Thursday 17 October 2019

What Lies Beneath: Inside a Shadow by Cecilia Danell

Inside a Shadow by Cecilia Danell

Oil and acrylic on canvas courtesy of the artist and Kevin Kavanagh Gallery

Inside a Shadow by Cecilia Danell
Inside a Shadow by Cecilia Danell

Niall MacMonagle

Growing up on a small horse farm near Lake Vattern in central Sweden, Cecilia Danell painted "family, pets, my surroundings, Astrid Lindgren's storybook characters, especially Pippi Longstocking".

Danell's mother and grandmother paint as a hobby, and for Danell herself, art is her world. Having been to Ireland a couple of times in her teens, "I really liked it". Irish music and culture interested her, "Riverdance and Irish pop/rock groups were doing well and an Irish pen pal sent me a tin whistle" and wanting to study abroad, she chose Ireland. She moved here in 2004, aged 19, graduated from GMIT CCAM and, reflecting her interest in modernist architecture, her degree show featured "Stockholm suburbs, failed utopias and alienation using painting, animation, wallpaper installations".

Since then her work has "moved on to deal with my own personal experience of place". Danell loves working with "mundane materials and repetitive techniques". Her 2012 work, Psychedelic Tumbleweed, is made from coloured matchsticks and glue. "Painting depends on constant decision making and being in the moment, while building up surfaces out of paper clips or matchsticks is almost meditative."

Now Galway-based, Danell thinks Irish people "more open and chatty around strangers. Sweden is more desolate than Ireland which, outside bigger cities, is more bustling." Yet, it's the Scandinavian landscapes that she paints. "The forest makes me feel safe and enveloped, the ocean and open landscape can make me feel too exposed."

Rarely painting the human figure, Danell focuses instead on "the evidence of a human presence in a landscape. I often happen upon remnants of human activity such as hunter blinds, foundation stones of old homesteads. Romantic notions of nature as untended wilderness are usually false ones".

She only depicts places she has been to and while some Irish art deals with "the experience and heritage of religion", art in Sweden, a vast country, secular for a long time, deals with solitude and isolation".

Last January, Danell came upon the exact spot featured in this work. Close to Lake Frannsjon, "local hunters, hunting for moose or deer, built a platform or hunter blind. High up on the left a little birdhouse". She photographed the "low winter sun hitting some parts of the scene leaving the rest in shadow so I heightened the colours, overexposed the shadow part and the camera registered more blue and pink hues. I decided to go with these colours, accentuated them, hence the title Inside the Shadow.

"I walked past it again at Christmas and the strange ladder, the gestural shapes of these branches intrigue me." It's a large work and "I enjoy its sheer size and painting twisty branches".

Danell doesn't care for "minute accuracy", doesn't paint "in a photo realist way. I always draw the image freehand with charcoal, then in drippy, monochrome acrylic, in this instance a purple/brown".

She even paints within the drips, creating an abstract touch. The viewer steps into the scene. "Artists acutely aware of their surroundings have learned to look." For Cecilia Danell, "life and work blur together and it's a wonderful thing to get so completely immersed", but Danell always sees the woods and the trees.

'In a Landscape', a solo show by Cecilia Danell at RHA Ashford Gallery, Dublin, March 15-April 22.

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