Charles Tyrrell

Aidan Dunne, Representing Art in Ireland, Fenton Gallery, Cork 2008

It’s hard to think of another Irish artist who makes paintings with the concentrated rigour that Charles Tyrrell brings to all of his work. There is a remarkable consistency to that work, partly because he seems always to be pursuing the same argument from painting to painting. The argument is about what a painting is and can be, what it is possible to do in a painting and what is impossible, and one soon realizes that what is interesting, for Tyrrell, is what lies at the edges of possibility. He fits very well Frank Stella’s description of an artist as someone who is always looking for something just beyond the bounds of visibility.

His paintings are built on a geometric armature, a grid that can be virtually invisible and implicit or, conversely, forcefully apparent. Throughout the painting process, the picture surface is made, scraped back, remade, scraped back again and so on, until a point of resolution is reached. By then, a dynamic equilibrium has been negotiated, an equilibrium expressed in terms of edges and boundaries, horizontals, vertical and diagonals, colour and texture, forms that are predictably regular or just inexplicably right. Each painting seems animated by a crackling visual energy.

His work is abstract by most definitions of the term. Yet it is not abstract in any doctrinaire sense, in that he does not try to isolate it from the generality of life and the wider world. The physical environment within which he lives has long been identified as an influence on his work. It’s there in the atmospherics of his painting. But beyond resemblance, what he does is inextricably bound up with our experience. Time and duration, our perceptions of things in terms of patterns and concepts, and the coexistence of mutually incompatible viewpoints or frames of reference, are all consistent concerns, approached with exemplary openness and curiosity.

© Aidan Dunne