- Irish Museum of Modern Art
I have long been a fan of the Work of Hughie O’Donoghue. Born in Manchester in 1953, his work has consistently dealt with issues of remembrance, many related to his father’s experience during the war. O’Donoghue has used the documentation relating to his father, letters sent home from the front, photographs, possessions as a starting point for much of the works on show here, specifically imagery drawn from letters sent home to his mother between 1943 and 1946.
In this work we get to view actual events, retold, allowed to settle and then retold once again. This is the first time that I had seen the use of photographic transfer material by the artist on this scale. I was particularly drawn to the books as I entered the exhibition. We are being introduced, very early on that there is some form of narrative at play here. The books are wall mounted and the pages trapped by paint, each holding open an event from the past or a suggestion of something having taken place. The work in the exhibition hovers between nostalgia and suggested trauma. Hinted at happenings that may or may not have taken / be taking place. It is intriguing and I found myself drawn into the works. Unfortunately the galleries at IMMA are rather narrow and with significant reflection from the windows at times it was hard to see the works properly. However, I was particularly drawn to the “Fool’s House” 2007 (Private Collection). This work is painted on a wooden construction, which appears to include a fence post (?) and a small wooden hatch (Door).
There is a transparent photographic component. A young man lies sleeping, fully clothed, on the ground. The door is over his torso, possibly giving us an idea of the heart having an opening, his heart being elsewhere. In the background is a tin shed / barn, the rustyness of O’Donoghue’s colour is really at work in this painting, the surface of which is exquisite. Is he dreaming? Are we imagining that we are inside the tin shed, a roof support and the door leading outside? The rich sharp red ore-like sky in the top left contrasts with the blurred Indian Red at the “fool’s” feet. Is he a fool because he is escaping to an innocence, trying to close his eyes to atrocities taking place on the horizon, to recapture a time gone by? Or is he dreaming of a new dawn, a fresh start for his life, with his lovely white trousers and smart leather shoes signifying a clean slate? Hello sunshine. A new day has begun. The optimism will perhaps soon be tested once again.
A recent exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Hag was called “Lost Histories, Imagined Realities”. Here we all are, fascinated by family histories, and here is O’Donoghue reinterpreting that past in a narrative style. His stories become our stories. I really enjoyed the exhibition as a whole, there is a wonderful video showing how the work develops over time, and it was once again a joy to see three astonishing etchings. I like the fact that he has mixed archive footage from his own collections with photographs of scenes set up in the landscape around his studio in Ireland. The work conveys a theatrical imagining and this I really enjoyed.