Tuesday 23 January 2018

What Lies Beneath: Blue Drift 3 by Graham Crowley

Blue Drift 3 by Graham Crowley, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist

Blue Drift 3 by Graham Crowley
Blue Drift 3 by Graham Crowley

Niall MacMonagle

Growing up in Essex, Graham Crowley "made my own amusement". Cardboard scraps, matchboxes, toilet rolls became building models. Obsessed with cars, he drew those.

"Drawing fed my imagination." Though he won a scholarship to a fee-paying independent school, he ended up at a State grammar school where Crowley took A-Level art, economics and maths.

The Crowleys, originally from Cork, emigrated to London circa 1860 and when Graham Crowley, a 19-year-old art student, "curious about my Irish ancestry", first visited Ireland in 1969, a life-long connection began.

He had a house in Rineen, from 1994 to 2010, "a place in which our children could grow", lived there permanently for four years but residencies and work meant a life on the move. Now a retired Professor of Painting, he believes that "humanist and socialist values, once pillars of higher education, have been extinguished by profitability and ignorance". In Blue Drift 3, "based directly on drawings of the Castlehaven Estuary near where we lived", the orange and spring-bud green dinghies delight the eye. Look closely. You'll see three upside-down houses, pale-yellow, pink and grey, against a tree-covered hill, telegraph poles.

What particularly fascinated Crowley was that "the dinghies were also reflected and led me to see the 'scene' as an illusion and would sit well with the idea of painting as 'fiction'. Only the top halves of the boats exist in the same space as the observer and this modest but resonant thought has not only 'haunted' me ever since but has been an insight into the nature of painting".

The water with its "stylised overlapping ripples" and those lovely down-brushstrokes creating white columns of light echo Crowley's influences: pop art, minimalism, conceptualism, Manet. "Synthetic configuration" is his method: "I simultaneously acknowledge the artifice (painting) and subject matter (landscape). Crowley suffers from acute tinnitus and "quiet is just a distant memory", but his intelligent, insightful, reflective Blue Drift 3 remembers a silent time. Wonderfully. Quietly.

Graham Crowley is represented in Ireland by The Cross Gallery.

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