Tuesday 24 April 2018

What lies beneath: Mountjoy Square

Mountjoy Square by Peter Pearson, Oil on canvas, courtesy of Bonhams

Mountjoy Square by Peter Pearson.
Mountjoy Square by Peter Pearson.

Two weeks ago, protesters outside Boston's Museum of Fine Arts denounced chocolate-boxy Pierre Auguste Renoir. Placards read "Treacle Harms Society" and "reNOir"; an Instagram account declared "Renoir Sucks at Painting". But give the man a chance. In Cagnes-sur-Mer there's a farmhouse; in front, of which there's a reproduction of a Renoir painting of that very building and the record is a valuable one. Today the viewer, at a glance, can see what was, what is; the past, the present. Artists can capture moments. Forever.

There's something similarly interesting and important at work in Peter Pearson's paintings of Dublin's streets, sites and buildings. The Georgian Quays, St Stephen's Green, the Hibernian Hotel, Robert Emmet's House, Christchurch, Sandymount Strand, the Custom House, Smithfield all feature in Pearson's new show.

Nelson's Pillar is an exploding and explosive work; a house on Leeson Street is graffitied "Punk Lives! Scum"; the Merrion Square painting has vandals attacking a huge ornate urn; a wrecking ball takes down the Dominican Convent on Eccles Street.

All capture Dublin's changing face. When Pearson first painted Mountjoy Square - en plein air - "I had to fight off kids who were robbing my paintbrushes" but that didn't stop him, nor did it quell his passion for the city, which, for him, is "an art work in its own right - the craftsmanship of the fanlights and plasterwork, the faded beauty of the bricks". Dublin Fragments, his fascinating Bonhams show, contains not only paintings but artefacts - found and rescued objects - the work of unknown hands from other times.

In this painting, Mountjoy Square, "a Corporation inspection engineer in his Cherrypicker is planning more demolition of the hated Georgian houses, safely detached from the dirt and grime of the city's heritage!" Lovely pastel colours, once the painted walls of family homes, are laid bare. The hourglass, deliberately large and placed among the rubble is a stark reminder that nothing stays forever and yet the seagull on the chimney reminds us that seagulls will always fly above Dublin-sur-Mer.

Peter Pearson at Bonhams, 31 Molesworth Street until October 21. There is a special opening today as part of Dublin Open House.

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