25th February - 31st March 2017
“Et quid amabo nisi quod ænigma est?”
As a title this phrase...”what should I love if not the enigma itself” is a perfect way to understand and see the work in this exhibition.
The work is at once personal and universal in its references. Many of the elements of each work are explicable at many levels. First the painter knows what he means and intended by the work . . but unlike many other painters his subject can also, in his opinion, be approached by the viewer with equal facility of understanding. That is to say, their understanding. After all who can truly know what lies in another’s mind. Makers of visual things, be they paintings, sculptures, graphics or designs know that the eye sees first and the brain interprets it. Going to a concert, theatre, opera or even a church service, one sees first and then hears.
The painter Seán Cathal is so much more of a metaphysical painter than one of narrative in that he deals with the first principles of things, including the abstract concept or concepts of being, knowing, time, space and, crucially for him, identity. His pictorial references whilst highly personal, is also European in his ability to construct imaginative frameworks within Aristotelian principles of being and knowing. Yes! He includes many visual references which have a locally charged element or series of elements but are interpreted by him in a much broader framework. His use of linear delineation, as well as elements of en grisaille pictorial treatments which solves some of his compositional elements which broader planes of elements might not deliver.
But, having said that, he is also able to raid the syntax of early modernism such as synthetic cubism within which he can construct coherent frameworks of that very subject he wishes to convey with force and clarity. There is in some of the paintings an oblique quality of reference, which isn’t just a delicacy of sentiment around or about the subject, but a desire, I believe, to allow the viewer of the work to work their way towards an understanding of the references.
His subject material is not narrative in the sense of a Pastoral or Landscape approach, but an internal landscape which he believes the viewer will come to understand if not entirely recognise as being that of une vie intérieure and one of a continuous dialogue by him. This vie intérieure is also his own process of colonising his interests and his awareness of external things. Many of painters who are Irish take that process in another direction, mostly in making their landscape syntax as their l’explication de texte.
There was a time when only Cézanne was regarded as the fount of modernism, but so many other cultural processes, not least television and cinema as well as the computer have liberated visual things from that straitjacket.
There is also the thingness of his work, by which this writer means his sense of the physical quality and process which delivers its punch in the visual. I’d mentioned earlier that the viewer brings their own vision to his work, bypassing his rendering of the image and making it their own, their, if you like, sense of time, knowing and being.
I have watched his work for the exhibition evolve over some years and his utter determination to bring it first to his own place and let it work outwards from there. The Arts Officer of Donegal County and the Curator of the Gallery Úna Campbell have, in an artistic sense, conspired to make it happen. They are to be commended for this voyage of discovery. Seán Cathal has more to say, and this is but a stage in that process. As they son of painters, with a long painting history of Donegal and having an ancient paternal line from Glencolmcille it was a great thrill to me to see it unfold. Until he reads this the artist will not have known of my paternal lineage from Donegal, as I always thought that such considerations might have influenced either of us in the wrong æsthetic direction.
When I was looking at the work in his studio looking out to Inis Siar I bethought myself to my childhood in Connemara with my painter parents (who now lie side by side looking out to South Connemara forever in their burial place) and thought the world is circular, it is all circular. Seán Cathal has taken many’s the lubán on the road to get to where he is now with his work. That great Saint, Augustine once wrote..”it is a greater thing to travel in hope than it is to arrive”.
Inasmuch as we may have immortality, I believe artists have it in full measure, their works endureth as long as the world endures.
And now, as Ó Raifteiri wrote in his great poem “Anois le teacht an earraig”
“Is tar eis na Féile Bríd, ardóig me mo sheol....”