Histories and Non-linear Narratives: Jane Irish at Locks Gallery

An excellent exhibition of recent landscapes and interiors by renowned Philadelphia artist Jane Irish is up until May 10 at Locks Gallery.

In spite of their colorful vibrancy, Jane Irish’s interiors exude the desolation and unease of the aftermath of war. Though they initially appear to be studies of glamorous and picturesque 18th century French homes, Irish’s paintings turn out to be imaginary landscapes that interweave histories and cultures, coalescing in a discrete commentary on imperialist colonialism, the discrepancy of wealth, and war and its effects.

"Malouiniere Mauve," 2012 egg tempera on linen
“Malouiniere Mauve,” 2012
egg tempera on linen

Manipulating different frames and angles, Irish combines luscious French interiors with Vietnamese landscapes. Placed as part of the interiors (behind open doors, curtains or on walls), the landscapes create the illusion of an imaginary place. She combines images, spaces, places and histories in order to create a complex narrative – not a linear one, but one that is revealed through flashbacks, super-imposed recollections and intertwined perceptions. History is not a linear narrative, but rather a jumbled assemblage of truths, evidences, memories and personal chronicles and collective consciousness. Irish captures this very essence of what history is: she blurs distinctions between realities and locations in order to reveal a global account of truth(s), and she combines cultural relics in order to translate a pervasive, inclusive, eclectic history, rather than a centralized or localized one. She steps outside of the story, outside history; she looks through the eye of the other.

“Yellow Room,” 2012
egg tempera on linen

In each of Irish’s paintings, there is a strange, suggested human presence. The interiors that Irish depicts seem inhabited, yet they capture the moment when everyone left. Despite the luscious, rich, exotic interiors, they give the same feeling as a landscape devastated by war: people were present not long before; now they are gone forever. That feeling is successfully conveyed in “Yellow Room,” where the table has been set for a delectable, abundant meal, perhaps a symbol of the privileged.

"Room With Green Boiseries, " 2012 egg tempera on linen
“Room with Green Boiseries, ” 2010
egg tempera on linen

Irish is as concerned with the beauty of painting as she is with her concept. Her work has a distinct ethereal quality. She uses egg tempera (with raw pigment) on linen, a classic, tedious medium which helps create vibrant, layered images that flicker and seem alive. The transparencies and translucencies that Irish achieves in her paintings are unearthly. I spent a long time staring at “Room with Green Boiseries,“ trying to capture the ease with which Irish translated the texture and translucencies of a chandelier, the unique character of each period chair, and the overall luminosity of the room. “Yellow and Red,” a very large three-panel canvas of reproduced Vietnamese pottery motifs, reveals the unique freshness and immediacy of the artist’s touch. Although apparently a decorative piece, “Yellow and Red” suggests something almost ominous, perhaps due to the fact that the typical Vietnamese decoration and ornamentation is taken out of context, and has the ability to be re-interpreted as a disjointed narrative, a history marked by colonialism and war, and a culture that has struggled to remain its own. Irish achieves the perfect balance between form and concept; she is a master of her medium yet she remains honest and humble in her communication of her concept.

"Yellow and Red," 2013 egg tempera on three canvases
“Yellow and Red,” 2013
egg tempera on three canvases

Managing to stay free from cheap didacticism, Irish depicts a history of correspondences and appropriations, a global truth that reveals the trappings of power. She adopts multiple perspectives and reveals many angles of history, always through the eyes of the other. She avoids making a spectacle of herself as an anti-war, anti-colonialist commentator. Instead, she does what a sensible thinker would do: she points, she shows, she opens, she allows.

Images courtesy of Locks Gallery.

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