Helene Appel: On the Cutting Board / Mairead O’hEocha: Light Spells Enter

Helene Appel: On the Cutting Board / Mairead O’hEocha: Light Spells Enter


Courtesy P420.

March 24, 2023
Helene AppelOn the Cutting Board
Mairead O’hEochaLight Spells Enter
February 25–April 29, 2023
Via Azzo Gardino 9
40122 Bologna
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Helene Appel: On the Cutting Board
P420 is pleased to present On the Cutting Board, the second solo show in the gallery by the German painter Helene Appel (1976, Karlsruhe, Germany).

The works in the exhibition feature seemingly simple objects/subjects that are so commonplace by virtue of their individual qualities and formal characteristics that they merge into the background of our everyday experience: an envelope, a vegetable, a piece of cloth, a towel, a pile of rubbish, a mound of earth, the pavement we walk on, the light of a parked car. These objects, which may appear trivial to us, taken for granted in our everyday life, with their real shapes and sizes, are imposed on our vision and thus regain a value we had not previously considered.

The title On the Cutting Board makes direct reference to a specific painting exhibited here that depicts a chopped fennel bulb on a rough canvas. In this case, the full-scale representation of the chopped fennel determines the size of the painting, which in turn becomes the size of the cutting board. A section of pavement spans almost the entire height of the gallery space, a painting of an envelope, by contrast small and pale, comes across as unusual in its lightness and intimacy. The smallest object depicted in the exhibition is a grain of sand, shown in countless multitudes: tiny dots and details fill a large canvas.

“Helene Appel looks at things and paints them, as faithfully as possible, with consummate skill,” writes Gabrielle Schwarz in the text accompanying the show, “She has been doing this since the mid-2000s, training her attention on all manner of subjects—big and small, beautiful and ugly, organic and inorganic. […] For Appel, painting is about entering a relationship with the things she depicts, in which both parties are transformed by their encounter with the other. The artist is led by her subject, altering her canvas size and technique according to its scale and form and texture, but the subject also depends on the artist and her choices to become something entirely new: a painting. The surfaces of her canvases are records of this generative dynamic. With their subtle enchantments, they demonstrate an obvious but rarely acknowledged truth: that painting does not simply present but rather produces reality.”

Mairead O’hEocha: Light Spells Enter
P420 is pleased to present the first solo show in the gallery by the Irish painter Mairead O’hEocha (1962, Dublin, Ireland) Light Spells Enter.

Mairead O’hEocha presents an unprecedented series of nocturnal still lifes created during the lockdown, when the artist was shut away in a Georgian house in Dublin: a reflection on the contemporary gaze now accustomed to a light source coming from behind the screen. As O’hEocha herself states: “This new series of paintings feature transparent objects on tables and like a glass calendar are inspired by events in my life in the years 2020–22.  A time when global mobility was suddenly paused and my dining table and the optics of small objects replaced all of my horizons. The consolations of digital technology brought comfort but also dissolved the distinctions between appearance and reality. The somewhat larger-than-life scale of the objects and their luminous back-lit scenes frame domestic confinement through a digital screen.” Through her careful manipulation of the oil, O’hEocha’s compositions each contain an element of ambiguity: the subject shrouded in darkness takes on a new, unexpected and magical appearance.

“The thing about Mairead O’hEocha’s still lifes is that they are very reluctant to stay still,” writes Ben Eastham in the text accompanying the exhibition, “The longer I look at them, the more restive they become. […] They all take place in a more-or-less ghastly dark and are lit by the unnatural light that springs from the glass vessels at their centre. These contain or connect the viewer to some discernible form of life (nocturnal creatures flit and skitter around these paintings) and suggest (to me, at least) the electric force that through the fuse of the body drives all living things. If the appearance of this light suggests some kind of commune with the spirit realm, then its ghostly glow also conjures the backlit screens through which we communicated with other living beings through the lonely nights of the pandemic. O’hEocha describes her experience of that period as ‘triple- glazed’, and the phrase suggests the way that screens distort our worlds in ways consistent with the often monstrous proportions of objects in these paintings. Yet it also conjures the sense of being caught between panes of glass, trapped in the airless and claustrophobic space between two worlds. And here all order breaks down, as I consider where the light of these paintings comes from and what it might entail. Am I on the outside looking in, or on the inside looking out?”

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March 24, 2023

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