PAINTING has its own language, artist Helena McMahon contends. And her new exhibition, which now hangs in Dooradoyle library, springs from that very notion and is called, very aptly, Painting a language, caint láidir.
“When we are in our everyday lives, we speak in English, or in Irish or a bit of both and we might even use a snippet of Spanish or French or because of the number of Polish people in our communities, we might use a word or two of Polish to say hello or thank,” she explains.
“But in order to do that you have to learn the words and it is difficult, you have to put a lot of thought and work into it. But painting is beyond that... you don’t have to learn it, you don’t have to pronounce it, you just have to feel it, you just have to see it.”
The paintings in this exhibition will seem, in many ways, familiar to those who know Helena’s work. Many of her constant subjects are there - the sea, the sky, horses, flowers. “These are the things I enjoy, I need all these things in my life. “ Helena explains. But while the subjects may be familiar, the interpretation, she stresses, is very different.
The paintings, worked on over two years, reflect her thoughts and feelings in that time. “I always paint what is happening for me,” she says simply. Which is why, she explains, some of the paintings carry a more overt social message than perhaps heretofore.
One of those messages is that “we are battered”. Another is that “one of us always keeps some of us standing.”
“It seem to me middle Ireland is weighed down, still carrying the load. Like the plight of the horse in the painting, the weight is unevenly and unfairly distributed,” Helena says. For all that, poet Gabriel Fitzmaurice described it as a show of hope.
And while Helena relies on the language of the painting to tell its own story, she also takes particular care in putting titles on her paintings, as a kind of clue. “I have always felt that titles are critically important to visuals, not so that I can say “this is definitively something or other” but as an invitation,” she explains. The exhibition runs to the end of this week or go to www.helenamcmahon.ie
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