Portraits by the Artist

Oh To Be Young And French – OKAY

By Elizabeth Raggi, Contributor
December / January 2002

With the tragedy of September 11 there were smaller cultural casualties too. Set to launch the dynamic mixed media works in a show entitled “re:Sources/in:Sights” at Axel-Rabin gallery on September 12, artist James Kieran McGonnell was unable to open.

Fortunately, none of the paintings in the downtown Gallery were damaged, and the Cork-born artist, who has a particular love for New York, was able to open on October 3, with a surprise visit from Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

McGonnell, who was born in 1967, made New York his home after earning his B.S. in Computer Applications in Ireland. Here he attended Hunter College, where he studied painting and Art History. The year he completed his education, three of his twelve-foot outdoor paintings were installed in Greenwich Village. The next years saw numerous group shows in Ireland and New York, and solo shows at Jan Abrams Fine Art, the American Federation of the Arts, and the Pearl Gallery among others.

McGonnell’s innovate and passionate paintings have been selected for numerous corporate and private collections, and have also been used in stage and film productions. He received national acclaim for the original, freestanding painted stage designs he created for the Sean Curran Modern Dance Company, and his work was also chosen as the backdrop for the fall 2000 Fashion previews for men’s fashion magazine DNR.

For his exhibition at Axel Raben Gallery, McGonnell presented a new series of paintings which incorporate imagery of cultural icons through history — from the classic male form of Greek and Roman antiquity, to Renaissance religious motifs, to modern incarnations of icons in the form of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe.

<em>Kieran McGonnell's <strong>Red Groom</strong>.</em>

Kieran McGonnell’s Red Groom.

McGonnell toys with concepts of art and time, recasting these powerful, historical figures in an ultra-contemporary time and place. The classical influences are evident. The unnatural vibrancy of the colors combine with the softness of the watercolor medium to give swirls and fades on the beautifully structured face in Red Groom.

The question of perception is raised again in “Oh To Be Young And French — OKAY!” Its pixeled image of a young woman before a French flag, painted with acrylic on a metal screen, draws on McGonnell’s background in mathematics and computer science. The soft cheeks are cut by harsh technical lines, the neck forced straight. The figure is trapped by lines, overpowered by flag, but again, in this intense study of what it is to be a human being, as in Red Groom, the light shines through.

McGonnell’s work has been described as “apparitions of non-physical consciousness.” He is concerned not with reality as it is seen but as it is felt, and certainly “re:Sources/ in:Sights,” creates an unforgettable experience for the viewer. ♦

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