Catalogue Essay John Brady, Linenhall Arts Centre, Feb/March 1997, Dr. Siobhan Garrigan
John Brady paints about the things that contain us, houses that shelter us, windows that frame our views, boats that transport us, our imaginations. At the same time we see that release us; doors windows, chimneys, roofline-the points of interest where inside and outside, airy and concrete, upper and lower meet. There is an implication of potential in these doors-ways beyond, simultaneously tempered by a constant setting of limits as the eye is engaged in the subject outline.
Containers and openers, possibilities and limitations, boundaries and connections, these are typical of the conversational interplays that fuel John’s work. Their context is a playful dialectic between fragments and coherence, creation and destruction, decay and regeneration. The paintings declare the coexistence, mutuality even, of such forces rather than couching them as competitors for higher ground. Birth is not presumed better than death; both just are.
It is an exploration of the nature of change that issues that dialectical context.
Starting in 1991 John has made a series of paintings in response to the changes taking place in Westport. Some of the changes they witness were due to the inevitable decay of materials, others were engineered, the results of urban control.
The purpose of this series is neither to immortalize the scene shown nor to issue a polemic against planners; it is a far more subtler way of drawing attention to the changes. The pieces in this exhibition are conversant with wider critiques of ‘West of Ireland’ aesthetic on a town in the west of Ireland.
The main image used as a conduit for examining change is the building. In addition to his immersion in the buildings of his home town, john also incorporates structure-shapes from other cultures. Keeping sketch books during his travels abroad furnishes him with vibrant source of stories, forms and symbolism which greatly extend the scope of the architecture on the canvas. Architecture is at heart a cultural practice, because the process of creating spaces is an instinctual part of living. Building consequently embody both individual and collective ‘personality’. John describes buildings as having “voices”- a bank for example, through its appearance, says something different to a grocers, with its display inviting you inside- and understands the sum of these voices , the “semiology of buildings”, to map routes of communication through a town.
Juxtaposing a variety of buildings creates new routes of communication. Through siting this locality in a wider berth than it is used to, the paintings invite us to make connections. The effect is profound- we read relationships where there were previously none. Also, because we know that buildings embody cultural memory and therefore say something about our identity, we are compelled to ask: What is authentic?
For a people who historically have been required to understand and define themselves in terms of their relation to others to ask this is to de-colonise one’s way of seeing.
Memories change the paintings- memories of the places John has seen, the stories in each of the buildings and the recollections of the viewer as we recognize things- and create a sense of the past being imploded in the present moment, which is compounded by scars visible on the canvas (where images from earlier paintings show through). This ‘layering’ also reflects urban memory the way in which towns evolve, where the constructions of one era are subsumed into those of the next.
These many layers of memory, and thus meaning, are facilitated by the allegorical nature of the paintings. Abstract images function as metaphors, and the spaces that connect and separate them tap our subconscious. Metaphors also have a symbolic quality and this enables movement between the ingredients of the paintings. The movement created in this work is hugely dynamic. Everything is in a state of flux- all the elements interact in an unrestricted way, encouraging diverse associations, and hence multiple meanings.
The subtle patterns of decay and regeneration that John traces harness the latent power of the inconspicuous, rather than making a monument to something. Consequently, the historicity of the paintings, unconstrained by an overt agenda, can become very personal to the viewer. Earlier work was more didactic, imposing a specific aesthetic/ emotional prescription. In the paintings in this exhibition, we are invited to feel our own, make our own connections, enjoy them.