Sunday 18 August 2019

What lies beneath: Crusade by Joseph Heffernan

Crusade by Joseph Heffernan

Oil on board Courtesy of the artist

Crusade by Joseph Heffernan
Crusade by Joseph Heffernan

Niall MacMonagle

For Joseph Heffernan, growing up in pre-internet days in Boherbue, North Cork, "the countryside in Ireland in the 1990s was probably a good thing in terms of creativity". He and his siblings "spent a lot of time outdoors, building fortresses in the woods, things like that, and there's an extension of that world in what I do now". This image of a tall-in-the-saddle, armoured, adventuring knight is set for action. His perpendicular lance is held with confidence and authority, in his other gloved hand, the reins. The horse hardly gets a look in but this man is on a mission.

The subject matter belongs to a time long gone but in its painterliness the work is very much now. An abstract background with sweeping horizontal brushstrokes suggest blurred movement and the individual spots of colour, what he calls "notes of pure colour", are "almost like splitting apart the reality of painting and are usually added at the end. They act as "signposts to the artificiality of the painted surfaces".

Interested in colour theory and the chemistry of paint, "there's a heightened reality and a theatrical, staged element to all my work". As a boy he drew Sandman comic characters, he now photographs Deetail figures from the 1970s. Heffernan works from found images mostly but "I know what I'm looking for, am methodical about where I look. For example, screenshots from films". When younger, "knights went hand in hand with King Arthur, and John Boorman's Excalibur is still one of my favourite films".

This recent work, Crusade, "carries an undercurrent of violence with it which I'm interested in but not in any overtly political way." He is interested in images "where you're not sure what's going on, the viewer has to fill in the blanks so it becomes a sort of breeding ground for what people bring to it themselves".

He's also painted clowns and dancers and sees Crusade as "a self-reflective painting about being in the studio and all the anxieties, monomania and self-absorption that that involves".

He admits to being "a very obsessive person, very organised" and is very disciplined and focused in his studio where he works on several paintings at a time: "they feed off each other". And all the while he identifies with Belgian painter Michael Borremans's idea that "the human being is a victim of his situation and is not free" and yet Joseph Heffernan believes too that "there is so much pointless and destructive activity in the world that it really seems to me that the creative life is a noble pursuit". Heffernan is his own quiet crusader.

Heffernan's work is included in Selected Members Show at Sample Studios, Cork, and he has been selected for the 2019 Annual RHA Exhibition.

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