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Lavit Gallery’s Annual Members Exhibition review: Flooded with intense, playful colour

Painted abstracts and landscapes are the most common genres among collection of members’ works

Annual Members Exhibition

Lavit Gallery, Cork
★★★★☆

The Lavit Gallery has its origins in Cork Arts Society, which was founded in 1963. It wanted to nurture appreciation of the arts in Cork, so developed a gallery. After periods on Lavitt’s Quay and Father Mathew Street, the gallery is now based in a 19th-century gabled warehouse on Wandesford Quay, next to Backwater Artist Studios and Cork Printmakers, and close to the Crawford School of Art.

The institution’s Annual Members Exhibition is eagerly anticipated. Membership of the gallery is open to all, professional and amateur alike, and the exhibition’s selection process guarantees that artworks are chosen on merit alone. Everyone is anonymised: the artists do not know the panel judges, who are normally arts professionals, directors, administrators and practising artists and who change every year; and the judges do not know the names of the artists. Adherence to this procedure minimises the prospects of undue influence and ensures that each year’s exhibition contains something new and fresh.

On a cold morning when the main room was flooded with early spring sunlight, the first impression I had was one of intense, playful colour. Claire Bradshaw’s Cherry Sunset, Barbara Keneally’s sculpture duo Seam and Trace, and Caroline Murtagh’s Spring Garden form a natural cluster that confronts you as soon as you step through the door, replete with bright hues and zestful, luminous tones. Bradshaw’s work is an expressionist windswept skyline featuring oil pastels in pink and blue that hover on the cusp of neon intensity. Keneally’s glassworks are reminiscent of hewn rock or mineral extracts, as though illuminated from within by vitreous blooms of aquamarine and cobalt blue. Murtagh’s work is a large-scale, bombastic abstract in oil paints, which rhymes with Keneally’s underground aesthetic: her contribution, which is one of three separate pieces in the show, is like a cross-section of subterranean layers, a series of lines and columns, tightly compressed, that are occasionally warped by deposits and concretions within the tight vertical structure.

Lavit Gallery’s Annual Members Exhibition
Lavit Gallery’s Annual Members Exhibition
Lavit Gallery’s Annual Members Exhibition

This trio is indicative of the panel’s taste, in that painted abstracts and landscapes are the most common genres of artwork across the exhibition. For instance, David Scott McMurry’s precisely titled Kennedy Quay: Cork South Docklands Looking West Towards Odlums Building is a meditation on urban landscape, which juxtaposes the functional architecture of docklands warehouses with the vaporous, serpentine clouds above, as though the former were humbly prostrated below the latter. Damaris Lysaght’s scrub trilogy are impressionistic studies of local plant life. Seán Hanrahan’s oil and spray-paint diptych, In the Presence of Being, features cellular masses that seem to vanish alongside sturdier objects, floating in a vacuum. Patricia Bevan’s marine landscape elegantly explores the light properties of water. Siobhán Collins’ The Garden seems to pull in both directions, effacing the boundary between abstraction and realist landscape – a fitting trick for the final piece of the exhibition.

There are 79 pieces in the collection in total, so a description of individual works will go only so far. On the whole, the gallery’s panellists have done well. Pulling together a wide range of artists at different stages of their career, the result is a vibrant collection that cross-pollinates with common motifs and visual tropes, brought to life by the architecture of the gallery space. Heartily recommended.

Annual Members Exhibition 2024 continues at the Lavit Gallery, Cork, until Saturday, March 16th

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