Peter Mooney at The Engine Room Gallery The Journey Continues

Begin here

‘Let us not neglect our meeting together, … but encourage one another’. [Hebrews 10:25 NLT] The 1st September entry in ‘Our Daily Bread’ in this quarters issue.

This is my introduction to the gathering, ahead of seeing the work, that compels you to think beyond the boundaries you normally have in place. The Engine Room Gallery is not a Church nor its visitors drawn by belief, but maybe the eklessia come to art to be addressed outside our place of comfort. The work does not disappoint on any level.

Do we see our own landscape in these paintings? 

For the unintimidated these are beyond our own landscapes but are from our own situation. 

The genus loci each of us appreciate of our ‘place’ has been reconsidered and made magical by Peter Mooney’s work.  The condition is present in everyone and it appears as he paints.


It is the domain of a land occupied with the present kaleidoscopic definitions that assail us.  Every square inch of this island has had, its invisible history, altered, extracted, modified, naturalised, made functional, or not, by human necessity, or left alone has not.  

The amalgam is what I see in the unorthodox but intensely close to many an often migratory artist. Picasso Malaga to Paris, Van Gogh Amsterdam to London, Turner London to Margate, and the close relation I see within Peter Mooneys work, Mattise Paris to London, Corsica, Morocco with the obsessional craft of African art being a massive primordial pull.  There is even the possibility each artist has gone to these places instinctively, as even the Ulstermen, Three Men on an Island tend to make me think. Not mere travellers but those seeking essences and soul, and in appearance only, they could perhaps capture in art, and thankfully they did those simpler existences would shed some light, by contrast and offset juxtaposition our own perceptions. That they achieved beyond their own expectations that in the contrasts art conveys was pluralistic endeavour so constant and perpetual as of our present, that some aura, that conducive source, in those people, whose culture they advanced into by intelligence of observation in their work, seen their hosts having methods themselves of image making. On Innislacken maybe it is the ritual solstice, it’s clear in the work of Rosie McGurran who paints its instilled radiance with those radiant spokes of times wheel, the solstice, circular yet linear, the fires, sunrise and eternity set before all as a constant. It is little wonder we open up to these stimuli. They are our hosts and we visit.

Paint and thought
Irish artists have sought the light and ethereal, contracting to their cause, landscapes on every coastline in Ireland. The unprotected side, the West being the most prominent of all.  Even Wiggenstien sought wisdom in the bays near Galway then set the engagement in words. His methods and thoughts to then maybe instill radicalism of ideas in Joyce, Beckett, and confidence the storytellers, poets and musicians are steeped in.

Setting out the Context
Painters seek out new evidences. The unreachable truth more tangible the more abstract and opaque it is. Paul Henry and constant inspiration, with artist Grace Henry (Emily Grace Mitchell – daughter of another religious family this time in Aberdeen) his colourist, with her Celtic Hibernian flair shared each other’s values but they divided. They split up as more than a teacher. Stephen Gwynne, took Grace’s work into his own sphere of art being a vital instrument of change, both with maybe a more idealistic need, as a fellow artist made separate those ideas. Paul and Grace fell between two poles, as religions part, as the times now even merit. The reading of this has to be included.
[He founded the Irish Centre Party in 1919, but his moderate nationalism was eclipsed by the growing popularity of Sinn Fein.] Grace Henry at that time maybe veering away from the Cubism Mainie Jellet had begun to abstract and some methods crossed paths. This I bring into the story of this exhibition, through the expansive debt of service all Irish Artists and their close neighbours arrive at similar crossroads. For many a work are seen, without advanced perceptions of what is instilled in their own work, the same radicalism, without parody of regression, that which is found across the more detailed researched, exposed Europeans and International Artists Ireland. The great Irish Architect Micheal Scott was with his influence on ‘Academy’ Art, susceptible to ignoring the Irish work that had equal if not greater status than the international art he brought; the acceptable part was that it too shed light upon the art forms elsewhere. As I grew up I was in awe without the chance to make the connections I now do, of Carroll’s Factory Dundalk, BusAris Dublin, Bank of Ireland Lower Baggot Street. That being another backward legacy of this islands art culture still in existence today.

Next Stepping off point
Before the infinite comparisons art throws up that I have touched on later there is the main assembled work ‘The Journey Continues’. The work of Peter Mooney, on the 3rd level of the former Tourist Office Building, for some time a home to The Engine Room Gallery.

no.40 Figure, Wild Violin on the Mountain

The above is perhaps one of the most active paintings. Each element though has a sense of belonging and a fastening to a wonder. A musician whose notes we cannot hear, only imagine. The ‘white horse’ form signalling the preface of a kind, of ancient sentinel crafted into the now unclothed mountain by past inhabitants. Trees still exist. Land is transformative and life giving. A life can be had here. The outlook, in the eyes of the right side figure, is maybe of a future that comes to challenge as it always has for millennia.

Figure, …

More familiar are the flora that Peter Mooney gathers in. The Peris tree a favourite. no.34 Peris Tree, Forest Flame.

I show the area as much as the painting here. The fact sunflowers are often painted at the very peak of their blossoms, are instead here in the correct narrative. Others have of course seen this (VvG), seen the plain rise and fall of a sunflowers arch.

One the return wall are 4 smaller sunflower paintings in a study group.

Every natural painting has been given a lease of life and will never fail to bring some vision of the homage the sunflower above many other studies bring to us of our own frailty or conversely our gift of life. Others are animated life, horses, people, some, no.22 Abstract Figures at the Foot of the Mountain. There’s also no.39 Krishna with Angel. The ‘God’ of protection, compassion, tenderness and love. This again expresses the grace that is present in the everyday and Peter Mooney uses the ebullience of colour, none of it unnatural, to show the often forgotten treasures colour introduces. He also shows it often as corrupted by the ‘production’ ‘text’ ‘logo’ advertising that; inviting an abstract and ubiquity of a recognisable roll call, The Rolo wrapper, Snickers torn plastic, Milk bottles, Coke Tins, Toy skulls, all invasive. Purposely the detritus is reclaimed to be inhabitants of, in a very minor way in the paintings, and a more direct way in the sculptures to show that axiom, that it is impossible in life unless you are a hermit atop a Mountain; litter is not often far away, to be unspoiled by it.

no. 24 Wild Roses

People do it summarily by their own defences, hedges, fences, palisades. In the excellent recent exhibition, the Ps2 setting in Fountain Street, of ‘Tributes’ the installation shared by Alex Plunkett and Nina Oltarzewska, both Belfast artists happened to have a circular ‘mobile’ with steel palisades of different lengths hung as a circular ‘angelus’ type bell. My interpretation! At 6.01pm one Thursday I happened to arrive at the idea while their performance installation was taking shape by ringing out the sound. It is no bare companion of either exhibition, a unique approach, that these memoir artefacts are joined.

Here I bring in instantly, a sharp but extremely exuberant extraordinary work of art that is classified as Reliquary. These are late 19th century.

These are African modern symbols made by artists; some names are recorded, on the commission of elders to ‘personify’ their religious piety by containment. These represent the capture. The valid connection they construe as of the spirit they worship being within the vessel these figures contain. The feet set on top as Guardians.

It may not seen in any way relevant to the exhibition of Peter Mooney’s work but I see an eternal drive in the narrative that is captured in Peter Mooney’s work that is so connected to this it has to be spoken about and thoughts on how it is instinctive of the allegory on many artists.

In the centre of the convex, the oval face in the domed plate, its staring eyes so quintessential to the ‘mbulu ngulu’, transfixing the viewer with their gaze.  It could be any number of human beings, it could be common man, the guardian being very ill equipped to defend or contain the treasure of a ‘God’ or ‘Spirit’.

Subjective Figurative images
It is the case we cannot be that figure except in representation.  Those Island ancient guardian known through art are symbols of symbols. They serve to categorise the ancient cultures and forms of worship. They actually appear in likeness to the forms and work here within The Engine Room Gallery. The sculptures are very different but have a story that their creator endeavours to convey. Equal under the Sun.

In ‘The Journey Continues’ the work is not quite autobiographical, these depictions, in paint and sculpture in their forms essay a view of the human condition. Never overstated but requiring the reminder of, from hence it comes, it’s fragility, it’s frailty seems in the recycled discards, are fashioned into that futility of things often gathered by ourselves. Very belligerently, ingeniously, unveiled for our discovery of meaning that might be transpositional. Derivatives of one kind or another the skulls are stacked, the totems dishevelled and modernity destroying its very ‘unnatural in this juxtapose’ natural dynamic.

Without doubt there is a delivery here and Peter Mooney has as I have been brought to think on his work, is also apart from the work.

That is, ‘The Painted Man’, the artist himself; and my being over-analytic see in that separation, the choice of ‘The Painted Man’ quiescent esoteric fashions of attire are themselves expressing this.  It is not so intensely made present but it does speak much of the artists belief in his arts voice. 

Peter Mooney gathers this in without the travel from his own backyard in County Antrim, itself a multicoloured condensed international ‘landing point’. 

That is an important point. 

Being in at a certain location and having so many narratives the soul of the place is always at the heart of most work.  The colours learnt from plants, his dialling into the crescendos of colour so cultivated by his mother in the family garden shake out the struggles by their gift of growth returning us this colour.

Titles of the exhibited 56 works begin with no.1 Summer Trees on Slieve Gallion through the Sunflower series to no.56 Summer Wild Roses, magically begin with Summer and close with Summer. Maybe we see colours more vividly and in our clearest vision their abundance in the height of the long summer light.

And colour it is. A colourist Peter Mooney is unconstrained but capable of producing magical blended and harmonious settlements.  They are a continuum, in a long heritage and lineage of art.  Here it is seen in all its radiance and conjectures.

Ancestral codicils 

If the ancestors came down the River Bann they would not in the least be surprised by the canvas Peter Mooney creates. 

They may quiz him on the recycled 20/21 century material discards incorporated but the imagery is classic African expression of the kind deliberated on, hosted by, conjugated orbitals eyes and ears to our universe.

The Journey indeed continues. Not alone in the journey but in the words of theologian Karen Armstrong The Narrow Path. Why bring in Karen Armstrong? Perhaps I’ve seen the will to impress upon us peace and tranquillity by us examining everything we do. These paintings in so many crossover aspects actually evoke, as many artists do, some I refer to in a small correlation, the religious or in its absence the spiritual conversation Karen Armstrong was brought to as her calling shrine but had its dark days.

The African imagery is a constant source visited either literally or at a distance by artists.

Modern Work also recognising the past to define the present.

This for example is a South African work from 2016.

Blessing Ngobeni, Mask and Struggle, 2016 Mixed MEDIA ON CANVAS, 41 5/8 x 61 3/4 in. (106 x 157 cm)
Detail 1
Detail 2

More famous
Mattise was synonymous with his expressive use of color and Fauvist style. Throughout his career, Matisse’s paintings most commonly depicted figures in landscapes, portraits, interior settings and nudes.

Although Matisse typically painted unusual, abstract portraits, his paintings from Morocco were much more realistic. Was this because of the Tangiers and reddish sand colours the land composed? Not a journey into the psychology of the place.  John Lavery also went to Tangiers though he too was not to venture into the native culture beyond some figurative elements of the people who made these geometric shapes that instead occupied their art.

Henri Matisse, Le Marabout, 1912, private collection. Wikiart.

“Henri Matisse painted many sites around Tangier’s Kasbah during both his stays there in 1912 and 1913. Henri Matisse, Le Marabout”

Inside these images are the same subjects that perplexed those artist travellers. 

This man also was suffering from the anger that must be observed by painting the narrative in plain sight.  The way people deal with each other, planned or spontaneously is seen by painter.  

Achill Horses by Mainie Jellett, 1938

Cinema travels and a photograph lies.  The result of any painting is to momentarily cause a stillness and then contradictory continuation as preserved.  The enabler, the artist as communicator is remarkably in need of carrying on this work as it contains their own vision.  It is up to anyone seeing the work, the point where that shift occurs, between the artists vision and theirs.

Blissfully we have centuries of the transfer of thoughts onto media that is stone, board, canvas, paper. Then there are the writings on them.

Everyday newsprint is seen within several pieces, not overly so here. Picasso and other artists have long used used newsprint, letters, fonts. Again it’s there in tiny remnants in this work. Why? The instinct tells me it is establishing a finishing point.  People use the recognition then date it, reminisce, covertly gathered in, they script the picture it inhabits.

Those sculptural figures formed by artists, in the Gabon Reliquary shapes I’ve picked out here, are like a head in a Luna coil, the eyes like coral beads, the skinny legs like a toad or insects podiatry link to earth and it shows the pixie; is that a troll trope advancing?, like figure, capable of fleeing or fleeting when the God lifts the lid on our truth.  

The human tries only to be a guardian and temporarily at that, awaiting the revelation from what has so far been gathered in. This as the elders wish to have it. Here commissioned artefacts for them educators for the citizens they represent as leaders. They are to be seen to kind and the messages therefore configure the human with a lightness of foot.  The Unbearable Lightness of Being as Milan Kundera figured it. The flame of coppers reflection, also reminiscent of Cinema Paradiso and the moth flying too close to the fire. Artists burning out. 

All this out of geometry and shapes are not what was sought, but as instruments of art brought in allegorical forms by Picasso, Cezanne, Mattise, Chagall, even Van Gogh as those art pieces with their embedded volumes of ideas, we are stretched to accommodate.  Still the reach is close but only once in a while communicating as these works seem very conscious reminders of, the human necessity to learn and so pass on what has been reached.

John Graham 

The Exhibition is open through September 2022 and please check the Facebook entry page for opening times.

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