Friday 22 November 2019

What Lies Beneath: Poppy's Last Day

Poppy's Last Day By Paula Pohli, Egg tempera on paper, Courtesy of the artist

Poppy's Last Day By Paula Pohli
Poppy's Last Day By Paula Pohli

Niall MacMonagle

Draw a flower, a tree, a house. As kids, we all drew them with varying degrees of success but when a character in Ronan Lyons's just published novel Lead White snarls "You don't win the Booker Prize if you can't write, but you can win the Turner Prize if you can't draw," it brings us back to basics.

Lead White, secateurs-sharp and wickedly entertaining, dissects the art world and asks what is art? Marcel Duchamp's urinal? Or Piero Manzoni 90 cans, labelled Merda d'Artista, filled with his own poo, and priced by weight, based on the market value of gold. Toilet humour or what? Not sure about their drawing.

Mayo-based artist Paula Pohli, from Dublin's north side, can not only paint and draw brilliantly but her new show, Tempus Fugit, also includes linocuts.

She grew up thinking about "living in the countryside. Nature always appealed to me".

Two excellent art teachers at secondary school made a difference but she could not afford full-time third-level study. "I wanted to see art and breathe art history."

She studied art history in the National Gallery Library, sketched, painted, visited galleries.

For Pohli - the name is German - "the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal was the biggest eye opener for me: a living introduction to German Expressionism".

And she married a man from there.

Now her world is "nature, plants, animals, birds, hedgerows, daylight, evening light, rain, wind, storms, flood, fog", and "the soft pastoral 'bocage' landscape around Mayo Abbey" is her inspiration.

"Mayo offers an abundance of motifs and ideas for art."

Paula Pohli rises early: "I feed the birds first, I review what I did yesterday, plan the day ahead.

"Joyce said every Friday kills a Thursday and for me each day is a new art day." She reads a lot, walks a lot and likes driving down third-class roads.

The new show contains 50 works from 2015-2017: landscapes, birds, flies and flowers. There's a black and white linocut showing 12 dead flies from January through December.

"The form of the dead flies interested me graphically," and Pohli likes "the smell of lino, the cutting and carving, the inking and printing the image on paper."

This image, Poppy's Last Day, using egg yolk, water, pigment, a more colourful work, features "an oriental poppy in our garden, a moment between bloom and decay".

It's not meant to be a sad image - "the vermilion is both attractive and dangerous; this poppy is potent".

As it dies, says Pohli, "its handkerchief-like petals fold in on themselves and it becomes a dark dramatic heap of decaying reds, black and purples".

Yes, time does fly.

Does art attempt to stop time? "I do not consciously think to stop time when making art but you see birds and animals dying in the countryside. You see the buds on the trees popping out and the burst of life is interesting."

She sees "Memento Mori subjects everywhere and every day", but does not feel sad about the passing of the seasons.

Poppies have their last day but as another lover of County Mayo, poet Michael Longley, reminds us: "The poppy that sheds its flower-heads in a day/ Grows in one summer four hundred flowers."

Tempus Fugit by Paula Pohli is at darc space gallery, [01-8788535], 26 North Great George's St, until October 6.

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