Tall, jungle-like trees stretch out over the canvas; snow weighs down thick branches; birds float on calm water. Under the bluebells is a series of paintings and drawings by Paul McKinley recently on show at the LAB. The work looks at both the mythological and historical aspects of St Anne’s Park. The park, situated in North Dublin, is shared between Raheny and Clontarf. It is the second largest municipal park in Ireland and was formerly owned by the Guinness family. The title of the exhibition refers to a newspaper article written by Neil Jordan; in the article, he reminisces about his experiences in St Anne’s Park and explores the idea that a constant undercurrent of activity in the park exist beyond what is seen.
McKinley’s paintings and drawings are visually stunning, and although they are based in the same location, it doesn’t feel that way. The show acts like a visual diary of the park over time. Entering the gallery, the first drawing you encounter is titled Outer space. Standing back from the work, it looks like a photograph. The thick tree trunks in the foreground are dark and heavy, reaching beyond the edge of the paper. A neon light glows behind. Light twinkles through the foliage and the ground is covered with small pieces of wood and dirt. McKinley’s layering of colour and line create so much detail. The glaring light pushing between the dark tree trunks is fluorescent – almost extra-terrestrial – and evokes a strange and eery atmosphere. Jurassic Park, an oil painting, similarly creates an other-worldly experience. It is almost cinematic as giant mammoth trees disappear into a white sky. The vibrant, richly coloured greens seem exotic and foreign.
Snow on Thornhill 2 is another oil painting on linen. The flat, grey sky is juxtaposed with textured foliage and the snow-covered ground. McKinley captures the bleakness and cold of winter. Colours are muted; light purples, pinks, whites and soft greens contrast with the dark, dotted branches that are weighed down by snow. On the second floor of the gallery, Snow on Thornhill 1 is an ink-pen drawing of the same location. McKinley’s drawing technique create rich tones through fine, delicate lines; the drawing looks like a black-and-white photograph – it is hard to believe that this was done by hand. The paper is cut to a circle. It is like looking at the park through a telescope – studying, observing. McKinley offers the viewer an enclosed and specific viewpoint. I want to see more and am left wondering what is beyond those cropped edges.
Beside Snow on Thornhill 1 is a painting entitled Burn all journals. The painting has a Romantic feel to it, with loose brushstrokes and soft colours. A white mist lifts above the hazy purple and green park; the detail and texture in the foreground balance well with the the soft background. Burn All Journals is dream-like; as the title suggests, there is something beyond what can be immediately seen or documented. McKinley presents us with a memory or feeling rather than something tangible. In the main gallery, there are two paintings which similarly evoke an ephemeral, dream-like quality: Starting point, a painting of a small bird sitting near water, and Pink moon, which depicts silhouetted treetops against a bright pink sky. The swirly marks around the edge of the black silhouette lend a fantastical quality to the work. It is difficult to tell if this is perhaps a reflection of trees in water, or the real thing.
McKinley’s uncanny ability to create works that look so real, so photographic, is unsettling. Through traditional materials, he creates a sense that there is more going on beneath the surface of things. These are not simply exercises in traditional painting techniques; each work is embedded with a narrative – both real and imagined.
Niamh Dunphy is an artist and intern for Circa.