Sinead Ni Mhaonaigh

Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh

11 September to 16 October 2021

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Cnuasach: Deep Mapping
Joanne Laws, 2021

Over decades, the artist embarks on faithful departures from one painting in search of the next, never derailed by looming interpretations but content with deeper truths that overwrite such fractal commentary. Bodies of work accumulate as clusters, yet definitive meaning is shrouded and encoded – undecipherable, even to her.

Certainly, these painted structures are rooted in the Irish landscape; however, they also inhabit a more imaginary and timeless terrain. Embedded archaeological, linguistic and intuitive elements are held in creative confluence, but are never fully disclosed. Through a process of deep mapping, we experience brief epiphanies of place.

Landscape is a material surface that is sequentially etched and reshaped. One scheme of representation is imprinted upon another, each iteration obscuring what came before. From the outer edges, painted layers are scraped, reworked or subject to erasure. Perspective is tilted, lines overlap, and residual forms recede like apparitions.

Some constructions speak of sedimentary rock formations; others perch on thin blue-grey horizontal bands, reminiscent of clay daub soil. There are glimpses of vernacular architecture, human habitation and temporary monuments, built through communal labour. Former power structures can be traced within the brooding shadows of chimney stacks, border huts, or the outlying barbicans of some fortified town.

Curved black mounds are recurring motifs, perceived as plumes of smoke or the fleeting silhouettes of trees, observed from a passing train. Rising upwards, stars shimmer in a bitumen void, as electrical currents illuminate Wittgenstein’s last pool of darkness. I visualise ornate temples and mountaintop shrines, the sites of pilgrimage and monastic retreat. Concealed below are subterranean vaults and ancient passageways – half-dimensions inhabited by the spirits of warriors, whose mortal bodies are entombed as stardust within these dark hills.

Paint is applied in rectangular slabs, like shuttered concrete. Some vistas are emulsified with greyscale bands, suggesting seascapes obscured by fog. Blazing saffron skies prophesise ecological collapse; yet they also provoke nostalgia for the golden haze of distant summers, memorialised within family albums.

Several compositions echo the thick borders of Polaroid or the cinematic frames of moving image. They recall a pivotal moment in child development, when young drawers learn to situate their subjects, sprouting directly from the ground. A vessel of containment and support, canvas is a flexible material turned rigid and square – a framing device designating not just the contemporary arena, but the vast historical trajectory of Western painting.

The artist gathers a vocabulary akin to visual poetry, which draws inspiration from the immeasurable beauty and profound strangeness of the Irish language. This cnuasach (or gleaning) summons landscapes that predate analogue photography – a time when physical and conceptual transformations of the land were documented only through the kindred disciplines of painting and cartography.

Joanne Laws is an art writer and editor based in Leitrim.
Online Conversation
On the occasion of the exhibition at Uillinn, art writer Joanne Laws and artist Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh will informally discuss the exhibition on Friday 1 October at 1.00pm. This free event will take place on zoom, booking and further details on 

Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh (b.1977) graduated with a BA in Fine Art Painting from Dublin Institute of Technology in 2001. She was recently elected a member of the RHA and was awarded The Hotrom ARTWORKS Award for outstanding work Visual Carlow. In 2018 she was shortlisted for the John Moores Painting Prize.

Recent solo exhibitions include Achar (2018), Ardán (2016), Kevin Kavanagh, Dublin, Dúil (2016), Limerick City Gallery of Art, Imlíne (2014), Triskel Gallery, Cork, Contours (2014), Kevin Kavanagh, Dublin, Paintings (2012), Linehall Arts Centre, Mayo and Eatramh (2011), Kevin Kavanagh, Dublin. Ní Mhaonaigh has also taken part in many group exhibitions including Hold to the Now (2015), SLAG Gallery, New York , Last (2012), the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, UNBUILDING (2010), Mermaid Arts Centre, Wicklow . She has also exhibited as part of VOLTANY New York in a solo presentation in 2016.

Ní Mhaonaigh has been awarded the Hennessy Craig Scholarship and was shortlisted for the Marmite Prize for Painting in 2016. Her work is held in many important public collections including the Office of Public Works, the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, the Highlanes Art Gallery in Drogheda and The Arts Council as well as private collections in Ireland, across Europe and the USA


Image: By Night, 40 x 50 cm, oil on canvas, 2021


WCAC acknowledges the financial support of Arts Council Ireland and Cork County Council in making these exhibitions possible.

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