Saturday 24 March 2018

What lies beneath: Black Nude

Black Nude by Michael Coleman, acrylic on canvas courtesy of the artist.

Black Nude by Michael Coleman.
Black Nude by Michael Coleman.

Niall MacMonagle

At age 16, Michael Coleman skipped his Leaving Cert, got a job in advertising, then - at 17 - won a prize for a cigarette ad featuring a tobacco leaf within a candle flame. Design was the money-earner but he has never not painted.

Art school, of sorts, happened in Limerick: "You could just walk in the door and attend a life drawing class, something you couldn't do now." He believes in order, constraint, routine.

"Francis Bacon's studio looks a mess but he was extraordinarily disciplined."

His work is always varied and unpredictable. There was that dazzling, dynamic wall of colour field paintings at the RHA; he's done a series of black canvases. One Dublin collector has a whole room of works on paper; his sensuous blue canvas hangs in the National Concert Hall.

Vibrant abstracts, domestic interiors, a yellow vest, plants, watercolours of the Phoenix Park, portraits . . . . Is he an abstract or representational artist?

Notebooks are filled with images: a tree, a fire grate and gorgeous diptychs celebrating colour.

Years ago he began drawing his cat. "Using charcoal, the first drawing, the second one, looked like my cat. But when I drew the cat from the side, the pure black image, its tail a white streak was still my cat but it had become an abstract work."

Black Nude, from a recent series, hasn't been exhibited yet. The internet provided a split second image and Coleman makes it his own. "This image reminds me of Proust who was buttoned up in dark suits."

This dark-haired figure, alone and lonely and dramatic, with contrasts between the pale skin, the pitch-black bed cover and burgundy pillow turns this figurative work into an abstract one of diagonals, triangles on black.

Coleman spent the 1980s in Vienna but now thinks "liberal Ireland" is a wonderful place. "Some years back I turned a corner at IMMA and came upon a mother and father with their two children standing before a provocative portrait of a male nude. There they were, totally at ease, discussing it."

A free and freeing moment.

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