LAYERS of light fuse and fade over the panorama that is Clew Bay as artist Ger Sweeney unfurls the secret logic of his work. It is almost 10pm and we are sitting in the beer garden of The Towers at Westport Quay.
It is now framed by the shadowed pyramidal outline of Croagh Patrick, the mysterious hulk of a distant Clare Island, the clutches of Fabergé-egg inner islands and the intrusion of gloomy outlines of dull architecture on the quayside.
What a perfect setting for Ger Sweeney to explain the dynamic and dialectic of his work – impelled by man’s interaction with nature. (See the painting ‘Aquajade’.)
The title painting of Sweeney’s latest body of work, ‘Notes from a Silence’, should be interpreted in a number of ways, according to the artist.
“On the one hand it is ‘notes from a quiet place’, in another way it has a resonance with its combination of colours and can create vibrations and different sounds,” explains Sweeney, deferring to the influence of the founder of abstractionism, Wassily Kandinsky.
“Ultimately any painting comes up with a whole compendium of thoughts, It’s like a mantra. If you have a pre-determined philosophy, where is the element of chance or of opportunity.”
‘Strata’, continues Sweeney, also comes from an abstract base but has a strong sense of tactility and light, which has a landscape influence. It perfectly exudes Cezanne’s ‘blueness of air’ stretching to infinity but deceptively impermeable.
‘Nomad’, for this writer, exudes the detached and ethereal tactility of an Edward Hopper painting, without the lonely comfort of the human form.
Ger Sweeney explains: “‘Nomad’ was envisaged when I was on the train in Finland. I was trying to capture an experience … a long journey at night with your thoughts. You are trying to paint and capture a sound and a memory with your thoughts.”
“We are all trying to capture something transient, but the thing is were are transient and not the landscape.” he continues.
Adding: “I don’t see a painting as an answer, I see it as a well asked question. I’m most fascinated by the mystery it holds rather than a solution it provides.”
For Castlebar native Ger Sweeney, his move back to Mayo, after many years living in the United States and Galway, has been an important influencing factor in the evolution of his work. It is hardly surprising that this move – which included the renovation of his Carrowholly cottage, teetering on the edge of the whimsical Atlantic – has, to an extent, gradually subjugated the formality of his work and celebrated the more spontaneous presence of light.
“The real conundrum is putting light into the abstract, and it should always represent optimism.”
‘November’, one of this writer’s favourites, juxtaposes light and darkness in a novel and deeply effective way, albeit by the simple change of direction of the artist’s brushstrokes. In this Pillar of Light series, Sweeney evokes a tactile, yet elusive, sense of timelessness. This is – as is characteristic – the result of the application of pure abstract and theoretical-based work, a very strong connection with the elements of landscape, the fleeting memories of light and the evocation of music.
His genesis as a photo-realist and faithful subscriber to formal theoretical abstraction has now opened up into a language that is broader than all of that.
Curiously, he says that his work has become a lot calmer since his return to Mayo, notwithstanding the fact that this calmness is often captured amid the elemental storms that rattle his remote studio and inspire his artistic eye.
Ger Sweeney’s ‘Notes from a Silence’ is on show at the Galway Arts Festival Gallery, 1 Merchants Road, until Sunday, July 26. The gallery is open Monday to Saturday, 11am to 5.30pm, and on Sunday, 12 noon to 5.30pm.
“Sweeney’s paintings bring us right back to the fundamental position. They present us with spaces, whether urban and architectural in some of his earlier works or coastal and rural, that are suffused with light but restricted in depth, Space is layered with light planes, like mirages of water on a sun-soaked road. You are drawn towards them but afraid that if you succeed in negotiationg the layers of light in paintings such as ‘First Light 1’ and, especially in ‘Nomad’, the gleam that attracted you most will have disappeared into nothingness.”
– Catherine Marshall, Senior Curator at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Notes from a Silence