Following Hughie O'Donoghue's election as Royal Academician in May and the opening of his latest museum show at Leeds Art Gallery (September - November 2009), James Hyman Gallery is delighted to present a major exhibition of new paintings, Hughie O'Donoghue. Pharos.
A handful of small black and white photographs taken by a soldier on leave in Alexandria and Cairo sometime between November 1943 and February 1944 and an artist's photographic diary of seemingly prosaic buildings taken in Ireland in recent years are the two principal sources that inform Hughie O'Donoghue's new paintings presented in his latest exhibition at James Hyman Gallery.
These two groups of photographs, respectively taken by his father and the artist, himself, not only inform O'Donoghue's latest paintings, but in many ways encapsulate the themes and range of O'Donoghue's whole body of work: the familiar and the other, home and abroad, rootedness and disorientation, the past and the present, those that go and those that stay.
At the heart of the exhibition are paintings that demonstrate O'Donoghue's continued commitment to the personalising of history through reference to his father's letters, photographs and artefacts, and others that filter more immediate stimuli from the artist's Irish surroundings. Significantly, the exhibition includes some of O'Donoghue's most overt depictions of Ireland, a series entitled Memory of the House, as well as the new terrain of Egypt.
The Irish pictures, The Memory of the House, reflect O'Donoghue's ongoing preoccupation with points of origin and departure, humble houses, fast crumbling but recorded by the artist in a photographic diary compiled over many years. O'Donoghue has always been concerned with memory and excavating the past and these houses serves as a metaphor for recovery and loss, sites of lost knowledge, history and certainty. Poignantly many of these houses have subsequently been destroyed.
Similarly, the Alexandrian motifs of the Pharos and Leaving the City paintings are potent symbols of loss. The three principal buildings no longer survive. The Pharos or lighthouse had crumbled into the sea by the early middle ages; the Soma or mausoleum of King Alexander the Great is lost to history; and the famous library was burned, the pages of the books used to heat the city's Baths. Above all, however, the lighthouse is a positive symbol: a symbol of enlightenment that illuminates dark times and places.
The exhibition coincides with the publication of a special limited edition facsimile artist's book. For further information please consult the gallery.
Hughie O'Donoghue is one of the most ambitious painters at work today. Recent exhibitions in England, France, Germany, Holland and Ireland include Hughie O'Donoghue. Lost Histories. Imagained Realities at Gemeentesmuseum in the Hague (2008), Hughie O'Donoghue: Recent Paintings, and Selected Works from the American Ireland Fund Donation at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2009) and Hughie O'Donoghue. The Journey as Metaphor at Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds (2009).