John also known Jack Kirwan
John Kirwan paints a well-patrolled terrain within the perimeters of Dublin Bay. While his feet are very much on the ground, usually the wet ground of the vast, flat intertidal expanses, his head is in the clouds. He is besotted with the sky and tracks the movements of the clouds, endlessly shifting forms moulded by light and shade, with untiring concentration and rapt fascination. He has, it is true, come to the right place. An Icelandic saying, “in Iceland we don’t have weather, we have examples of weather”, could be applied verbatim to Ireland, particularly when the sea, the sky and the mountains combine to generate a ceaseless turnover of inventive atmospheric effects. It is this natural drama of light and water, endlessly unfolding, that absorbs John Kirwan, rather than the specifics of place. At the same time, as a meticulously naturalistic painter, he is specific about place and you can pinpoint the precise locations of his work, not least in terms of familiar landmarks around the bay. In relation to drama, it should be emphasised that he never feels it necessary to up the ante. There is drama aplenty in his paintings, but never the drama of paint itself He eschews expressionist brushwork and, indeed, any aspect of technique that calls attention to itself. His technique could be described as self-effacing in the sense that it is always subordinate to the image. Our eyes are invited to explore the image rather than the painter’s virtuosity. The naturalism of his method extends to his palette, which is generally accurate and subdued. There is certainly colour in his work but, as with real life, his pictures are predominantly tonal. He sets out to capture faithfully the watery grey light characteristic of Ireland and almost everything happens in the play of tones. As regards his use of particular optical conventions in his pictures, it is clear that he employs a camera as a means of recording pictorial information, and the paintings exempli a photographic way of looking, one with which we are instinctively familiar. The work in this show is concentrated on the East Coast, where as previously he also painted a great deal on Achill Island. That is not a particularly significant shift - he will probably return to Achill in time. What is significant is his progressive exclusion of extraneous elements in his pictures. He feels less of a need to incorporate anecdotal details, and is, as he puts it, freer “to get into just the thing itself’: the dynamics of the landscape. Something that he does extremely well. Aidan Dunne 2002 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Some landscape artists lavish so much attention on the ‘land’ part of the paintings that the sky literally becomes an afterthought. Not so with John Kirwan; he has had his head in the clouds, artistically speaking that is, for years. His magnificent depictions of nimbus, cumulus, cirrus and stratus cloud formations and variations thereof result in paintings with a haunting beauty. However, it should be said, there is always something more to the paintings of John Kirwan than simply the production of cloudscapes. His skies are always firmly anchored to places that are of personal significance to him. His beloved Dublin bay frequently reclines in the bottom third of many of his compositions. However, not the picturesque undulations of south Dublin for him but rather the rigorous horizontality of the view from the north side. Achill is another favoured place where extraordinary wind-driven Atlantic cloud formations butt up against the massive mountains of the west; again an ideal challenge for John Kirwan’s considerable talents. Once again I find myself delighted by a fresh batch of paintings by John Kirwan and I find myself wondering - what will he do next? Well, the answer is simple - the sky’s the limit. Robert Ballagh © 2005 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A draughtsman and painter of great natural facility, John Kirwan seems to be driven to continually test himself by taking on difficult and extreme lighting conditions: shafts of sunlight cutting through thunder cloud, a heavy, viscous mist closing in over the bog, the fast glitter of light on choppy water, incredibly baroque tangles of different cloud types stacked up in a jumble that somehow looks ‘right.’ It looks right because that’s the way it is and, while we may not notice it most of the time, the painting makes us look, see and, who knows, understand. Broadly speaking, his paintings are made in what might be described as two theatres of operations: the east coast and the west coast. Coastal regions have in common big expanses of sky and highly mobile lighting and weather conditions. The latter applies particularly in the west, with the vast expanse of the Atlantic generating our weather for us. Over many years, John has revisited Achill Island and drawn inspiration from the daunting beauty, scale and quietness of the landscape. In conversation, he emphasises the quietness, and it is an important factor in the paintings, just as the implication of sound is in some of his more inhabited east coast pictures. In any case, the various qualities of the western landscape can have the effect of opening up the visitor up to the elements in an extraordinary way, of making you more aware of and more sensitive to minor inflections of temperature, humidity and light. Aidan Dunne .