This summer, the Print Room will host Hughie O’Donoghue’s (b. Manchester, 1953) recent paintings on canvas incorporating photographic elements. The huge works, mounted on wooden panels and canvas, are reminiscent of historical painting. They focus on subjects such as Ireland and its past, myths, and O’Donoghue’s own family history. Besides the paintings, the exhibition also includes the series Anabasis (2003), in which O’Donoghue has printed historical photographs on old books, reworking them with paint.
From the moment Hughie O’Donoghue moved to Ireland he began producing work referring to his own family history. Reading old letters and journals and studying photographs, he began to build up a picture of the lives of his parents and their forebears. O’Donoghue focuses particularly on his father’s experiences during the Second World War. His 24-piece series Anabasis (2003), for example, refers to his second tour of duty in Egypt, Italy and Greece in 1944/1945. The Greek title also refers to an expedition from the coast into the interior – a foreign invasion.
Quite by chance, in 2002 O’Donoghue discovered a collection of glass negatives from 1907-1908 giving a glimpse into the lives of strangers, a selection of which can be seen at the exhibition. O’Donoghue has combined the prints of the negatives with other photographs – including some of his father, and others from the archives of the Imperial War Museum – bringing together different times, places and lives. In doing so, he has created a fictional account that is nevertheless based on the apparent factuality of photographic sources.
O’Donoghue always uses the same method to incorporate photographs, and also images he has composed himself, into his paintings. He paints over the image, removes it and then repeats the procedure several times, making it seem like the image has been discovered or excavated and eventually brought to light, just like in an archaeological dig.
In Flanders and the Narrow Seas and several other very recent works such as Night Sleeper (2005-2007) and Fools House (2007), O’Donoghue reveals the structure of his work more than ever before. We clearly see the partially assimilated photograph, the inserted object, the direct reference to a previous painting, the deliberate staging, the multiple narratives and the combination of fact and fiction. The artist increasingly pushes the boundaries of painting, exploiting every aspect of the possibilities he discovers.
The exhibition is the product of cooperation with the Irish Embassy and is accompanied by a bilingual (Dutch/English) catalogue (€ 19,50).