Celestial Rhapsody - Felim

It is tempting to see Felim Egan as both composer and conductor, setting out his theme, writes James O'Nolan of the artist's return exhibition in Dublin.

Felim Egan is back. of course he was never reallz gone but he hasn't shown in ublin for a number of years, although he has been active elsewhere and now spends part of his time in Portugal. He has chosen a smaller venue, wisely I think, for his return, the Cross Gallery, Dublin and it is a return to form, diaphanous and beutifu, with all we have come to exept: wit, rigour and sonorous colour.

But we need to go backwards in order to go forewards. There in no doubt that Edgan's work suffered in the past, though no fault of his own, from over-exposure. For a long time we loved his work: itscolours, its textures, its endless inventation. he was the doyen of every architect and designer in Ireland. there was hardly a public space or collection that didn't includeat least one of his paintings. This, on on the face of it, was good. Thriving in the commercial world is, after all, an economical quantifiable measure of success; is good for many artists and ensures their means of survival and development. The somehow he became a victim of his own success, although it would be more accurate to say he became a victim of the Irish art market. The Irish art market is a peculiar sort of will o' the wisp, barely discrenible mostof the time except to the trained eye and some would say then only in Dublin. For a short period all this changed. Its finest hour, we all know now was durning the building boom, when all its spin-off for patronage and placement were at their most over-heate. Hand in hand with this skipped its mate, the secondary auction market where a few hugely wealthy patrons were able to skew and control the value and reputation of artists whose work came up for sale. This probably happens everywhere, to a greater or lesser degree but the effect here was near fatal. The Irish art markets are so small and volnerable that they have, as yet, never properly recovered from this double body body blow and the damage may well prove to be lasting. In the meantime, and in the aftermath, artists had no option but to go on, reluctantly accepting that these were the waters tehy must swin in. So, strange as it might seem, maybe it's not a bad thing that we have momentarily forgottenhow good a painter Felim Egan is. The evidence is there again to see in the Cross gallery, should you need reminding.

I have worked with Egan on prints at Stoney Road Press and can testify to the rigour of his methods and thet the fuidity he achieves in his work is hard-won. He would often appear in the studio with a finished colour study, so you might think the problem a simple matter of technical translation into print form. However his approach was surgical; dissecting the image, using his colour study only as a note, questioning everything, insisting on complex procedures to test every conceivable permuation, a prograss that might take days, sometimes weeks, before delivering the final proof. I once visited him in his studio, when he lived in Sandymount. It was white and flawless, like an operating theatre. I remember thinking that it should be dismantled immediately and forensically installed in The Hugh Lane Gallery next to Francis Bacon's - two sides of the same coin.

Walter Pater said all art constantly aspires to the condition of music, meaning that ideally form and content eventually become one and the same. There are other musical analogies one could make with Egan's work. It is tempting to see him as both composer and conductor, setting out his theme in single notes, teasing out its many variations before returning to the theme, this time infinitely more complex and multilayered. Like music, the more familiar you become with it the more you discover a depth you hadn't noticed at first. The work can be clever and satisdying in its infinitely winning colour combination, but there have always been hints that it could, in time, become something more profound, somber and compellingly dark as well. There are new threads detectable in the recent work; Egan talkes of Moorish and Celtic influences. The work at the Cross Gallery gives us a glimpse of how the future Egan might evolve.