What Lies Beneath: Achar III by Sinead Ni Mhaonaigh Oil on canvas
Courtesy Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin. Achar, until May 26
With some artworks, what you see is what you get. Others invite a more open response: the viewer's eye roams, focuses, heart and mind settle here, settle there and delight in how everything comes together. Sinead Ni Mhaonaigh's assured work belongs to that second category, and her new show, Achar, has an impressive integrity and aesthetic.
For Ni Mhaonaigh, shortlisted for the prestigious John Moores Painting Prize 2018, standing before a blank canvas is "as exciting as ever".
New work is on a bigger scale and "everything begins with paint for me. I spend a lot of time preparing my palette before I even begin a day in the studio". Then, building up "layers and layers of colour on the canvas, to create structure, slows my thinking down", a process she sees as "time-consuming and methodical".
At secondary school, Ni Mhaonaigh did an evening portfolio course with Abigail O'Brien, "an amazing tutor", and graduated in Fine Art Painting from DIT.
A Gaeilgeoir, she says: "I title my work very naturally as Gaeilge", and "my prevailing concern is with elaboration and exploration of bounded space".
Achar means 'area' or 'distance' and "deconstructs a figurative painting I did in 2016". Achar III is framed in charcoal greys, deeper at the base and never just charcoal grey. Fluent, sensuous brushstrokes in the lower section resemble the surface of a calm, dark sea.
Other colours lurk beneath. The main image could be that of a boat, loosely outlined, its prow high against a grey backdrop of flowing bands overlaid on muted ochre. And then those pinks, those confident touches of red give the work a beautiful glow.
Working on "at least five paintings at a time, I keep a diary of my time frames for each piece. Some I revisited daily over two months". And one work speaks to the other.
"All my work is related and the visual relationships are often revisited through the use of recurring motifs, use of drawing in a work or the use of a grid."
Hers is a silent studio. "I am a solitary person, love my own company." Response to her work is deliberately and generously left open. Ni Mhaonaigh sees "vagueness as a virtue", saying "I prize evasion as a useful strategy".