The first exhibition of paintings by Ciaran Murphy at Kavi Gupta gallery features twelve paintings on canvas, all small or medium in size. They’re painted in a style that’s become all the rage of late– that low key, often monochromatic rendering of disparate objects and interiors, you know the one. The one Luc Tuymans made famous; the one that brought back small painting from the bombastic Eighties. We’ve all learned to appreciate a little meditative, personally scaled rumination on delicate palettes and sensitive brushwork. I know I have.
Ciaran’s paintings do just what this brand of painting aims to do. Well, some of them. The idea is really lovely; what at first seems simply under-described, gives way to a transcendent moment of reverie. That by flinging off all sorts of extra baggage, the paintings may, if done well, describe ever so much more than the ones that contain excessive information. In the case of this exhibition, the effect is achieved so well in a few of the works. “Frozen Tree” is a superb painting. Barely breathing through the flat gray field of color is a vibrant, odd fleshy tone of under painting. The fallen tree and its exposed root clump are rendered just enough, and not too much. The root clump, like an explosion on the otherwise quiet composition, makes the work a succinct beauty. “Storm Damage” and “Circular Cloud Formation” achieve the same thing- calligraphic gestures doled out in minimum, and with confidence. Like a good haiku, if I dare say.
What troubles me though is where the work devolves into forced naiveté, as in “Late Evening”, a small square painting with a clumpy brown hill dominating the lower two -thirds of the work, leaving room for a flat turquoise sky fitted with a tiny sliver of moon. Here it seems like a failed study. He describes only what is put down in paint. (There’s a hill, and there’s a moon.) It’s the difference between thinking about doing (those striated ridges on the hill feel labored, contrived) and simply doing, as in “Seven Sticks”, where a lovely, subtle confidence shows in the decisive mark-making. I’m also not a huge fan of the places in the show that seem overwrought, as in “Hunting”. Let the paint do the work, my friend.
Overall, it’s a good show. I love seeing the paintings all together, even if they represent a body of work in progress. I liked seeing Murphy’s undecided relationship with description on parade and I can’t wait to see more work by him- I have a keen sense that a more signature vision will emerge. And I think it’s going to be really good then.