Our Lady of the Flowers ~ oil on canvas ~ 130 x 100cm
Exhibited in The Irish Exhibition of Living Art (1980) at the Douglas Hyde Gallery
Winged chair with griffin ~ oil on board ~ 30 x 23cm
Works from the studio
On view October 10th - 29th, 2016
_ _Elizabeth Taggart’s pursuit of a highly personal visual idiom sets her apart from her artistic peers in Ireland, North and South. Like the 'Celtic Surrealist', Leonora Carrington, an artist with whom she shares a deep affinity, Taggart has created her own personal symbology. Hers is a hybrid world full of strange and oddly unsettling figures, where animals and household items are anthropomorphised, and often represent an alter-ego or a form of self-portraiture. The women in Taggart’s paintings do not conform to any conventions of portraiture, but are more likely to be self-portraits or paintings of creative energy, of self-transformation and self-discovery.
__ Born in Donaghadee, Co. Down, in 1943, Taggart studied painting at the Belfast College of Art in the early 1960s under John Luke and Romeo Toogood. Given her background, she could loosely be characterised as working in the tradition of Northern figurists like Luke, Dan O’Neill and Gerard Dillon, although she would eschew any notion of consciously working in their shadow. And while a regular exhibitor in the seminal Irish Exhibitions of Living Art in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, she stood apart from her peers in style and sensibility (and even geographically, as she lived in London and travelled extensively for much of her career). Her inclusion in The Surreal in Irish Art exhibition, at the FE McWilliam Gallery in 2011, did place her work alongside that of Luke, Colin Middleton and Patrick Hennessy, as well as that of younger artists like Alice Maher and Dorothy Cross. She straddles these generations of artists, in much the same way as her work straddles figuration, still life, landscape and the surreal, a range of subject matter which has made her work more difficult still to categorise.
__ This exhibition includes pieces dating back to 1975, among them a group of works painted in Mexico, a country that has had a profound influence on the artist. Living in Mexico City afforded her the opportunity to spend time with and study the work of Leonora Carrington. Like Carrington, she was drawn to Mexico by what the pioneering surrealist, André Breton described as its “constellation of seduction and dreams”; from the late 1930s onwards, Mexico was a magnetic enclave for the European surrealists due to the outbreak of World War II, which forced many of the movement’s protagonists to flee Paris. While in Mexico, the work of Frieda Kahlo and Diego Riviera also resonated with Taggart and she latterly recognised her artistic kinship to the gallery of grotesques and voluptuaries that people the works of Colombian artist, Fernando Botero.
__ A signature piece in this show and, indeed, of Taggart’s career is Our Lady of the Flowers, painted on one of several prolonged sojourns in Mexico and last exhibited at the 1980 Irish Exhibition of Living Art in The Douglas Hyde Gallery. Compositionally, it is based on 18th century Mexican folk art representations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with the Madonna figure surrounded by cascades of flowers. In Taggart’s version, the central figure has become a nun which, in the language of the surrealists and their dream analysis, becomes a device to represent self-sacrifice and abstinence. Other surrealist motifs which recur in Taggart’s work include the birdcage, long used by the movement as a metaphor for the artist’s studio and the pierrot figure, symbolic of a desire to hide your true self. For Taggart, the pierrot is also evocative of the travelling carnivals that visited her home town of Donaghadee, so capturing her imagination as a child.