Olivia O’Dwyer paints with a blend of imagination, memory, instinct, and insight, drawing on ordinary experiences that have imprinted in her mind as extraordinary or distinct in some way. Intimations of intimacy combined with a Bad Painting* style mean these new, small canvases are sometimes funny, sometimes awkward, nearly always unsettling. O’Dwyer is happy to tell us she is making paintings about women’s health (including her own) and relationships, and processing memories in ways that are not always explicit. But when she talks about her work, she says, “I hope other connotations come to mind.” They do, and that is the point.
The Pool and The Pool II offer the opening to a story you will have to tell yourself. Ladder handles glow like disembodied angel wings, or cartoon frog eyes, on the line where poolside meets a drop into the blue. She paints the ballet shoes of Swan Lake, placing them alongside Heels Together, a composition which at first glance could be mistaken for a swimming image too, but instead depicts the moment just before the invasion of a medical examination. Adult vulnerability: a specimen, splayed, frog like, bare from the hips down, nude like a baby on a changing table.
I'm Just Resting My Eyes is a painting of her dead father in cool wraparound sunglasses, lying prone on peat-briquette-coloured sofa with deep-set upholstery buttons winking white. The implied narratives of the titles set off more associations: dogs copulating at night in Consternation in the Neighbourhood; the bare implication of flesh and forward movement beneath rust-coloured water in Just Keep Swimming, the Zepplin-like floaters in Ex Bomb. O’Dwyer draws you in as she pushes you back, stopping short of overtly confessional. You must approach the work in the spirit with which it is made: looking for a near-primal response.
Text written by Cristín Leach
* The artworld term Bad Painting arose from a 1978 group exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, curated by Marcia Tucker. It refers to a deliberately raw style of figurative painting, rejecting traditional ideas of draughtsmanship, mixing art historical, popular, and personal sources, offering a counter gesture to Minimalism and Conceptualism.