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Liminal Landscapes 

Grainne Hanley Dowling’s landscape paintings of Inisbofin demonstrate a remarkable familiarity with their subject matter. It is immediately clear to the viewer that this is not a hastily executed representation of a glanced scene, passed through and captured fleetingly; instead, the artist engages with her subject over time; she studies, inhabits, considers—both immersed in and absorbing it.  Such an engagement befits the landscape that has itself been sculpted by the elements in a slow, enduring weathering process. The landscape forms a mise en scène that does not brashly demand representation: these are quietly impressive corners that require repeated viewing to reveal their subtle power. It is the artist’s keen and careful eye and her intimate knowledge of the landscape that renders her able to see and translate to canvas the quiet drama that subtly unfolds before her. The emphatic sense of place is reinforced in a slowly established familiarity that the viewer also experiences moving from canvas to canvas—akin to a sense of a slowly revolving 360-degree turn that presents him or her with an ever changing dialogue between sea, cliffs, rock face, bog and field.     

Along with this familiarity of place is a similarly committed relationship with the painted medium that translates into a textured surface, which is almost woven in its intricacy. Thus each painting reveals to the viewer elemental flashes of colour and unexpectedly detailed elements that coexist without strain against the organic entirety of the image. The paint has the impression of being worked and reworked, built up and pared back, each stage leaving traces in the next. In doing so, the paintings suggest the weathering process undergone by the landscape they describe: the rock that is alternately battered by wind and rain or bathed in sun, stones robed in lichen and moss or encased in ice and snow; the tiny patch of mist-covered bog, almost permanently water-drenched, but captured on canvas briefly illuminated by sunlight. The long intervals over which these processes occur seep into the paintings through the similar painterly process of layers beings built up and discarded, leaving their mark on the substrate. The effect of such repeated exposure is almost tidal—the all-encompassing wave that washes over the surface underneath, pulling back to reveal tiny traces of mineral colour left in its wake. As worked and reworked layers are washed away, built up and stripped back in the painting, something precious of the previous incarnation remains. The overall impression conveyed to the viewer is of being held in a liminal space between the elements, between the abstract and the material; a sense of inhabiting this landscape that is gifted to us by the artist’s engagement with place and the medium she employs to represent it so powerfully.

Jill Murphy PHD
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