Magical plumes and the secret lens: Exhibitions by Michael McSwiney and Thady Trá

The shape of things

James Waller is an Australian born artist and poet based in West Cork. Through this column James explores the world of art, introducing the reader to major works of art and artists and reflecting on what makes them so engaging.

James offers a range of studio-based courses for children and adults in Classical painting, drawing and printmaking at Clonakilty School of Painting. See www.paintingschool.
for details.

A lavaic splash of cadmium red diffuses into a tar-enamelled sky, a plume of pale aqua blue breathes up and fractalizes into islands seen from above, and deep blue penumbras bleed into white heads of thunder. This is ‘Archipelago,’ a new exhibition by West Cork painter, Michael McSwiney, who shows us time and again how mysterious and exciting painting can be.

‘Archipelago’ is a major exhibition of new work, laid out in the expansive space of the Kenmare Butter Market. As a master of the post-expressionist sublime McSwiney is comparable to Ian Humphreys, and ‘Archipelago’ bares favourable comparison to Humphreys’ ‘My Journey in Paint’ which showed at the Kenmare Butter Market in September 2022.

‘Archipelago’, 2023. 250 x 150 cm. Oil and mixed media on canvas.

Like Humphreys, McSwiney intimates the world through an abstract tableaux, and like Humphreys, he generates an accelerative force through brush and scraper, leaving trails of colour which quicken upon the eye. Both painters intimate experiences of light, sky and sea and both push paint to the moment of epiphany.

McSwiney’s material language is complex and is on full display in ‘Archipelago’; he pours, drips, sledges and sprays; water droplets in oil form delicate craters on geo-physical surfaces forged from sand, sawdust and oil; colour surprises are typically sledged at speed along the bottom edge or breathe up the sides; residues of layers form continental like plates upon old canvases, and fiery colours glow as if from within clouds of cosmic nebulae.

The result is a hymn of sensations, of brooding panoramas and sudden pulses, leaving the viewer with a quiet sense of wonder, as if having witnessed nature’s sublime eruptive power, made gently mysterious by painting’s magical stillness.

The title piece of ‘Archipelago’ is an elevating hymn of pale blues, framed on the sides by fiery licks of cadmium yellow, which breathe up and in. McSwiney has fractilized the paint with sprays and drips and the result is not unlike a topographic map of an archipelago fanning into the sea. Anchoring the field below is a nebulous line of light blue against deep pthalo, intimating a tidal line, as if seen from above. 

The piece is indicative of a show which soars with lyrical light in one breath and plunges into alchemical, fiery darkness in another. The pulsing painting, titled ‘Epiphany,’ which hangs on the centre island wall, and another titled ‘Magma Plume’ are indicative of the latter, whilst the pale green and yellow hues of ‘Halcyon’ joins ‘Archipelago’ as a celebration of light and sun.

‘Archipelago’ is a major exhibition by an important Irish painter; if you know McSwiney’s work you will not be disappointed, and if you don’t already you’re in for a treat.

Closer to home in Clonakilty, photographer Thady Trá has delivered his second solo exhibition at Gallery Asna in as many years. ‘By Eye’ is a refreshing, surprising and poignant show of black and white analogue photographs, taken of people, objects and situations in Trá’s home town of Clonakilty and throughout Ireland. 

Trá has a great eye for the poignant, the beautiful and the unexpected: an abandoned teddy bear on an outdoor window sill, smoke rising from Kilmaloda House (gutted by fire last December), the dark interior of an iconic theatre in Dublin, an elderly lady walking, grinning brightly, along the street; they are images which return our world back to us, as beautiful secrets, whispered through film, and birthed in red-lit darkness. 

‘Slán Go Fóill’

In one memorable piece ‘Slán Go Fóill’, Trá has framed an elderly lady in profile as she passes the middle pane of a set of three windows, along a street. She is grinning, as if she knows she is being photographed. The tones are beautifully light and Trá’s composition holds an exquisite sense of gentle tension.

Other pieces, such as ‘Donations,’ ‘The Wonky Bridge,’ and ‘Encore!’ show Trá’s masterful handling of low-light photography, with ‘Encore!’ in particular, breathing a gold-lit, Rembrandtian air.

Through his presentation Trá invites us into the rich and mysterious world of the darkroom; the photographs are pegged on lines, an enlarger sits in one corner with a bunch of developing trays, whilst test-strips are pegged above. 

Trá is a photographer who wants us to share in the magic of the creative process and his passion for his art is infectious; one does not buy a framed image on the wall, one buys into the mystery of a world; a world of time capture and all the magical elements of the photographic hunt.

‘Archipelago’ runs from April 29 – June 10 at the Kenmare Butter Market. ‘By Eye’ finishes on April 29 at Gallery Asna, Clonakilty Arts Centre.

WCP Staff

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