Tyrrell’s at the top of his game - just don’t take him for granted

Aidan Dunne, The Irish Times, April 15, 2009 

You can depend on Charles Tyrrell. Like one of those protagonists in Howard Hawks’s films who pride themselves on their professionalism come what may, you know he’s going to get the job done without any fuss or bluster. The only problem about being dependable is that people can begin to take you for granted and forget just how good you are.

If you want to check how good Tyrrell is you can do no better than drop into the Taylor Gallery to see his current show of paintings and etchings. It would be wrong to reproduce an image, because it simply wouldn’t do justice to the physical fabric of the work, which is as good as anything he’s ever done. And he doesn’t settle for doing again what he knows he can do well: every piece is charged with the nervous tension of discovery. He’s dedicated the show to the memory of Jim O’Driscoll SC, who died recently and who was an enthusiastic, perceptive collector and, as Tyrrell notes, a true friend to Irish artists.

Tyrrell is a exemplar of what Gerhard Richter termed “the daily practice of painting”. One senses that his life revolves around the routine of the studio. Each piece he produces has the feeling of having been subjected to exacting scrutiny, of having been looked at and reworked until any doubts or obviousness have been left behind.

Whatever remains has more than earned its place. One could also say he proceeds with logical rigour but, while there is a certain amount of logic involved, at the same time there is something odd and incalculable about what makes a painting a painting, about reaching the point where it becomes seriously interesting and involving, and Tyrrell is clearly open to the inexplicable and the intuitive. To quote Richter again, painting doesn’t involve thinking, as such, it’s “like a substitute for thinking – a different way of thinking”. Tyrrell’s show includes oils on canvas, some quite large, oils on aluminium, and a group of etchings. His characteristic way of approaching a painting, a drawing or an etching could be described as algorithmic, in that he applies certain given, simple rules, relating to divisions, boundaries, patterns and forms, to the application of paint or line, and then sets about working and reworking the surface according to this given methodology. The surface acquires a history, even when layers are scraped away or dissolved. Variations appear along the way, and so do arbitrary departures from the rules. Rather than becoming exhausted from the cumulative process, the surface progresses towards an intense, overall liveliness.

Some years ago, Tyrrell obliquely acknowledged the influence of his physical surroundings on his work. This is significant, because he was generally, and plausibly, regarded as being an abstract painter, and because he lives and works at the edge of the Beara Peninsula in west Cork, a dramatic location that is starkly exposed to the weather and to the sea. Without any explicit evocation, the weather, the sea, immense spaces, the passage of hours and days, sunsets and sunrises, life being lived, attentiveness to the moment, all make themselves felt in the work. This is so most evidently, though not necessarily more tellingly, in some of the oils on aluminium, their spaces divided by lines and arcs of light, and in the beautiful etchings with their rhythmic, stratified bands of hatching and cross-hatching. Given his record, the bar is set pretty high, but this work represents a painter at the top of his form, as good as anyone currently working you care to mention, nationally and internationally.

© Aidan Dunne