It is often said that children at Christmas can become bored, or are not as enamoured with some of the toys they receive, and end up playing with the toy’s packaging instead. I’m not sure that is entirely true, especially when the toys involved are Skylanders, Star Wars or the latest Vtech Switch and Go Dinos. However, we all have as children, at some time constructed entire imagined worlds from random objects at hand – including cardboard boxes.
Likewise in art a century ago Picasso and Kurt Schwitters used collage and assemblage from found items as a technique to create new views of the world. The American artist Robert Rauschenberg with his co-called ‘combines’ concocted 3D sculptural works from very disparate objects. It is against this background that the centenary retrospective exhibition ‘Constructions’ running at the RHA of the Irish artist Tony O’Malley focuses on his three-dimensional collaged work.
Made from fragments and scraps of found wood each work has been nailed, glued or wired together to form something new. Flotsam and jetsam that could be the remains of a great fire or shipwreck washed up on a shore. Now they are retooled and re-appropriated. Each has marks and paint applied to them – some seem careful and considered others rough and rapid. Their meaning is not always clear as though they are from an amnesiac attempting to reconfigure some remembered construct from the past.
There is a sense that they are just shards and scraps picked up by a post-apocalyptic beachcomber. It’s as though O’Malley has stumbled on the remnants of Cornelia Parker’s exploding timber hut Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View and has now retooled and re-appropriated them into something else.
The constituent parts have been scraped, indented, gouged and distressed. Some have a black line or a roughly daubed red circle to delineate some half remembered figurative element. They are hung from wire or on picture hooks.
O’Malley’s constructs are topographical views – like maps of half remembered landscapes, landmarks or shorelines as seen from above. Many have nails hammered into boards to with thread wound round these nails to define a possible outline. The pieces are often assembled along an axis or hanging along a plumb line.
The exhibition curators assert there is diversity to these constructions. I would argue the opposite. There is a cohesion seeing them displayed together. Some are small scale, some quite large. Yet there is an obsession or compulsive strain by the artist to reinvestigate the same themes repeatedly in each work.
Would you put one on your wall as an object of beauty? If like the RHA you had a large enough white room to show several works all at once then the repetitive impact of an artist working and obsessively reworking to get at some forgotten truth then the answer is yes. They work best as an array. Their power comes from seeing the same questions approached and posed over and over again.
Continues until the 20th December.