In a seven-decade career Anne Madden has developed an unmistakable body of painting that has continuously been concerned with the transformative forces and cyclical nature of life and experience.
Madden’s recent paintings are a continuation of her exploration of the ancient cycles and mythologies in particular of Antigone, Ariadne and Daphne and seem to ever more urgently connect with existential, feminist perspectives as they resonate in the contemporary world. These are archetypal women whose voices are not silenced, in spite of their fate. The artist’s paintings unflinchingly communicate scenographies of lamentation, defiance, resilience by turns, all in transformation.
Given the complexity and uncertainty of the 21st century world, it is inevitable that artists look to the ancient past for forms, patterns and themes as a way of ordering and of giving shape and significance to the anarchic forces of contemporary events. Madden’s distinctive pictorial language, though abstract, is pervaded by a deep sense of the corporeal. This new cycle of works sees more pronounced figuration, centralised amidst patterned brushwork.
Recent paintings by the artist reveal the enduring significance of the iconic figure Antigone, who defied the absolute authority of the State by burying her outcast, murdered brother and was punished by being buried alive. The narrative of conflict between the state and the individual, between autocracy and openness is a timeless one.
The mythical figure of Daphne is the subject of Madden’s ‘Transformation’ paintings. The ancient narrative relates of her transformation into a tree to protect her bodily autonomy and avoid sexual violence. Daphne’s pleas have echoed across millennia in the self-admonishment of many women as though their beauty were the cause of their fate, and their desire to become invisible to the male gaze.
The subject of Ariadne resonates with Madden’s lifelong obsession with the chthonic, the libatory, the interior of the soil, and the passage from the living surface of the land to the realm of the earth and yet also holds open thresholds that lead from the dark to the light.
In these images the artist has abstracted a potency of meaning, that seeks justice and catharsis while simultaneously creating a transcendence that is universalizing, liberating and enduring.
Anne Madden spent her early years in Chile before her family moved to Europe when she was four, living between Ireland and London. She lived between Ireland and France until late 90s when she moved back permanently to Dublin. From the 1980s, Madden, along with her husband the painter Louis le Brocquy, was centrally involved with group around former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, including Anthony Cronin, Michael Scott, Dorothy Walker and others, that led to the founding of IMMA at RHK.
Madden’s works from 1960s on are inspired by the glaciated landscape of the Burren, pre-historic landscape, notions of the empyrean and the subterranean, astronomy and megalithic structures. While another aspect of her practice during this time responded to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
From the 1990s, Madden’s works reflected ancient Mediterranean civilizations in series such as Pompeii, Oddessy and Garden that draw on themes of death, rebirth, liminality, hubris and human imprint.
Since the 2000s she has responded to climate, weather patterns, the Aurora Borealis and the effects of the Anthropocene as well as existential, feminist perspectives through ancient cycles.
Madden has exhibited widely, including a significant retrospective at IMMA in 2007. She is a member of Aosdána.
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