In his powerful, intense portraits, the face fascinates Cian McLoughlin but recent work explores the nature of crowds and marks “a change in terms of scale, subject and technique”.
He looked to Medieval altar pieces, Mughal art, cave paintings, Soutine, de Kooning, Amy Sillman, Cecily Brown, David Bomberg.
“I was all over the dial but they all tested pictorial space differently to how I had been treating it in my work up to then. I wanted to get away from the illusory space and perspective of ‘realistic paintings’ and these vastly varied references showed me the way,” he says.
He read Stephen Reicher, Barbara Ehrenreich, John Drury, Clifford Stott on crowd psychology. Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power was “the biggest influence... it beautifully captures the simultaneous excitement and stress of a crowd”.
This new show is Madness and the cure for madness because “madness always comes up in study of crowds”.
Charles Mackay’s 1841 text Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and Nietzsche’s belief that “insanity in individuals is something rare but in groups, it’s the rule” also fuelled McLoughlin’s paintings.
His vibrant colours match Ehrenreich’s belief that “the urge to transform one’s appearance, to dance outdoors, to mock the powerful and embrace perfect strangers is not easy to suppress”.
McLoughlin’s background – his mother an artist, father an engineer – meant his every childhood memory involved pencil, crayon, marker, paper.
He studied architecture but became disillusioned, he says, with “budgets, clients, regulations, planners, weathering, gravity” and turned to art.
He’s in his studio at 9am. Then “a long period of procrastination, then annoyed, frustrated at wasting precious studio time I finally get going, burst into action, work very fast”.
“The speed leaves no time to think, which helps combat the relentless self-doubt. If I work fast the loud internal critic doesn’t get as much time to get his hooks into me.”
For the crowd paintings, he thought about “images of intense emotions, the kind you see if you zoom in on an individual in a crowd, a face contorted with joy or rage”.
“Faces you couldn’t imagine people making if they were on their own. The wider image of the crowd took hold as a metaphor for that loss of self, that feeling of belonging, and that arena for the expression of our strongest emotions.”
Technically, these crowd works involve “stencilling, glazing, dripping, masking, pouring, pattern, texture, flatness, oil bars, chalk pastels, wet into wet, paint thickly applied, thinly applied, scraping back, sandpaper, belt sanders and no attempt to conceal the way it was made”.
Quoting Robert Frost, “like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting”, McLoughlin wants the same for his paintings, with “a feeling of perpetual motion”.
In ‘Midnight mass’, does Catholicism shimmer within the title or is mass a dense aggregation? McLoughlin favours ambiguity.
“Titles are suggestive. I hope the viewer is not 100pc sure what’s going on.”
There’s the physical crowd but he’s also interested in “the psychological group, something in common, the ‘we’ feeling” and wants “that looseness and fluidity of one figure moving into the next”.
McLoughlin now wants to explore sculpture, film, textiles, patchwork. He never was one to follow the crowd.
Madness and the cure for madness at The Molesworth until June 30; cianmcloughlin.com
Two to View
John Noel Smith
Passage, Fold & Multipolar
For John Noel Smith “the whole field of the canvas” is “a coherent structure, every part exercising the necessary pressure on the other” and his new show at Farmleigh Gallery in the Phoenix Park in Dublin celebrates this dynamic.
Until September 5; Tuesday to Sunday 10am–5pm; farmleigh.ie/Gallery
Batik, felt, printmaking, copper etching and tapestry all feature in Bernie Dignam’s studio/gallery in Tooreen, Moyard, Co Galway where she features her own and other artists’ work. Dignam explores a variety of themes including the land, bog and seascapes of north Galway.
Visits by appointment; firstname.lastname@example.org