Martin Gale’s paint­ing elo­quently sums up a de­ci­sive ex­pe­ri­ence for many gen­er­a­tions of Ir­ish peo­ple

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TAKE CRITICS’ CHOICE - AIDANDUNNE

What is it?

Be­gin­ning of Dark­ness is a paint­ing by Martin Gale. It’s in­cluded in his cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion, Blood­lines, at the Tay­lor Gal­leries in Dublin. A young man, re­spectably dressed in a suit, shirt and tie, over­coat thrown over one arm while he holds a small case with the other, stands by the side of a nar­row coun­try lane. Though rut­ted with car tracks, the lane is well-tended, peb­bled and bounded by verges and clipped hedges. Trees, all but bare of leaves, loom to the left. A tele­phone line runs over­head to the right. The man ap­pears strained, his brow knit­ted. His sta­tus is not spec­i­fied but some­how it seems that he is leav­ing rather than ar­riv­ing. It’s been rain­ing and pools re­flect a cloudy sky.

How was it done?

Gale works in a tra­di­tional way, care­fully de­vis­ing his com­po­si­tions and of­ten mak­ing prepara­tory stud­ies be­fore com­mit­ting him­self to a pic­ture. Much of his work con­sists of de­pict­ing in­di­vid­u­als in ru­ral set­tings, and he man­ages these tableaux with a cer­tain the­atri­cal flair. There’s usu­ally an el­e­ment of ten­sion. That ten­sion can emerge from the de­meanour of the fig­ure, with in­ti­ma­tions of in­ner con­flict or trou­bling memories, or the fig­ure’s re­la­tion­ship to the set­ting. Gale’s tonal range is gen­er­ally broad, from al­most-pierc­ing lights to chill, earthy darks, and there is a hard-edged, lin­ear qual­ity to his paint­ing.

Where can I see it?

Blood­lines is on view at the Tay­lor Gal­leries, Dublin un­til June 2nd. As a nod to his fam­ily’s eques­trian back­ground (his fa­ther was a jockey and his grand­mother a horse painter) he in­cludes sev­eral stud­ies of horses – not a sub­ject that has pre­vi­ously at­tracted him, oddly enough.

Is it a typ­i­cal work by the artist?

It is cer­tainly not un­typ­i­cal in that over sev­eral decades Gale has made a huge body of work that re­flects the ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing in ru­ral Ire­land, some­thing that makes his paint­ings all the more uni­ver­sal, be­cause he does not pan­der to re­ceived im­ages of an Ir­ish pic­turesque. Rather, he de­scribes the daily en­coun­ters with the weather, with the dif­fer­ent sense of scale that ap­plies in the coun­try, where the land­scape can be so dis­con­cert­ingly big and in­sis­tent, with the dif­fer­ent psy­chol­ogy that per­tains in the ru­ral environmen­t, in which fewer peo­ple can, para­dox­i­cally, feel more pres­sure than greater con­cen­tra­tions of peo­ple in the ur­ban con­fines. So all of life is there, in his paint­ings, in a height­ened way.

Be­gin­ning of Dark­ness is typ­i­cal in its sub­ject mat­ter and treat­ment, but also un­typ­i­cal in that it is one of those works that artists pro­duce from time to time that seem to sum up what they are about. Gale said that he was think­ing about his fam­ily his­tory, his par­ents and grand­par­ents, when he was mak­ing the work in Blood­lines, and there is a pe­riod note to this and sev­eral other paint­ings in the show, to­gether with ref­er­ences to em­i­gra­tion. It is easy to iden­tify with the lone fig­ure in the lane – a favourite mo­tif fro the artist. His for­mal­ity and ap­pre­hen­sion open up nar­ra­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties (as does what looks like a pi­o­neer pin in his lapel), but Gale is not telling a story, he is summing up count­less sto­ries in one im­age.

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