Tadhg McSweeney: Portmanteau

15 April - 8 May 2010

Tadhg McSweeney's latest exhibition portmanteau takes as its starting point the idea of a collection. In this case, it is the artist's choice of objects that we must consider. In the painting A Different Scale, he enters the realm of the museum and is again beset with the difficulties associated with grouping things together: For while it can provide an overview, it is far from a complete picture. The limitations of the museum seem to be an overriding concern for McSweeney, as the work rarely offers clearly defined answers, being more inclined toward the process of interpretation without the need for certainty. The freedom this evokes affords the artist a playfulness, as different themes and motifs intersect and combine without regard for a cogent narrative, equally this removes any burden on the viewer who can readily engage with the work on a variety of levels. 


Many of the paintings appear to arise out of a conflict between a chaotic landscape and the artist's need to draw forth a narrative or theme. As a result, figures vanish and reappear, the outline of buildings lapse into obscure textures whilst the animals that often populate the paintings are themselves reduced to simple shapes. The use of this approach greatly affects the sense of space and as a result it creates an incongruity within the pictorial plain. In Channel, a figure finds itself hovering above one scene while at the same time disappearing into another. Similarly, Monument contains a series of ruins that appear to defy gravity as they float above a separate land mass. This shift in viewpoint disregards the traditional approach in favour of a flat perspective. 


In earlier works, like a Detective’s office, 2004, a set of images reminiscent of J.F. Peto, are pinned to the wall but here they are simply mise-en-scène. In what is a significant development, the painting Halls of Montezuma, is set out as a complex storyboard: one section providing an overhead view, while in another frame both jungle and mountains emerge. Next, we see the interior workings of a palace where a dark figure roams.  In the nocturnal Views from a Passing World, as a passenger on board a vessel we are offered a restricted view of our voyage and as we move from image to image we become aware of the fragmented peripheral world we inhabit. 


There are a number of sculptural pieces on display. They vary by degrees in terms of complexity, but are, on the whole, unified by careful construction and therefore appear to function as a cohesive unit. 

In Structure, a monolithic form appears to loom large over the twisted nails and screws that populate the vast space, while within the Enclosure a green light permeates in an atmospheric habitat with lizard like occupants in a miniature zoo. 

On the surface Designs for a Better Life, may represent a nostalgic look at a technology evocative of nineteen fifties America, its smiling face and colourful blinking lights a reminder of the hope that science would one day solve all our problems. However, on closer inspection this piece appears to morph into a subterranean model for a new life spent deep within the confines of the earth. Similarly, with Breath we have a polystyrene tree encased in perspex, reduced to the function of a lung. The strain of generating increasing amounts of oxygen produces a coarse wheezing sound.  


In the exhibition portmanteau, McSweeney has built a museum collection around the idea of retaining the scarred remnants and ruins of both the past and present.

- Christopher James  2010