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William McKeown at the Irish Museum of Modern Art

An exhibition of paintings, watercolours and drawings by William McKeown, one of Ireland’s most highly regarded artists, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 5 November 2008. The most ambitious display of the artist’s work to date, William McKeown presents some 50 works, comprising a carefully considered selection of abstract paintings, a series of watercolours on paper and a collection of coloured pencil drawings of flowers and plants. The exhibition features a number of new works, completed just weeks before the opening.

William McKeown is best known for his luminous, near abstract, paintings that explore states of mind, such as happiness and freedom, and qualities of nature, like light, air and sky. His paintings, in oil on linen, have highly finished surfaces achieved through meticulously applied thin washes of paint. With their refined sense of colour and subtle tonal gradations, they capture the essence of a certain time and place. Titles, such as the Hope Painting (The Light Inside), 2006, and In the Field (Turning Buttercups), 2008, typically point to memories, emotions or ideals. In his catalogue essay, the exhibition’s curator, IMMA Director Enrique Juncosa, describes McKeown’s paintings as ultimately representational and autobiographical, comprising “archetypal spaces filled with light, which are a metaphor for specific moments.” In them “he is not only trying to relive [these moments], but also offer them to the viewer.”

McKeown’s watercolours, which are also predominantly monochrome in style, are represented in the exhibition by Waiting for the Corncrake, 2008. This series of 30 works – one for each day of the month – harks back to the artist’s childhood on his family’s farm, where his father waited patiently for the first calls heralding the arrival of the corncrake and cuckoo, noting down the dates and comparing them with previous years. The series also points to the present-day plight of the corncrake, once synonymous with the Irish countryside and now an endangered species.

Simultaneously, McKeown has developed a series of botanical drawings. In Wild Poppy #1, 2001, and Primrose #2, 2003, we are presented with detailed translucent images, almost invisible on a white background, encapsulating both the seasons of the year and the flora of the artist’s native County Tyrone. Despite their simplicity, these works – like McKeown’s paintings – also exude a palpable feeling of light and warmth. Enrique Juncosa sees McKeown as offering his work like a “view through a window…. And in this open window, he succeeds in externalising and objectifying his themes. The viewer must do the same, leaving himself behind to meet the artist in this ambiguous, beautiful and luminous space.”

William McKeown was born in 1962. He studied at Central St Martins School of Art and Design, London; Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow, and the University of Ulster, Belfast. Recent solo shows include the Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, 2004; Project Arts Centre, Dublin, 2004; Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, 2004; Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast, 2002, and the Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, 2006. McKeown has participated in numerous group exhibitions and was Northern Ireland’s representative at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005. His work is included in many private collections in Europe and he was short-listed for the IMMA Glen Dimplex Artists Award in 1997.

The exhibition is curated in close collaboration with the artist. McKeown’s response to the environment and architecture at the Museum is an integral part of the project, as it is in all aspects of his practice.

William McKeown is supported by Farrow & Ball, manufacturers of quality wallpapers and paints, one of whose paints – Pavilion Grey – is being used in the galleries to create the feeling of a space within a space. The exhibition is also supported by the British Council Northern Ireland.

Artist’s Lecture
On Tuesday 9 December at 7.00pm, William McKeown will present IMMA’s Annual Winter Lecture, in The Chapel at IMMA. This will focus on the different aspects of his practice, more especially as they relate to his exhibition at IMMA. Admission is free, but booking is essential and can be made online at or by phone on +353 1 612 9919.

A fully-illustrated colour catalogue, designed and produced by CHARTA in close collaboration with William McKeown and IMMA curators, accompanies the exhibition. This will include essays by Enrique Juncosa, Director, IMMA, Declan Long, art historian at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, and London-based art historian and critic Corinna Lotz.

IMMA Edition
An artist’s edition by William McKeown, Snowdrop, 2008, created especially to coincide with the IMMA show is available price €350. Enquiries to email: [email protected]; tel: + 353 1 612 9951.

William McKeown continues until 4 January 2009.

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 10.00am – 5.30pm
except Wednesday 10.30am – 5.30pm
Sundays and Bank Holidays 12noon – 5.30pm
27 – 28, 30 – 31 Dec and 1 Jan 12noon – 5.30pm
Monday, 24 – 26 & 29 Dec Closed

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

17 October 2008