LONDON - Marlborough Fine Art opened its doors last night to the latest exhibition of Hughie O’Donoghue’s work, Permanent Green. The emphasis is on landscape and one painting from the show, Revolution Cottage, seems to embody this new direction. The subject is a west of Ireland cottage, which marks a departure from the figurative work for which he is best known. O’Donoghue commented he was interested in the cliché of the cottage – a familiar motif of Irish painting – and in tackling it directly in this painting he has shown it need not be exhausted yet. Also the title of the work hints at the Easter Rising of 1916, and in the wider context of the show, which includes a sequence of cows and a work titled Animal Farm, Orwell’s dystopian novella also surfaces.

Brotherhood of the Trees
, 2015.

The success of this new direction remains grounded in O’Donoghue’s distinct painting technique, with which he is able to balance the tensions of abstraction and realism. The surfaces are heavily worked, built up layer upon layer, which gives them a dream-like quality. The colours are intense, burning yellows and oranges, reds and greens, divided by wandering, deep blues and blacks. Above all, the works remain occupied with ideas of place and memory and of the emotional connections that shift and turn over time. They are, as O’Donoghue says, ‘a visual poem dredged out of imagination and memory.’ They mark a serious achievement for landscape painting not just in Ireland but far broader, and for contemporary artists whose inspiration remains rooted in the physical rather than the conceptual.

Revolution Cottage
, 2015.

The largest canvas of the exhibition, Brotherhood of The Trees, has a broad expanse of green that almost consumes the viewer and pays credence to the title of the exhibition, Permanent Green – of the power of O’Donoghue’s experiences of past places which have left an ‘indelible mark’ upon him. The paintings on view here are personal and profound yet stir in one’s own mind connections to past places and experiences shared, and herein lies their wider resonance.

Artist Hughie O’Donoghue in the studio.

O’Donoghue has for some time now been at the forefront of Irish art today and this exhibition reaffirms his significant contribution to that landscape.