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Cecil King at IMMA

An exhibition spanning the later career of the highly-regarded Irish artist Cecil King opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 27 February 2008. Cecil King: A Legacy of Painting presents some 40 works, concentrating mainly on the hard-edge paintings for which the artist was particularly well known. The exhibition includes many of the finest works from his celebrated Baggot Street, Berlin, and Nexus series. The exhibition will be officially opened by the writer and broadcaster Emer O’Kelly at 6.00pm on Tuesday 26 February.

Cecil King: A Legacy of Painting sets out to examine King’s contribution to the emergence of Modernism in Ireland. It also addresses his position as a painter working within an international discourse, at a time when contemporary practice in his chosen media was coming under attack from both conservative forces and from the champions of more experimental art forms, giving rise to widespread predictions of “the death of painting”.

Born in Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, in 1921, Cecil King was a successful businessman, who began to paint in his mid-30s, holding his first solo exhibition in 1959. Initially, he worked in a semi-realist style producing a number of lyrical paintings and pastels such as the Circus and Trapeze paintings from the mid-1960s, which were significant in the development of his later work. These early paintings show a reductivist tendency that points unmistakably towards his later work. King was an avid collector and the influence of Hans Hartung and Lucio Fontana, whose works he collected among others, can also be seen in these 1960s works. Like Hartung, King worked in series, repeating a motif until he was satisfied with the balance and tension he had achieved: indeed, he often returned to a motif after some years in the guise of a new title.

Cecil King was also a founding organiser of the legendary Rosc exhibitions, first held in 1967, and through this met many of the most influential artists of the time, who would have a profound influence on his work, among them artists as diverse as Barnett Newman and Joseph Beuys. In 1967-68 an important shift took place in King’s work, with the first of the Baggot Street paintings, in which figurative elements are replaced by plain fields of colour, forms are rendered geometrically and light is represented through the use of a single line. In 1968 King described this watershed: “The Baggot Street series was the break that opened up another world for me. I felt I had found my identity so to speak”.

From the early 1970s onwards King found new and varied forms to explore through different geometric abstractions. Vent, 1972, is imbued with a vigorous energy, as a V shape bisects the canvas which itself has found a new powerful verticality. Following a visit to Berlin in 1970, King began his Berlin series – large-scale colour field works in which a narrow peripheral band creates a tension between figure and ground, in which some commentators have seen references to the Berlin Wall and a city divided. The same wall-like constructions continued in the later Haarlem paintings, begun after a visit to New York. Much of the power of King’s works comes from their meticulous execution. In an interview with Ciaran Carty in The Sunday Independent in 1982, he said: “There is no margin for error. The image has got to be there from the beginning. Colours can change as you go along, lines can be added. But you’ve got to have the basis right. With my type of painting, if you spoil it at any stage you miss out on the whole thing.”

Cecil King was the subject of a major retrospective at the Hugh Lane Gallery, now Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, in 1981. He exhibited widely across Europe and his work is held in the collections of many leading museums including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Tate, London, and numerous private and public collections. He died in 1986.

The exhibition is curated by Seán Kissane, Curator: Exhibitions, IMMA.

Lecture: Speaking of Cecil King
On Sunday 9 March at 3.00pm in the Lecture Room, writer and critic Medb Ruane will present the lecture Speaking of Cecil King. Admission is free, but booking is essential on tel: + 353 1 612 9948 or email: [email protected].

The exhibition is accompanied by a significant monograph published by IMMA, which includes texts by Seán Kissane, writer and critic Medb Ruane and artist Richard de Marco and a chronology by Oliver Dowling. A selection of poems by major Irish writers, such as Seamus Heaney and Michéal Ó Siadhail, with whom King collaborated are also included.

Cecil King: A Legacy of Painting continues until 18 May 2008. Admission is free.

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday: 10.00am – 5.30pm
except Wednesday: 10.30am – 5.30pm
Sundays and Bank Holidays: 12 noon – 5.30pm
Mondays and Friday 21 March: Closed

For further information and images please contact Monica Cullinane or Patrice Molloy at Tel: + 353 1 612 9900; Email: [email protected]

11 February 2008