A new series
Patrick T. Murphy, Catalogue essay
Solstice Arts Centre, Navan and Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, 2011
It is probably incorrect to title this introduction as a ‘new series’ because it is not that Tyrrell finishes one body of work and commences a new one, but that each of his presentations grow organically from all that have gone previously. Tyrrell’s attitude to working is almost industrial, a daily commitment of hours in the studio. One can discern from Tyrrell’s titles his no-nonsense approach to painting, C9.09, the ninth painting completed in 2009.
For nearly 30 years now, critics have from time to time sought, without success, to root Tyrrell’s abstraction into his West Cork landscape. At times, Tyrrell seems to admit some oblique reference but then squeezes out any iota of that possibility. If this present suite of paintings has any such reference it is not to the topographical but the tectonic.
In many respects this work is sculptural, having more in common with the profound simplicity of Richard Serra’s sculptures and their exploration of gravity than with the issues of abstract painting.
In C9.09 (one of a suite of four of similar format), we get the sense of objecthood that Tyrrell brings to his paintings. Appreciate the mathematics: a vertical canvas 108cms high and 72cms wide, central is a square 72cms X 72cms, leaving two sections above and below the square of 18cms wide, one sixth of 108cms or one quarter of 72cms. Dimensions are never arbitrary or off the shelf with Tyrrell, he imbues them with significance. The canvas has a black cruciform shape, the slender rectangles created by it hold a complex surface of colour. These crosses literally exclude us from viewing the painting that we know is behind them. They physically stop the viewer with their insistent presence. And they stop something else, the bubbling up of those landscape allusions. The sentimental could read a foreground, mid-ground, horizon line and sky in those revealed edges, but the negation of the crosses firmly stops that reading in its tracks.
In C1.10, C5.10 and C6.10 diptychs, we encounter this same bodily relationship to the canvas. This time it is a counter-clockwise rotational dynamic. Each panel is 160 X 150cm placed horizontally beside each other. The works are squared by using a 10cms stripe scraped back to its original under-painting. The central square sections are full of dark running magma, pulls and pushes, rhythms gained and rhythms lost. The intensity of their working elevating them to what the artist modestly calls ‘simple absolute procedure’ but to which we may speculate as the evidence and the fact of the creative struggle.
In the six vertical paintings from 2010 and 2011, each 210cms X 150cms, three dark vertical elements are punctuated by chevrons of lighter underpainting. In C3.10 the three equal elements are stacked one on top of the other, their meeting edge relieved by a shallow curve of light. The whole painting moves from top to bottom, the belly of the slab oozing with the urgency of gravity. In C1.11 the movement is from left to right, each slab laid down slightly in front of the other as if jostling for position in the picture frame. Always that idea of struggle, of fact hard won.
In the etchings that accompany this period of the artist’s work again for the language of analysis one reverts to sculptural terms - above and below, resting on, light and heavy, in front of and behind. The elegance to achieve such sophistication with the use of only crosshatching speaks for itself.
Tyrrell’s compositions have got ever more simple and rigorous, and within this defined arena his painting has got more complex and capable of embracing fact and metaphor with equal passion.