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A broad range of artists are showing at this year's Armory Show, 8-11 March, including several artists represented by Dublin's Kerlin Gallery
Booth 804, Pier 94, New York
Stephen McKenna first came to prominence in London in the late 1960s, where his attempted to find an alternative figuration in painting to the prevailing Pop art and expressionism led him to explore classical antiquity and the enduring value of time-honoured genres such as allegorical figure compositions, still-life and mythological landscape. Later, in opposition to postmodern quotation and pastiche, McKenna's use of classical imagery and mythology was employed to convey what he perceived to be enduring human concerns.
The Armory Show is presenting a room of McKenna's new work. In these new paintings exotic birds are the sitters in the style of traditional portraiture and we see an ambitious painting that revisits the artist's interest in Roman classicism and in particular the illusionistic wall paintings of the house of Livia Drusilla, wife of the Emperor Augustus. Like these underground frescoes, McKenna's reinterpretation indicates a profound knowledge of ars topiaria, with a deep understanding of the artificial character of this genre of painting; a flowering evergreen garden is depicted with no real connection to time, as diverse species are shown in simultaneous and continuous flowering.
Over the past 20 years Callum Innes, one of the most significant abstract painters of his generation has developed a number of highly distinctive but related painting series. He continues to evolve each concurrently. Armory presents a new work from the less seen 'Identified forms' series. Begun in 1990, the 'Identified forms' presents a very different proposition to his more recognizable structured compositions. This work is painstakingly achieved by coaxing turpentine to run down in rivulets made with a fine brush through a rich dark base. Innes etches or tears the painted surface, in a subtle non-violent way, denying any suggestion of the utopian monochrome to reveal the bare canvas beneath and the painting's own history. The forms suggest something natural or elemental that seem to hover, haunting the dark space, shape-shifting between solid and void.
The 'Foxglove' has now become a very important series in Dorothy Cross' sculptural practice. With these delicate transformations this body of work continues to explore our complex relationship to nature. Employing the traditional methods and materials of historic monuments, 'foxglove' appears to be a feat in masterful bronze casting, rendering solid and permanent what was once a vulnerable wildflower, subject to even the gentlest breeze. As with all of Cross' work, closer inspection reveals a more surreal element, the natural and human world collide as some of the blooms take on the form of fingers.
There is also the artist's characteristic complex layering of narrative and mythology. The foxglove is a common wildflower that grows in abundance on the West coast of Ireland and is known by many names: digitalis purpurea, Witches Gloves, Dead Men's Bells, Fairy's Gloves, Bloody Fingers, Gloves of Our Lady, Fairy Caps, Virgins' Gloves, and Fairy Thimbles. Cross has transformed the common place into a work that is beautiful and alarming, rich in associations and poetic resonance.