The Molesworth Gallery
 

Michael Beirne

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Untitled ~ oil & mixed media on gesso panel ~ 86 x 120 cm

 

 

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Untitled (detail) ~ oil & mixed media on gesso panel ~ 86 x 120 cm

 

 

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Sahasrara ~ oil on gesso panel ~ 36 x 54 cm

 

 

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Ressurrection ~ oil on gesso panel ~ 43.5 x 35.5 cm

 

 

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Untitled ~ oil on gesso panel ~ 25 x 18 cm

 

Sahasrara

December 10th, 2016, to January 31st, 2017

____For Michael Beirne, making art has been central to his experience of the pleasures and struggles of living in the contemporary world. This new work establishes a territory which is not autobiographical or ‘dream-like’ in its narrative suggestions. Instead he presents a terrain of psychological and physical experience which draws deeply from shared and gauged intensities and passions, both disturbing and visionary, but always grounded in the earth, the body (of human, animal and plant) and the living mind.
____In this extraordinary body of work, he first lays down the terrain on which the psychodynamics will unfold - a generally flat, cultivated territory under a brooding sky, into which he digs holes, unearths rocks, plants trees, releases flowers seeds, and cuts into shelves of earth. He covers dismembered bodies in exquisite lace, he crowns animals with eclipsed moons and releases internal organs to hover where lambs shed their skins, become children and float towards the divine.
____It is a kind of ‘animism’ where everything has equal and eternal consciousness, (plant, machine, baby, rock, moon) and so everything is at once in a state of becoming itself, sometimes joyously, sometimes painfully but always honestly. Everything is familiar but re-imagined into a new landscape of metaphor.
____Michael Beirne, born in Carlow in 1958, studied fine art at the Crawford School of Art, Cork. Solo exhibitions of his work include David Cunningham Projects, San Francsisco (2009); Sligo Arts Centre (2007); Butler Gallery, Kilkenny (2005); and Temple Bar Galleries + Studios, Dublin (1999).
____Selected Group Exhibitions include Fenton Gallery, Cork (2000); RHA, Dublin (1997); Clock Tower Gallery, New York; and Arhus Kunstbygning, Denmark (both 1996). Beirne was commissioned by The Arts Council to produce work for the touring school show ‘Heroes’ (1986). Apart from The Arts Council, his work is included in the collections of Butler Gallery, Kilkenny and Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork as well as several significant private collections in Ireland and abroad.

 

Sahasrara, by Austin McQuinn

____Sahasrara is the crown Chakra, an energy point in the head of humans and all species, according to Vedic and Hindu holy books from 1500 BC. The word chakra comes from Sanskrit meaning ‘wheel’ or ‘disc’ and there are seven chakras in the body actively connecting endocrine, nerve and hormonal systems. In Vedic thinking, and here in the work of Irish artist Michael Beirne, the body and its physical, perceptual and emotional systems are actively monitoring the environment of the living world and responding to its demands, tensions and pleasures. These new paintings, like the chakras, gauge the status of the interior world of the self, its spiritual register, its physical needs and dilemmas and they become survival mechanisms in the psycho-physical phenomenon that is being alive.

____For Michael Beirne, making art has been central to his experience of the pleasures and struggles of living in the contemporary world. This new work establishes a territory which is not autobiographical or ‘dream-like’ in its narrative suggestions. Instead he presents a terrain of psychological and physical experience which draws deeply from shared and gauged intensities and passions, both disturbing and visionary, but always grounded in the earth, the body (of human, animal and plant) and the living mind.

____Consciousness begins, for Beirne, in and on the land. In his extraordinary body of work over the last ten years, he first lays down the terrain on which the psychodynamics will unfold - a generally flat, cultivated territory under a brooding sky, into which he digs holes, unearths rocks, plants trees, releases flowers seeds, and cuts into shelves of earth. He covers dismembered bodies in exquisite lace, he crowns animals with eclipsed moons and releases internal organs to hover where lambs shed their skins, become children and float towards the divine. It is a kind of ‘animism’ where everything has equal and eternal consciousness, (plant, machine, baby, rock, moon) and so everything is at once in a state of becoming itself, sometimes joyously, sometimes painfully but always honestly.

____In these paintings the natural world is staging a riot. There is refusal to comply with normative or received understandings of what it might mean to be a weed or a building or a person. This generates a kind of anarchic energy - a world of honest creation, destruction and rejuvenation. Life is a struggle with and against life itself and it is all marvellous. Fluids ooze from wispy seed pods. An ironing board becomes entangled with a Clematis. An octopus is covered with a veil at the feet of an ecstatic Bull. These gesso-ed wood panels have their surfaces consistently vitalised and violated by a contradiction and transmogrification of hovering trees, butchered piles of tissue and timber and compost heaps as birthplaces of the sublime.

____Everything is familiar but everything is re-imagined into a new landscape of metaphor and searing, almost unbearable, consciousness of being and becoming. These painting are pulled from the raw residues of experience. The prime connections - in nature and in the mind - are transformed, alchemically with paint, into profound meditations on the human condition. In a territory that Sigmund Freud might term ‘uncanny’, something primal and universal is at work at the centre and, as Freud writes, “everything which now strikes us as ‘uncanny’ fulfils the condition of touching those residues of animalistic mental activity within us and bringing them to expression.” (Sigmund Freud, Psychological writings and letters, 1995, Continuum, p141)

____In conversation, Beirne suggests three important influences on his own particular method of painting and thinking: Northern European Renaissance paintings of Van Eyck, Memling and Bosch; classical court Indian Moghul miniatures and the Vedic and Tantric calendars of emotional states of being. He further includes Christian iconography of the heart, the Lamb and the Maze of experience which have been a consistent reference throughout his long practice. These seemingly sublime ‘high art’ resources become infused, always, with the transgressive in Beirne’s work. While he draws from their metaphysical concerns, he radically usurps the meaning of their messages to create his own post-humanist manifesto of counter-cultural iconoclasticism.

____Michael Beirne plants images in front of us that grow sideways, that resist the vertical hetero-normative direction of the cultural given. In these paintings Beirne twists his resources into the terrain of the uncanny, the unknown that is always already known. He explores what Kathryn Bond Stockton terms “the elegant, unruly contours of growing that don’t bespeak continuance” and then he makes the riot, the revolting and the abject become the triumph of human experience. (Kathryn Bond Stockton, The Queer Child, or growing sideways in the Twentieth Century, 2009, Duke University Press. p13.) Michael Beirne confronts us with the celebrations and disturbances of being awake in and to the world. This is the state of Sahasrara, the crown chakra, the centre of consciousness in all its visceral, violent beauty.

Austin McQuinn, December 2016

Dr Austin McQuinn is a visual artist and visiting lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, University of Roehampton, London and Waterford Institute of Technology.

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