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Brian O’Doherty: Language and Space

IMMA presents Brian O’Doherty Language and Space, in association with fine art print studio Stoney Road Press, Dublin. Presented in the context of our Collections exhibition Coast-Lines, this solo exhibition includes a number of works by Brian O’Doherty/Patrick Ireland from IMMA’s National Collection, in addition to drawings from the 1960s, Structural Plays and new works recently published by Stoney Road Press as limited editioned prints.

Brian O’Doherty Language and Space marks the artist’s lifelong commitment to exploring line, language and location, and is a timely celebration of the ten-year anniversary of his performance The Burial of Patrick Ireland at IMMA in 2008.

All of the works on display evoke the discourse between mind and body that has absorbed Brian O’Doherty throughout his career. Many are inspired by Ogham script – an ancient Celtic translation of the Roman alphabet into a writing system of 20 linear characters. No Irish artist has placed Ogham so centrally to their work as O’Doherty/Ireland. In the mid-1960s, the artist brought this 1,500 year old language into New York’s avant-garde dialogue. Ogham allowed O'Doherty/Ireland to combine his interests in minimal-conceptual systems of expression, the senses and language - concerns right at the centre of critical thinking among the 1960s avant-garde, of whom he was a pioneering figure. He has focused extensively on Ogham’s vowels: A O U E I, which in their linear appearance and sound, have informed a vast range of his work ever since.

Commenting on the exhibition Christina Kennedy, Head of Collections at IMMA said; “On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Burial of Patrick Ireland at IMMA, we are delighted to again work with artist Brian O’Doherty. This exhibition reflects the artist’s lifelong commitment to exploring line, language, identity and the senses and in this, his 90th year, acknowledges the extraordinarily prescient nature of this artist’s ideas and expression, which continue to push boundaries and provoke new thinking in art today.”

Commenting on working with Brian O’Doherty, James O’Nolan, Co-Director of his long time collaborators Stoney Road Press said; “We figured out how to register the complex web of coloured hatching he favoured, using separate etching plates, and I began to understand that these were not just drawings, they also possessed a voice. An Ogham voice. Later, working on the Structural Plays, I appreciated that not only had they had a voice, but many could be performed as well. I suppose it could be said that these were the first prints I worked on that were all singing and all dancing.”

Brian O’Doherty is a figurehead of Irish and international contemporary art and his work holds notable legacy in Ireland. Over the past 60 years, he has invoked various identities in pursuit of his art. In 1972, as a patriotic gesture in response to Bloody Sunday and the political and civic unrest in Northern Ireland, O’Doherty performed Name Change at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, as part of the annual Irish Exhibition of Living Art. After a performance of the Ogham vowels, the artist changed his name from Brian O’Doherty to Patrick Ireland in the presence of a Notary Public. The masked, reclining artist was painted orange and green by fellow artists Robert Ballagh and Brian King, giving him the appearance of an atrocity victim.

For the next 36 years, Brian O’Doherty published writing as an art critic, whilst Patrick Ireland continued to work as an artist. On 20 May 2008, following the establishment of a power-sharing government and peace in Northern Ireland, the effigy of Patrick Ireland was placed in a coffin and his identity was waked and buried in the formal gardens of IMMA. During this performance called The Burial of Patrick Ireland the artist reassumed his birth name Brian O’Doherty.

Relevant research areas: Western Europe, 20th Century, Etching

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