The following is some thoughts on the work of Fergus Feehily, which I presented at the Hugh Lane as part of a series of events organised by MA ACW, in conjunction with the Richard Tuttle exhibition currently on show there. Simon O’ Sullivan spoke yesterday, and as far as I know some other very interesting speakers are in the pipeline, so definitely keep an eye out. But these are some rather sketchy thoughts really. On other news, Feehily has his first museum show at the Dallas Museum of Art at the start of April, so the very best of luck with that! For more information on that see here
I suppose I should start by describing how I came to hold an interest in the work of Fergus Feehily, and what relation this has to an investment in post minimalism, if any.
Let me say firstly that I am neither a curator nor an artist; I am unable to multitask. I am what you might call a failed artist, one who came to writing about art only by failing at making it. I do not particularly mourn this development, for I do not see as necessarily permanent. Getting back to Feehily, more than a year ago I had my first, rather overdue, encounter with his work. This was at the Douglas Hyde, where his solo show, ‘Pavilion’ was being shown.
The kinds of work on shown there, here are some examples, were familiar in tone. Having attended NCAD for four years, it seemed that their roughly delicate and miniature forms were very much du jour.
I had witnessed many colleagues in the Fine Art department, myself included, attempt at some stage to harness this small-scale simplicity, generally with results slightly off target.
To create something which seems simple and yet is meticulously made, is no easy task. As students, our work would seem either thrown together or overly laboured: to straddle that precarious line with the illusion of ease was a herculean task. And so, last year I came to the conclusion that Feehily had succeeded in making the kind of work that I would have celebrated- screaming from the hilltops – had I been able to muster it.
Post-minimalisms’ legacy is strongly felt in Feehily’s work. An engagement with seriality, numerals and geometry is felt throughout his work, but as with the work of post-minimalist artists such as Tuttle, it is a kind of imperfect minimalism; a kind of almost or off-minimalism. Minimalism, in the case of Feehily and Tuttle, is both thwarted and transformed. It becomes sometimes messy, seemingly haphazard, conversational almost.
And yet there is an order present. Feehily’s diverges from Tuttles’ work by virtue of its prevalent use of devices of enclosure. This is present throughout, with layers of the works hidden from view. However, as they are hidden from view, they tantalise the viewer, and also hint at the possibility of something being hidden, as it were, from the artist.
Fergus alludes to the Hortus Conclusus genre of painting as an important point of reference for him. These are medieval depictions of religious figures, most typically of the Virgin Mary, in which she is represented in a closed garden. By this, her virginity and ineffability is predicated on her necessary estrangement from the world. This influence can be seen in Feehily’s use of layering and processes of enclosure, but furthermore in his choice of materials.
Feehily often uses found materials in his work; found pictures, found frames, all point to an everyday materiality. And yet, through his particular use of framing devices, they become materially estranged from the viewer. For example, in his 2009 work ‘The Hide’, which was shown at the Douglas Hyde last year. In this particular assemblage there comprises a found frame, found illustration, a small watercolour on paper, wood and cloth. An unprimed sheet of plywood shields the delicate found watercolour of the bird from full view. Visible screws lock the plywood on to the layers behind, suggesting a forcefulness that disrupts the otherwise delicate nature of the assemblage. Its scale, also, suggests that the object, the work of art, should be ‘knowable’. Relative to human scale, and this is where it departs most forcefully from the domain of minimalism; it is tiny, only thirty by twenty centimeters. And so by bodily intuition it should be knowable, conquerable.
And yet it is not. These processes of enclosure, which form a consistent component to Feehily’s work, disrupt the viewers’ sense of familiarity of these seemingly knowahble parts. As with the work of Richard Tuttle, who holds a quotidian, almost childlike materiality, Feehily’s use of familiar found objects is directed back on itself in order to hint at their essential reticence to impart any conclusive knowledge. It is in this way that he carries the torch for a kind of inconclusive quietude, a quietude shared by predecessors such as Tuttle.