MARTIN GALE – ‘BEGINNING OF DARKNESS’
Martin Gale’s painting eloquently sums up a decisive experience for many generations of Irish people
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.