Home Architect Caoimhín Mac Giolla Leith on Caragh Thuring

Caoimhín Mac Giolla Leith on Caragh Thuring

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Images of an erupting volcano have been common in Caragh Thuring paintings since the mid-2000s. A semi-submerged submarine began to complement this motif a decade later, by which time clear distinctions between calamities natural and man-made were becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. What the volcano and the submarine share are hints of turbulent depths as well as a dramatic breakdown of the fragile boundaries between a familiar world and an unfamiliar one. The submarine grew out of a childhood spent at Holy Loch on the Firth of Clyde in southern Scotland, where the US Navy maintained a base for underwater craft. The Belgian-born artist’s Clydeside upbringing may also partly explain his recurring use of imagery evoking the industrial architecture of a bygone era.

As far as volcanoes are concerned, the most striking painting in this exhibition – an inventory of some twenty paintings made over the past fifteen years – was August 1779, 2011, which suggests a debt to historical depictions of a notable eruption of Vesuvius. However, more general mythical associations are also certainly relevant to a body of work that records a significant degree of self-awareness regarding one’s own birth. Vulcan was, after all, a master of invention, a god of craftsmanship, and a patron of artists and artisans. Prominent in the foreground of August 1779 is a wall of red bricks whose incongruous semi-transparency reveals it as yet another border of disconcerting permeability, emblem of the link between artifice and nature – the brick being made of clay extracted from the earth to impose a construction on it. Like the windows that also punctuate certain paintings by Thuring, notably in a series evoking Dutch interiors, the brick wall can also mean like a facade, a bounded liminal plane that can resist or accommodate penetrating vision. david gandi, 2014, is an unusually small canvas whose relatively simple composition features the figure of the famous male model in three poses, his tanned features and buff body replaced by patchworks of patterned red bricks. The earth’s crust, the surface of the sea, the windows, the bricks, not to mention the many silhouettes that haunt these images, are the substitutes for an infrathin photographic plane on which a multitude of signifiers of disparate nature, from crude scribbles to paintings photographs, mingle uncomfortably.

To draw attention to these threads that unite Thuring’s work does not mean that it does not allow itself freedom; the individual and cumulative aspect of his work benefits from its formal heterogeneity. The twenty or so substantial paintings collected here, most measuring around four by six feet, offered a useful overview spanning the past fifteen years. A grid of small monotypes from 2021 was also on display, along with a selection of ink-on-paper works from a decade earlier. Thuring’s paintings, in particular, belong to a line of disjunctive layered pictorial compositions that could be traced from Francis Picabia’s “Transparencies” through Sigmar Polke to the resurgence of figurative painting in the 1980s and the -of the. Sharp details here and there recall the work of fellow painters ranging from René Daniëls to Laura Owens. Until recently, Thuring’s paintings tended to offer the viewer a bit of respite in the form of areas of raw, unprimed linen, but, in a body of work produced over the past five years, she denies her public such respite. These are painted on bespoke fabric supports, made by Suffolk weavers, which feature digital renderings of photographs she has found or taken, including images derived from her own previous paintings. As the debris of history continues to pile up, it seems new ways are needed to bring as much of it to the surface as possible.

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