Monday 24 July 2017

What Lies Beneath: Facetime by Rasher/RM Kavanagh

Oil on linen Courtesy of the artist

Oil on linen Courtesy of the artist
Oil on linen Courtesy of the artist

Niall MacMonagle

Growing up in Bray, a "typical skateboard, BMX kid", Mark Kavanagh, thin, blond, sunburnt-red was nicknamed Rasher. Grounded at 13 for sniffing aerosols, he drew images, using oil pastels, from his sisters' magazines; he learnt to draw a face; Ralph Mayer's Artist's Handbook woke him up to "the chemistry of painting" and he was on his way.

A non-event of a Leaving Cert meant College No Entry; a Portfolio year followed, yet every art college in the country rejected him. But from a bedroom-turned-studio, Rasher kept going. Something had clicked. Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso inspired him and "I tried everything: Abstract Expressionism, Impressionism, Pop Art, figurative, landscape; I burnt holes in canvas, I poured melting plastic on canvas".

His first show, in 1996 when he was 19, was in a friend's house in Enniskerry. He sold 11 works, he bought more materials, he painted more. Now 40, he lives in Wicklow town with his wife and three children, works seven days, sometimes a 13-hour day. Goya, in old age, answered his critics with Aun Aprendiendo - still learning - and Rasher has those words tattooed on his inner left arm. For Rasher his best painting is "always my next one". In his small studio, in the back garden, he makes technically-challenging, zeitgeist paintings with big, powerful ideas.

His new show Perpetual Space contains portraits, still-lifes, a compelling sequence portraying children at play, an adolescent girl doing homework, a bare-chested man with selfie-stick photographing a woman worse for wear and this painting, called Facetime.

He and she are together and apart: there is a huge disconnect. Rasher set the scene: he replaced his kitchen table top with plate glass; two friends posed. The Facebook-blue suit, the cufflinks, the rings, the heels, the designer bag suggest sleek success. It's 9.25pm, it's iPhone time and the glassy cold atmosphere is brilliantly captured. No cooking for this couple. But the knives are out. Waiting on Deliveroo?

One thing's for sure: they won't be playing footsie anytime soon.

'Perpetual Space', new work by Rasher/RM Kavanagh is on view at The Dean Hotel, Blue Room, today, and on May 20, 21 and 28, noon-6.30pm

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