Memory of a Free Festival
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Albert Camus
I’m sitting in front of Erin Lawlor’s large diptych Memory & Desire (Sous La Glycine). Even at half the size of the cinemascope quartet This Fearful Country (Enchanted Trifles),and certainly less sense-around than the symphonic Seasons (Winter) (Spring) (Summer) (Autumn) which sits crated and ready to wing its way here on the first flight outta Fish Island, it nonetheless stretches well beyond my reach in each direction. The fields that Lawlor paints increasingly extend beyond the viewers horizon, seeming to stretch like the seasons – in front and behind us. The panels enclose our senses in a forceful chromatic envelope that coils and swirls like music, displacing language with its powerful synaesthesia and twisting reverb. They can be rich and thundering and yet there are passages that are secretive, almost soundless. Their mood and temperature morph too, sometimes within the same painting, and on occasion it seems within the same brushstroke.
Lawlor chooses oversize brushes capable of holding multiple pigments – chaperoning them on a journey into the weave of the burgeoning composition – some re-emerge, others don’t, dissipating amidst the ferment of the next brushstroke. On one hand Lawlor’s brushstrokes are so apparent – their energy revealed in the traces and braiding within the movement, but try and locate the genesis of any gesture and you’ll find it folded into a tumult of colour and trajectory that draws you into the trails and separations of pigment before releasing you into an adjacent arc. In this sense Lawlor is perpetually revealing and hiding, laying bare the fundamental contradiction that making a painting discharges – the wrestle between privacy and disclosure.
In this sense there is no beginning and no end in Lawlor’s paintings. Few painters have been able to so successfully reposition you from the orthodox figure-ground relationship and place you inside the gesture so dextrously. One thinks of large Joan Mitchell’s, Lee Krasner, inevitably of Pollock and perhaps more recently of Brice Marden, Julie Mehretu, even Cecily Brown, but the way that Lawlor brings us face to face with the action, there is an unexpected intimacy in all this proximity, particularly given the grand scale of the paintings.
Almost overcome by the turbulence of the composition we can feel an unexpected “jazz” – the kind of confident improvisation you can only pull off if you can really, really play. Or perhaps this spontaneity it is akin to Bowie’s Dadaist approach to sound and vision…just when you think you know where it’s heading, he would splice it with discord and key change, turning the composition and narrative inside out. Being with a work like This Fearful Country (Enchanted Trifles),I can’t help but feel the elasticity of time is comparable to the experience inside a symphony, a certain song, even a single note. In the middle of it we lose, wilfully or otherwise, all faculty. I keep coming back to Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival…
Oh, to capture just one drop of all the ecstasy that swept that afternoon,
To paint that love upon a white balloon,
And fly it from the toppest top of all the tops that man has pushed beyond his brain.
Satoria must be something just the same.
…followed by that intoxicating chorus “The Sun Machine is coming down, and we’re gonna have a party.”
As much as Lawlor’s works might deftly and at times humorously touch on the hallucinogenic “insights” of 60s psychedelia, her paintings reach much farther back in time, to art history for companionship. For all her commitment to the anatomy of the brushstroke, to process and performance I know that she looks back as frequently to Titian and Tintoretto as to Krasner or Brown because she shares their desire and appetite for mythological paintings and at this moment surely there can few better justifications to paint than to lose oneself in the transformative power of mythology and dreams.