristín Leach Hughes writes that “Evans worked like a photographer. His series of three paintings of Keem Beach show the same view, shifted slightly to the left or right, like a cameraman.” Views of pre-Famine Ireland are rare, and Evans got the scene and colors  exactly right, according to the gallery curator. “Evans presents traditional fare: cottages and fishing boats, shawl-covered women, clouds and cliffs, but there is a richness to his use of colour, and his palpable enthusiasm for his subject still jumps off the page” (p. 7).

Hughes describes one of Judge’s installations, Mind There Now, “plays on the idea of falling rocks in picturesque places while offering a tongue-in-cheek take on the Victorian fashion for travel without ever leaving your living room, or in this case the gallery.” Reverse binoculars give you the sense of looking at these falling rocks from afar, as do the binoculars for the other installation, A Grand Precipice, a rendering of the Achill Head landscape. Hughes writes: “Her work reminds us that what remains of travel is the records kept. Evans’s record was sketched and painted. Today, ours is digitally snapped, frequently viewed at a distance, through a lens.” (pp. 6-7).

On her blog (the single 2010 post), Judge provokes philosophical and artistic reflection about ways we know, perceive, and remember. "At present my work is committed to armchair travel - derived from secondary sources sometimes even third and forth [sic] hand. These images are stand ins for a journey never taken; they are factually unreliable, and from unknown territories; these shadowy likeness are based on hear say, someone else’s tales someone else’s research. They are a questioning of what is meant or understood as real.... Present work takes this a further step where I use only second hand material and unsubstantiated evidence of a place....”        


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