Photos : Pat Shortall
On Saturday June 10, the exhibition ‘Twenty-Eight Acres’, an exhibition of new works on paper by Kilkenny-based visual artist Eamon Colman, opened at Kilkenny’s magnificent Butler Gallery.
Colman has spent many years walking the length and breadth of the Twenty-Eight Acres, a site located along the Castlecomer Plateaux in north County Kilkenny where mining began in the mid-17th Century with the extraction of iron ore. In later years, coal deposits were found beneath the shale and these were to form the basis of the coal mining industry in the area which lasted for over 300 years. The Twenty-Eight Acres site was used as a slag heap for spoils from the coal mines but has, over time, transformed itself into a meadow that is infused with wildflowers such as Irish orchids.
Colman’s extensive walks include note-taking that informs his practice when he returns to the studio. He describes himself as a landscape painter but does not represent what he sees, rather he presents what he feels within the landscape. That said, the intricate shapes of manmade and natural objects find their way into the composition of these paintings. Sustainable living is extremely important to Colman who is a proponent of rewilding gardens, starting with his own garden—a magical place in the Kilkenny upland countryside—where he has planted many indigenous trees.
Colman begins by making his own paint using raw organic pigment. Then much time goes into the making of his handmade Momigami paper which is a ‘kneaded paper’ in Japanese. The paper is built up layer upon layer with other materials, such as medical gauze, and then sanded to ‘within an inch of its life’ creating a porous surface. Colman uses paper as a way of sharing the fragility of the landscape (and of himself), revealing its holes and jagged edges. The palette employed is rich with pinks, lemons, purples and blues with inky blacks largely used for strong graphic mark-making. Colman admits to being a born romantic, wanting his paintings to have beauty, but also admitting that “all beauty is damaged in some way”. The tension between Culture and Nature lies at the heart of the work.
Colman’s titles reveal each painting’s own individual story. Echoes from Time, is an outstanding example of a painting that has been worked on for over five years and has the bearing of a life lived. Most of these works are self-contained diptychs presented in clear Acrylic boxes that allow us to fully appreciate the bold juxtapositions of colour, shape, texture and edges of these striking new works on paper.
Eamon Colman was born in Dublin in 1957 and has lived and worked in County Kilkenny since 2003. He is an elected member of Aosdána since 2007 in recognition of his major contribution to Irish culture. His professional career spans from 1979, having created forty- four solo exhibitions presented nationally and internationally. In 1997, he was invited to host a major mid-term retrospective exhibition of his work entitled ‘Post Cards Home’ at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin at the age of 39 years.
Colman’s work is represented in many major public collections including The National Gallery of Ireland; The Arts Council of Ireland; The Danish Arts Council; The Office of Public Works – Government Collection; The Irish Museum of Modern Art (Gordon Lambert Collection); Tralee Regional Technical College; Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast; AIB Bank; Bank of Ireland; Ulster Bank; KPMG; Smurfit Ireland Grp.; Citibank; Deutsche Bank; Arthur Anderson; Fyffes Ireland; Delta Airlines; De Vere’s private collection and various private collections worldwide.