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By Dorthe Rugaard Jørgensen.

The Irish artist Ciarán Lennon (b. 1947) describes his latest paintings as “arbitrary colour collections”. They have strong ties to the landscape of his own experiences, including his native town of Dublin and the modern Irish writers James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. The titles, CAMAC Paintings, refer back to a childhood memory of looking down a storm hole in a stone bridge and watching dyes discharged from a nearby paper mill colour the water of the Camac River.

The paintings are colour sensations with no representational elements.  He pulls his endlessly varied colours down the painting surface in broad strokes, reminiscent of the Russian suprematist painter Olga Rozanova’s vertically triped colour compositions from before 1920.  The underlying layers of colour are visible as a succession in space and time.  It would seem obvious to link Lennon’s work to the ideal, formalist painting that the American art critic Clement Greenberg described in his essay, Modernist Painting (1960), praising painting’s unique qualities – the flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of pigment.  Lennon, however is interested in more than just the formal aspects of painting.  His works are “impure” by the standards of self-referential modernist painting.  Their fulcrum must be located outside the centre of their own world.  They address the viewer in the world beyond painting.  The painting surfaces project out on a shaped block of wood, making them somewhat more than paintings: they are one side of potential sculptural objects.  The colours seem close to coming off their support and conquering the space, while indicating the viewer the body, as the centre of the experience.

The ideas of minimalism, as defined by the American art critic Michael Fried in Art and Objecthood (1967), are another framework for understanding.  Lennon’s Arbitrary Colour Collections resemble serial repetitions of individual parts: many small pictures for a whole, while holding out the possibility that they could be endlessly continued, varied and recombined. Lennon clearly builds on the 1950s work of the American artist Ellsworth Kelly involving inter-changeable coloured panels, and work from the 1960s by another American, Donald Judd, who structured mono-chrome units according to a serial principle.  Within the context of minimalism, the experience of these wholes could also be described as a “situation” where the viewer is instantly incorporated into an active, bodily relationship with the work.  Lennon’s colour collections are literal, physical presences in-the exhibition space.  Often extending several meters, these are large works that require the viewer to move around the room.  The serial element, for it’s part, is significant only in terms of the form of the installation, as the individual parts are combined and juxtaposed in tiers of different lengths – arbitrary but fixed – to compose the overall work.  The parts are not identical, let alone mechanical, even though they are of the exact same type.  Lennon brushes his colours on found materials, including copper, wood, paper marble and canvas.  In the traces of the paintbrush, and in the limitless possibilities of colour nuance and variety emerge.

Lennon’s paintings are more than pure, autonomous formalism.  As an artist, he is neither a conservative modernist nor a subversive minimalist.  Nor for that matter does he invoke the gestures and art-as-spirituality of an abstract-expressionist mystic or the strategic speculation of the conceptual artist.  He builds on core modernist ideas and forms, but within his own context, which makes his paintings significant as statements Lennon grew up in an Irish-Catholic society that he has experienced as repressive, authoritarian and insular.  His intense work with art as concrete experiential situations, shifting experience and emotion outside the painting to the individual person’s body, is most certainly a product of his background.

Lennon makes paintings, not pictures.  They hold no narratives or connotations.  Nor are they about the act of painting, or anything else for that matter Rather they embody lived experience.  They activate the here and now.  The colours, energetic, generous and without intention, rock the landscape of the viewer’s own reality, senses and feelings.  Lennon’s other work – including photographs of his paintings, books with inserted photos, cardboard boxes full of books and bronze casts of the boxes – is like an embalming of painting, like a reverse, Joycean countdown to a hypnotic trance, to hallucination, sleep and death.  The paintings are the waking state and its time.  They are seen and felt as powerful, chromatic sensations.