Pallas Projects/Studios â€“ Artist Initiated Projects 2020.
Pat Curran. Home –2020.
Georgie Oil on PVC, 2018.
Painting Flats: Finding home. Dr. Ellen Rowley. I am standing looking at Pat Curran’s paintings. I see Dublin flat blocks from the 1950s and the 1960s; I see skinny fellas and I see big fellas; I see elderly women and I see cheeky kids; I see redbrick; I see railings; I see concrete slabs; I see the gritty inner suburbs of my town, Dublin. And there is barely a filter between me, looking – my eyes flickering across the assertively-applied oil paint – and them, the people and places on Pat Curran’s canvases. The directness is unusual. Is this painting-as-reportage? Or is this a new type of painted realism, vernacular canvases for the twenty-first century? The images are so immediate and familiar that we wonder why they are rendered in paint at all. And in the same breath we wonder about the origin and intention of these curious paintings; at once so fleeting and so everyday yet so fine, so memorable and so painterly? The answer, it seems, lies in Pat Curran’s methods. Each painting comes from a photograph given to the artist, without much editing, Curran reproduces the photograph in paint. He is an accomplished painter who is unafraid of scale and undaunted by composition, and for him, the only thing to do with the assortment of family snaps and dog-eared photographs offered up by his community, is to monumentalise them through painting. Taking his cues from those twentieth-century gods of realist art, Lucian Freud and Edward Hopper, Curran mixes portraiture with documentary scene-making. Indeed, like Hopper’s views of mid-century America, Curran’s unmistakably
Dublin paintings capture a type of suspended time where his figures are either waiting for something to happen or reacting to an event. But where Hopper’s cinematic atmosphere is starkly populated by lonely people in empty rooms – a kind of looking in upon a fragmented human condition – Curran’s places are full and optimistic. Though perhaps impoverished, nobody seems lonely here and we, the viewers, are not voyeuristic. In relation to the other great master, Lucian Freud and his remarkable life-painting, again Curran takes what he needs: namely the myriad flesh tones and the boldness of light/shade contrasts. Where Freud’s figures are ‘revealed’ and existential somehow, Curran’s children, men and women are not. They remain at a consumable distance. For these Dublin works are not paintings coming out of studio psychology and the process of sitting for the artist; where the stare and blunt nudity of the model leaves the viewer penetrated and altered. These are narratives that have come, can only come, from their photographs. As such, Pat Curran’s is an art practice of reference. Sticking closely, maybe slavishly to the photographs, his paintings are referential. Employing them firstly as ignition points for their pictorial value – he clearly finds each chosen photograph compositionally engaging or emotionally compelling – the photographs always then verify something in the world, outside of their painted offspring. We think of Roland Barthes’ understanding of a photograph as a ‘certificate of presence’, indicative of what has been there or here. And with that we begin to process
Pat Curran. Home –2020.
that Curran’s practice is about retrieving something; in this case, a community of activity and of posed faces, of preoccupied men and of purposeful mothers, framed by the fast-disappearing flats of the artist’s life in this city quarter of Dublin 8. While some of Curran’s compositions are collages, taking in found objects which refer to forgotten industrial places and certain historic traditions of the neighbourhood, the best works are the straightforward paintings, all of which seem suspended in a mythical 1980s world. Most basically, that chronology comes out of the ready accessibility to family photographs, pointing to an era of disposable cameras and affordable printing. Having requested photographs from the community, the artist received images primarily from that 1980s era, to which he proceeded to pay homage. So, from the start and by the end, this body of work is community based, representing recent local history. And in its directness, it allies with folk art. As a collection, it might happily sit as the visual counterpart to the 1979/80 Urban Folklore project, a set of audio interviews about life in Dublin in the 1970s and into the 1980s. Like an oral history collector, Curran has presented himself at the doors of his former neighbours, quite simply asking that they let him record their memories. All of this made sense to Pat Curran who, in responding to the original CITIZEN ARTIST1brief to think about ‘the complexities of citizenship and creativity’, decided to go back to his familial origins in the flats of Dolphin’s Barn in order to forge a new confident identity as artist-withincommunity. Though a quiet man, he talks a lot about ‘relevance’; about making his art relevant to a relevant but easily overlooked community in Dublin society. Thus, he has made these paintings large and bold. We cannot ignore their physicality, their impartial relevance. And progressively their immediately familiar content becomes memorialised as a hybrid between a history painting and a folklife documentary project. The transformation is of course linked to the act of translating the photograph and we are reminded of Francis Bacon’s observation that a photographic image is only a starting point for a more profound set of sensations induced by a painting. According to Bacon, ‘the texture of a photograph seems to go through an illustrational process onto the nervous system, whereas the texture of a painting seems to come immediately onto the nervous system’ (Bacon + David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact, 1987, pp.57-8). In Bacon’s case, the photograph was an objective thing – generally medical or journalistic. In the case of Curran’s practice, the photographs are all intimate things, bringing us back to his art’s underlying purpose of retrieval. Looking at the paintings, we see the repetition of flat blocks – flats as middle ground and flats as background; flats as fabric and texture; flats as the Third Man setting for this portrait of Dublin 8. The artist’s pull to the flats is linked to the slippery business of individual memory, which might forgivably be interpreted as community nostalgia. But the pull and presence of the flats, and the strength of image that their painting evokes, overwhelms the sentiment of nostalgia. We’re on to something bigger here. In the act of translation, from intimate photograph to powerful painting, Curran seems to be searching and, in the end, retrieving. He has in part retrieved his lost childhood – having moved out of
Are You Looking? Oil on PVC, 2019.
the flats at aged 12, he still yearns for them – and in part retrieved the flats’ relevance in any history of Dublin and in any consideration of collective urban housing. It’s not plausible that one artist’s spotlight on a maligned housing type can shift a nation’s antipathy, however, the flats’ omnipresence in this art does provide pause for thought. Where Dublin officialdom constructed flat schemes in two phases from 1931 to 1944 and from 1958 to 1978 - with some of the most original schemes such as Dolphin House being made in between - they were considered a lesser solution to the city’s slum problem. With Dublin’s flats, the persistence of the decks or ‘long balconies’ made them cheaper to construct while also blurring the divide between public and private space. But compared to the suburban one-family two-storey house, the flats were always deemed inappropriately expensive and inappropriately cramped for family living. Over time, this inappropriateness led to their urban ghettoisation and cultural dismissal. Vacancies arose as social mobility was encouraged by the Free Market: dereliction, mis-allocation and social problems mounted. By the 1990s, these blocks and schemes were Dublin’s architectural pariah and their eradication was nigh. Through the early 2000s, block after block fell prey to the developer’s wrecking ball, so that, in the most pragmatic of terms, Pat Curran’s canvases capture by-now (in 2020), demolished neighbourhoods and lost worlds. St. Michael’s Estate? Gone. Fatima Mansions? Gone. Remade. Dolphin House? Barely recognisable. Through this lens, Curran’s work becomes as much about the universal catastrophe that is the cultural and physical obsolescence of mid-century collective housing, as it is a comment on personal memory and community validity. Common Ground and studio 468 framed the CITIZEN ARTIST1 programme and consequent art residencies in this moment of post-Referendum (Equality, Repeal the 8th Amendment) and mid-centenary/commemorative Ireland. In the most critical sense, the project set out to
Pat Curran. Home –2020.
reflect upon socially-engaged art making, deeply motivated it would seem by the alarming changes wrought on the immediate urban cultural landscape. Soon this particular neighbourhood of Dublin 8, poised as it is in proximity to the oldest and thus most touristic quarter of the city, would be so distorted by property economics and tourism. Where would the artist exist in relation to a community that itself could no longer afford to live here? In that space the curators raised questions about the artist’s place and role, both as citizen and as creative practitioner; at this time of ‘cultural paradox, between the fragmentation and migration, commemoration and branding’ (Geoghegan + Loughran, Citizen Artist1 2016–2018, p.6). Juxtaposing commemoration with Ireland Inc., 100 or so years after the battles for Irish Independence, inadvertently recalls the 1966 Jubilee celebration which was a key moment when the state grappled with Americanised modernisation and nationalist sentiment, 50 years after the 1916 Easter Rising. That late 1960s moment was when much of the flat-block housing, so resonant in Pat Curran’s painting, was constructed. In fact, in order to ameliorate the socialist undertones of the system-built blocks of Ballymun Estate and its smaller sibling schemes in Inchicore (St. Michael’s) and Coolock (Cromcastle), the state named Ballymun’s towers after the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence – Ceannt Tower, Clarke Tower, McDonagh Tower, Pearse Tower, Connolly Tower, McDermott Tower, Plunkett Tower. Triumphantly, 1966 became about the nation’s progress as evidenced by these high-tech concrete housing schemes, named after Irish saints and political legends. But of course, the 1950s and 1960s blocks at St. Michael’s, Ballymun and Dolphin’s Barn were all responding to the slums, that is, the failure of Irish freedom. As I look at Pat Curran’s canvases and boards, I see redbrick and I see striped concrete balconies; I see smiling faces and I see static washing on the line. The push and pull between progress and the failures of freedom of 50 years ago are suspended in a time, halfway between then and now, 2020. Today, these obsolescent stacked homes are disappearing, to make way for more profitable student accommodation and hotels. In their masterly modesty, Curran’s canvases contradict that obsolescence. By painting flats, he is finding home.
Piddler on the Roof. Oil on PVC, 2018.
Misery Hill. Oil on PVC, 2018.
Girls and washing line. Oil on PVC, 2018.
CITIZEN ARTIST 2016–2018 was a response by Common Ground & the studio 468 team to the decade of commemorations. Five artists’ residencies ran over a two year period culminating in a series of performances, a publication & exhibition of art works at Kilmainham Courthouse in April 2019.
Dr Ellen Rowley is an architectural and cultural historian, a teacher and a writer, with wide-ranging research interests around Ireland’s built environment of the twentieth century. She is interested in housing history, architectures of everyday life, the intersection of social histories and buildings, the place of the Catholic Church in Ireland’s built environment, and architectural writing in the 1940s–60s in Britain and Ireland. She has recently published her architectural history of Dublin housing, Housing, Architecture and the Edge Condition (Routledge, Taylor + Francis); as well as More Than Concrete Blocks, volumes 1 and 2 which are socio-cultural histories of Dublin’s buildings from 1900 to 1972, commissioned by Dublin City Council. Volume 3 is currently under production. Before that she was co-editor of the landmark Yale series, Art and Architecture of Ireland (Volume 4, Architecture 1600 – 2000, YUP/RIA, 2014). This history is pioneering and so, she admits, there are mistakes. In 2017, Ellen was awarded Honorary Membership of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, for services to Irish architecture.
Eric. Oil on PVC, 2019.
Pat Curran. Home â€“2020.
Gary, Turf & Padser. Oil on PVC, 2018.
Skinnier. Oil on PVC, 2019.
Pat Curran. Home â€“2020.
Children of Fatima. Oil on PVC, 2019.
Home. Oil on PVC, 2020.
Pat Curran. Home –2020.
Most of the subjects and ideas for my paintings come from my own lived experience and ideas surrounding social and political topics that are relevant to wider conversations on social justice and cultural expression. The source of this work has predominantly been peoples lived experience. I invite people to share with me their own images which are often of individuals on the margins, people who are often excluded from society, or have been historically made invisible in the cities visual representation. At the moment I am based at the Lodge with Common Ground and my paintings are of St Michael’s Estate. I started my series of St Michael’s with a painting called ‘Eric’. The subject ‘Eric’ is overlooking St Michael’s Estate, Inchicore Dublin 8, and the site of Richmond Barracks. This land is synonymous with the 1916 Rising. The powerlessness in the eyes of ‘Eric’ reflect the hopeless feeling people of this land have felt since it was Richmond Barracks, Keogh Square or St Michael’s. Since 2016 my studio based practice has moved towards a more expanded investigation. It is also about my lived experience as an artist from this city. I like to talk to local people and through conversation I engage with them and explore their memories and relationship to the city. I create new paintings in response to these conversations. My most recent paintings include Fatima Mansions, Dolphin House and St Michael’s Estate. I have been based as an artist in residence on and off with Common Ground since I started with CITIZEN ARTIST1. I now have a studio at the Lodge with Common Ground. Being located with Common Ground offers me a rich source of material and access to local people and groups. This is really valuable to me. My paintings continue to position and reflect on the wider conversation of social justice and cultural expression. It is my intention and ambition that this work will contribute to and expand a social archive through painting of life in Dublin city, particularly the loss of social housing and flat life in the city.
Pat Curran grew up in Dolphin House flats, Dolphin’s Barn and the Liberties, he now lives in Ballyfermot with his wife Breda and son Luke. Pat has two older children and two grandchildren. An early school leaver Pat returned to formal education in early middle age, this turn around in Pat’s life was precipitated by the arrival of his youngest son Luke. In 2014 Pat graduated from NCAD with an MFA in painting. Pat’s open studio practice is an exchange between him and local people. His work reflects how inner city Dublin life is changing and how it contributes to a wider conversation about class, social justice and access to artistic expression. Pat often paints on found and collected objects that have a relevance to his painting subjects. In 2019 Pat exhibited in Rua Red’s Winter Open and the group show CITIZEN ARTIST1 at Kilmainham Courthouse. Pat’s works are also housed in the Office of Public Works Collection – Dept. of Taoiseach and the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway. Pat was resident in studio 468, St Andrew’s Community Centre Rialto from 2017– 2018 and is now based in the Lodge, Inchicore, Dublin 8 with Common Ground. E: firstname.lastname@example.org Instagram: patcurranartist4
About Common Ground Common Ground is an arts organisation based in Inchicore, in Dublin’s southwest inner city. Since 1999, we have worked to progress a diverse cultural model that embraces the challenging social and economic realities of our neighbourhood locations across Dublin 8. In September 2019 Common Ground became the new cultural tenant of the Lodge at Goldenbridge Cemetery Dublin 8 where we are hosting a series of artist residencies including Pat Curran 2020–2021. In 2020 we also host visual artist Seoidín O’Sullivan and her project HARD/GRAFT and Mapping Green Dublin, and the recent Just City residency awardee Kate O’Shea, a visual artist with a social practice 2020–2021. Common Ground. 47 St Vincent Street West Inchicore Dublin 8 T: +353 (0) 1 707 8766 E: email@example.com www.commonground.ie Facebook: CommonGroundDublin Instagram: commongrounddub Twitter: CommonGroundDub Pallas Projects/Studios 115–117 The Coombe Dublin 8 Ireland www. pallasprojects.org Gallery hours:12–6pm, Thursday–Saturday (during exhibitions) Common Ground are delighted to produce this online publication of Pat Curran’s work. Pat Curran’s exhibition ‘Home’ is due to take place as part of Artist-Initiated THE LOGOSat Pallas Projects later in 2020*. Projects Why does The Digital Hub identity have a set of guidelines ?
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*Original opening date of March 26th 2020 was postponed due to Covid19.
A strong visual identity helps brand The Digital Hub through repeated use of graphics, typeface’s and messages. Conveys a visual impression of cohesiveness and coherence, helps eliminate visual confusion in the minds of audiences, and unifies and strengthens the visual recognition of The Digital Hub. Ensures a consistent visual standard that conveys both excellence and professionalism. Preserves visual appropriateness to communications’ purpose, content and audience within the context of The Digital Hub image.
The Digital Hub uses standardised visual elements and formats to present a unified visual image of the project. This unified image must be used for all representations of the project without exception. These guidelines apply to: -
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3 COLOUR USE: - BLACK - PANTONE 571 (blue/green) - PANTONE 1807 (Red)
4 COLOUR PROCESS USE
BLACK & WHITE USE
Cover image: Eric. (Detail) Oil on PVC, 2019. Photographs of paintings by Aislinn Delaney.