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Mark O'Kelly Grapples Ireland's History with a New Painting of Monumental Scale at Project Arts Centre

  • mark o’kelly
March 21, 2016
Alias of Ksenija Pantelić

Breaking the history into smaller parts, and later constructing it again through different images, is evident in the newly commissioned piece of the artist Mark O’Kelly. His new painting of monumental scale, Empireland, wrestles with Ireland’s history as a State and continues the artist’s practice and sustained engagement with theories of representation, reproduction, and quotation.Like with his previous projects, O’Kelly’s new exhibition also investigates the painting as a medium of expression. Breaking away from the traditional form of exhibiting his painting, the artist merges the painting into an installation piece.

Left: Image of work in progress, courtesy of the artist and Project Arts Centre / Right: Mark O' Kelly
Left: Image of work in progress, courtesy of the artist and Project Arts Centre / Right: Mark O’ Kelly

History painting

As a genre in painting, history painting is defined by its subject matter rather than artistic style, and it usually depicts a moment in a narrative story than a specific and static subject. For the monumental painting, Empireland, viewed as a contemporary history painting, Mark O’Kelly uses images, icons, symbols and figures related to Ireland’s religious, medicinal, corporeal, and cultural history. The different panels joined together, in the end, produce this monumental scale painting, and intertwine elements of the conceptual and renaissance art history. The conceptual element is important for this work, as well as previous works by the artist, where the medium of the painting was used to engage the audience and reflect the questions of cognitive representation and psychological poetry of the image. Focusing on exploring in all his work the role of the artist and his art, Empireland may be viewed as a development in O’Kelly’s exploration of the individual and collective responsibilities in the fabrication of history.

Mark O'Kelly with Creative Generations pupils from St. Patrick's Boys National School, image via businesstoarts.ie
Mark O’Kelly with Creative Generations pupils from St. Patrick’s Boys National School, image via businesstoarts.ie

The Responsibility

The previous project of O’Kelly, Caged Archive, researched the nature of the archive and viewed archiving as fine art. Focusing on the past and questioning the responsibility and the perception of images used to create the systems and patterns for the understanding of the archival process, where embedded in O’Kelly’s research and articulated through his paintings. The artist’s work and such is the case with Empireland, is always focused on exploring the effect and the relationship the work creates with his audience. This time, produced on the structure of a motorway gantry sign, the depicted images on different panels, create a complex and layered image that should be viewed as a representation of an abstract roadmap of Ireland’s evolution born of rebellion. The painting, a carrier of information, is also a tool for the investigation of the mechanism that lies in the understanding and perception of the images that showcase the collective memory and perception of history.

Detail of an image of work in progress, courtesy of the artist and Project Arts Centre.
Detail of an image of work in progress, courtesy of the artist and Project Arts Centre.

Mark O’Kelly Exhibition at Project Arts Centre in Dublin

As Ireland’s leading centre for the development and presentation of contemporary art, Project Art Centre, in the period between April 1st and May 28th, 2016, will have the privilege to show the public a newly commissioned painting Empireland. The ambitious commissioned piece of artist Mark O’Kelly, monumental in its scale and images, is a representation of Ireland’s rebellious history.

Mark O’Kelly, the Dublin-based artist, uses his paintings as a means for the investigation of the process of perception and as a tool that explores the responsibility and role of the art. Artist’s paintings, always break away from the traditional and with this escape focus on developing the medium and understanding of art.

All images courtesy of the artist and Projects Arts Centre. Featured image in slider: Mark O’Kelly – Empireland, detail of work in progress.