Tuesday 12 December 2017

What lies beneath: City 1

City 1 by Robbie O'Halloran, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist

City 1 by Robbie O'Halloran
City 1 by Robbie O'Halloran

Niall MacMonagle

Charles Lamb, a life-long Londoner, in his 1823 essay New Year's Eve gave us that wonderful phrase "the sweet security of streets".

There are, of course, those other kinds of streets, those best-avoided mean streets but Waterford city, where artist Robbie O'Halloran, another city lover, grew up, is "a village by most standards" and he used "to walk around the city imagining it was just a small district within a metropolis". He still loves to walk the streets "alone in an unfamiliar or familiar city." London has always been part of O'Halloran's life: his mother was born there, it's where he now lives.

"From an artist's point of view, London is one of the great centres, though that model of artistic life is changing. You can work from anywhere now and still get noticed." On the plus side, "London teaches you to lose your ego; in Ireland there's a small number of people jostling for acclaim and recognition; in London you're surrounded by so many people at the very top of their game just getting on with producing excellent work".

The city featured in this particular painting is inspired by Lima. Three years ago O'Halloran married a Peruvian woman and though Lima is "ironically a grey city for much of the year" it sings a beautiful song in this instance.

The colours "are more inspired by the tropics and journeying around West Africa" he says and "I'm happier for people to feel transported to any city they like when they look at it." Confident broad brushstrokes are characteristic of O'Halloran's painting, brushstrokes with a deliberate fade as in that block of orange top right or that blue lower left. Bright, beautifully balanced colours - the corner purples create a diagonal - create in the viewer's eye an image abstract and Cubist.

In the dripping palm tree with its "very viscous oil paint" O'Halloran says he's "trying to say something about paint more than anything else." City 1 is a modern city, a jazzy one. You can feel its music, hear its rhythm, catch the buzz.   

In Spring 2016 O'Halloran shows new work in Kurt Schwitters's MERZBARN site in Cumbria and will transfer to London. merzbarn16wordpress.com.

Sunday Independent

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