Saturday 21 October 2017

Baby by Catherine Barron

Niall MacMonagle

Old photographs tell stories, stories old and new. They tell us about then, they tell us about the in-between years and they say something to us, the viewer, about now. We are, after all, what we remember. Many claim that having rescued the cat, from the burning house, that they'd then save the photographs. Catherine Barron lives in Goresbridge, County Kilkenny, and her art is inspired by family photographs; her mother always said: "If there's a fire, save the photographs." She keeps them by her chair.

First communions, weddings, family gatherings, casual summer snaps should tell happy stories, but with Catherine Barron there is always a more interesting dimension, often an underlying sorrow. Barron keeps a diary and one entry reads: "Photographs give a lot of information, but they don't give you everything. Just because someone wasn't in the photograph doesn't mean they weren't there."

In Baby, everything seems relaxed, ordinary. A camera has captured the living moment but the man, the woman, the child, seated on a car bonnet, relaxed and smiling, is the stuff of heartbreak. The little girl, all in white, with a big bow in her hair, died before she had a chance to grow up and grow old. She's Barron's older sister and in a sub-title, Barron adds: "Sitting there on Uncle Joe's car. Precious baby. Disaster coming for her, always coming and there is nothing they can do about it."

Photographs mark the fact that everyone photographed will someday die. Photographs contain a 'we know not the day nor the hour' moment and this painting, particularly, captures and conveys how no one knows what the future holds.

Using acrylic and ink on sheet metal, Barron ingeniously allows the weathered, rusty, metal to feature as part of the image. It's a bright day in rural Ireland, they're all dressed up, the car gleams, the mood is relaxed but the blotchy, smudged surface prevents it from being pretty. This effective, deliberate spoiling casts a shadow and the viewer wonders why this happy, smiling image has been tainted. The worn, blemished metal, says Barron, is "like life itself" and the story she tells, tells a powerful truth.

'It's Hard to Tell', new work by Catherine Barron, runs at the Molesworth Gallery until June 28.

Her work is also included in this year's RHA Exhibition and Britain's RA Summer Exhibition

Irish Independent

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