All Colours Black (two) / Observations of an Athiest

Apart from his work as a contemporary art curator with wide tastes and a flair for finding innovative work, Mark St John Ellis has long been involved in a musical project, Elijah’s Mantle, as composer and performer. While Elijah’s Mantle’s music certainly comes under the heading of gothic in several respects, it is also experimental, incorporating ambient and electronic elements. One composition, Observations of an Atheist , is at the heart not only of the installation in nag, the basement space it occupies in the Cross Gallery, but also of a group show St John Ellis has curated upstairs in the main gallery space, all colours black (two) . 

The title of the group show is a good indicator of the gothic tendency underlying the enterprise but, again, like the music, the end result is anything but formulaic and predictable. It encompasses, for example, a series of really beautiful line drawings in ink by Jane Proctor, meditative considerations of the square format, made on Japanese paper, each a formidable piece in its own right (and, should one say, very modestly priced considering their quality and character). 

There’s also a striking concave acrylic sculpture by Gavin O’Curry, a form that draws us in and traps our eyes in a black, slickly reflective surface. Michael Coleman’s extraordinary painting on un-stretched canvas has a couple of ingenious touches, one of them a centrally positioned button, which immediately makes us question the nature of the surface. The biggest piece is by John Beattie, an atmospheric expanse of tonal washes from black to white. It’s actually the floor and a section of wall from the artist’s workspace, systematically painted during the course of an installation, and it works very well as a painting. 

Dee McDonnell’s flair for finding unsettling aspects in workaday utensils is on display in her piece Into the stillness beyond . Add Seamus O’Rourke’s dark ink paintings and Tom O’Dea’s cleverly distorted picture frame and you have a substantial, consistently engrossing exhibition. Add the soundtrack music audible from the basement below and it all seems of a piece. The film itself, the order of its sequences changing indefinitely, is inspired by the dark moody spaces and heightened drama of Caravaggio’s paintings, juxtaposing human flesh and lavish displays of fruit and foodstuffs. 

Aidan Dunne, The Irish Times, Wednesday 20th January, 2009.

12:37 pm on January 20th, 2009