Wednesday 23 September 2020

Orla Whelan at Rathfarnham Castle

 A few weeks ago - before Dublin lockdown! - I went to see the Orla Whelan (no relation, as far as I know) exhibition, A More Immortal Atlas, at Rathfarnham Castle. This is an Elizabethan fortified house, not a "castle" per se, but a wonderful "fortified house" and a great place to show art. I am partial to the exposed brick, creaky floors, and curved walls anyway, but the juxtaposition of contemporary artwork - Whelan's abstract and colourful forms - with an historical background is such a pleasing visual experience. Here A Melancholy Moment (or Magic Carpet) placed near the majestic fireplace in the dining room allows one to dream of roaring fires, comfort, and colourful carpets of olden days...

I have seen several exhibitions at Rathfarnham Castle and admire the sparsity of display, such that the room in which the new artwork is displayed never gets overwhelmed or lost. One always notices the beautiful room itself while looking at the art. Still in the dining room, this is A Powder of Moments.

I like the way the contemporary art seems to slip in to the rooms on false walls and you have to creak along the floorboards to get a closer look. This is known as the saloon or long gallery room; the ceiling paintings are on panels commissioned in the early 20th century by the Jesuits, owners of the house at the time. Previously, in the 18th century the ceiling panels held mythological paintings. 

Whelan had several pieces that used veneer crafting to create patterns similar to her paintings. I thought the repurposing of an old leaf style table worked well in the context of this historical drawing room.

The exhibition continues, through the curved doorway, into the smaller Corner Room. Appropriately, the works in this room are smaller and feel cozier. Seven works of the same size are grouped together and given numbers to go with their collective title Moon Valley, Dew, Death. All of these are painted in oil except one, which is delightfully crafted in veneer.

On the opposite wall one lone piece, of the same series and title, begs for contemplation. The abstraction takes shape in my mind and seems to reference the past religious ownership of the building leaving its mark in perpetuity. It bears an uncanny resemblance to modern stained glass windows with a sensation of light and otherness.

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