Saturday 20 January 2018

What Lies Beneath: The Zoetrope by David O'Kane

The Zoetrope by David O'Kane Acrylic and oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist

The Zoetrope
The Zoetrope

Niall MacMonagle

David O'Kane grew up in a 17th-century plantation house in Donegal. Now 30, he has, since graduating from NCAD, studied for a Meisterschüler degree in Germany and has shown in Paris, Berlin and Seoul. Public collections, including Yale, Princeton and Stanford, have acquired his work.

The Zoetrope, painted in 2014, is not only a dazzling and technically brilliant painting but, bigger than a door, it opens one's mind. "It takes perspective and illusion as themes, and how our viewpoint always affects how we see and understand the world. In effect it is an inverted zoetrope in that we see the static figure surrounded by panes of glass without the illusion of movement. The boy's back is to the viewer in order to make him anonymous. We inevitably project an identity or meaning onto the figure."

The disused classroom setting, loosely inspired by a studio space O'Kane once had in the Coombe, blends real and surreal. Diaphanous, silky curtains frame a diagonal path of sunlight; puzzle shapes tumble down a blackboard on which a rooted plant - labelled 'Fig.11' - drawn in chalk becomes a real plant on the windowsill. And the barefooted, fair-haired lad stands prim, proper within a red floor-painted maze. Puzzles everywhere.

Inspiration, for O'Kane, is "hard to pinpoint". A painting "is more like an alchemy of various sources - projects in animation, film or photography - or from a kernel of an imagined space or scenario."

And titles? "Tricky - because they can close down a painting or make it too didactic. The Zoetrope is based on the pre-cinematic device that generates the illusion of movement through successive images seen through multiple slits in a cylinder."

And the hoped-for effect? "That's beyond my control. The immediate reaction is too visceral for that anyway. The intellect only kicks in after the encounter.

"I suppose if it imparts any sort of atmosphere that suggests another world view then that would be a success. The work needs to be intriguing enough that somebody will want to come back to it. But it should also be open enough to allow room for introspective contemplation." And to puzzle it all out.

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