Small Expressions by Cian Donnelly – October 2002

Small Expressions

Sense is touching. What is transcendental or ontological in meaning is touch”

Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology.

A look, a sigh, a touch, often seems to be as important in their own right as the significance they are charged with conveying – which is often a mood, or an emotional crisis rather than an idea”

John Lechte on Marguerite Duras, 50 Key Contemporary Thinkers.

It is easy to imagine a language consisting only of orders or reports in battle – Or a language consisting only of questions and expressions answering yes and no. And to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations.

When I visited Sinead Aldridge’s studio to see the work for this show, one of the first pieces that really caught my attention was Small Expression. I asked Sinead its title and it made immediate sense to me. The painting is filled with minute changes of stroke, movement and weight of mark. I imagined the change in a face, a slight smile, minor movements that can be quite poignant and suggestive.

Sinead and myself also discussed Duras’ literature in relation to this work. A recurring motif in Duras’ work is the focus on describing small expressions as a device to suggest her character’s emotions, and furthermore the form of their life. Similarly in Sinead’s painting, changes in the countenance of each painting’s surface are all very significant and constitute the basic language of her practice. This is primarily a language of colour and touch. It is by really looking at the painting’s language of colour and touch, to their small expressions, that we see the particular form of their life.

In Prom, traces of grinning pink people the painting’s surface like children at a birthday party; play-fighting and alive. Even the brown loops of Girl Skipping have a certain frivolity to them. They appear like sharkskin or the colour of sand on the seashore at dusk. The work again speaks of play, but this time it is more solitary; a girl skipping by the sea. The pitch and weight of the viridian strip alongside the brown lifts the painting into another realm. If the thoughts of this young girl could be transposed by some magical or alchemical process into material substance, this trail of green is how I imagine it would appear.

In Guston’s Letter we can recognise some pattern between the use of green/blues and rose/pinks in Sinead’s painting. In this work the pink is dashed on with a conductor’s hand and in response the green strip is less at rest than in Girl Skipping. The character of this piece is more anxious, and it forms the interim point between the more heavily worked surfaces of the Overland Group and the Prom Group.

Colour sometimes asks to be touched in a certain way. Gestures in the J’Accept series of paintings are ushered together into nervous groupings, and the dark palette suits these more febrile, twitching marks. The sweep and bounce of the Prom or Pink Think group, gives way to paint which is fed with agitation onto the canvas surface. The countenance of these pieces is more mournful, their sense of touch more impoverished and shadowy.

In the Ricorso group the blues are more pale and whispering and the touch more weightless, like wil’o the wisp. The airy weight of these marks is mirrored by the relatively soft sound of their titles; Unum, Susurro and Siodh.

In the Fast Time group, the tightness of how movement is grouped becomes more pronounced and strong planes of colour are allowed to exist a little bit more independently of each other.

The Pink Think group is more open again, and its palette more sprightly. Once again solipsistic pinks are allowed to show off, but sometimes, as in Pink Think itself, the throbs of pink are chased and pinioned by swathes of blue.

In moments of quiet, while painting, the memory is alive. Space, colour, touch, this language can become witness to your own life and infused with history, emotion and experience.

How materials might speak is called hypostasis, that is, the belief that something immaterial, such as thought or spirit, can become incarnate in material form and for some painters their material is almost like their own life-blood; it is a distillation of themselves. This is particularly pertinent to work like Sinead’s which is so full of touch. Paintings such as these shape themselves as they move within themselves. They are filled with their own memory. Analogous to the process of their making, their identity is cumulative, born of experience, and subject to contingency. Like Duras’ characters, their language of small expressions constitutes the form of their life.

Cian Donnelly – October 2002