Friday 20 April 2018

What Lies Beneath: Cave Exit by Jennifer Kingston

Cave Exit by Jennifer Kingston, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of The Open Window Gallery

Cave Exit by Jennifer Kingston
Cave Exit by Jennifer Kingston

Niall MacMonagle

Following a hip replacement, the HSE advice is to expect zimmer frame, crutches, sticks. Its website doesn't mention dancing. Nor deep-sea diving.

But when artist Jennifer Kingston had a hip replacement 25 years ago "for exercise and therapy I learned to swim". And she didn't stop there: "A friend introduced me to scuba diving."

She got a diving wetsuit for her 60th birthday and "the other world that diving showed me was amazing".

Kingston celebrates her 80th birthday this year and new work captures "the feeling of being under water, the calm of being suspended and floating over the garden of seaweed 20 metres down, the beauty of the light. But then there's the terror, sometimes, of getting to the dive site in a rib or dive boat over boiling seas. Hence the paintings of raging seas."

But in this tranquil painting, Cave Exit, she has captured "the relief of seeing the way out of a cave. I was constantly terrified before a dive but the adrenaline rush of survival after was worth it.

"On a dive, one is very much in the present: checking depth, watching your 'buddy', minding your oxygen levels, marvelling at the 'life' around, not getting lost et cetera."

And she has experienced very different underwater worlds: "The Arctic Sea off Norway is the most challenging, the Red Sea the most beautiful and easy, but give me sites off Ireland's west, north and south coasts any time. Magic!"

Exposed to painting, theatre, music and literature since childhood, art has always mattered and now, at 80, art "constantly occupies the mind. I keep looking, learning how things are. I've always experimented and can't see myself stopping. It's part of the stimulation."

Her late husband, artist Richard Kingston, taught her about texture; she admires Hughie O'Donoghue for his use of colour, Bacon for his gestural use of paint.

Back home canals and bogs "are very familiar to me" and have also featured in her work: paintings of the Shannon backwater and the canals are as a result of "being on the water instead of under". She's also kayaked on rivers in Venezuela, Turkey and Mexico.

In Cave Exit, jagged, encrusted, seaweed-covered rocks, frame a translucent Caribbean blue. Green, ochre, russet, silver rock walls, the smooth, grey sea floor and the plunging shaft of light bring alive the moment, a moment that Jennifer Kingston recreated in her studio back in Dublin.

Since college in the 1960s she's used "any possible media, house paint, chalk, bits of cloth, seashells, rubbish but oils have depth and luminosity and texture. I always went back to oils."

Kingston doesn't work from photographs. She remembers and focuses on how colour expresses a mood.

"I want to convey the peace and tranquillity of underwater so I quell lots of colour."

Using "about 10 different blues from cerulean to indigo", she captures that beautiful underwater doorway that leads to a noisier, busier upper world. But she's been there, she's painted that. Hip op? Hip-hop!

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