The Molesworth Gallery is delighted to present The Flower’s Pilgrim, an exhibition of new work by Gabhann Dunne. The starting point of the work is an old Irish folk story, according to which the soul leaves the body in the form of a bee when a person dies. Hence, the recurring motif of the bee - or ‘the flower’s pilgrim’ - an insect intensely relevant today because of the phenomenon of colony collapse. The bee is the principal pollinator of plants in Ireland, an integral part of the country’s fragile eco-system, but the gradual elimination of meadows from the Irish countryside is removing one if the insect’s main sources of food.
A residency the artist recently undertook in Bull Island under the auspices of Dublin City Arts Office drove him to examine environmental choices and how they impact on our sense of place and future. “If we are to preserve our island habitat,” Dunne believes, “we have to make particular environmental choices that aren’t always of immediate benefit. There’s not only a profusion of animals in danger of being pushed out of the country, there are others that are coming in. It’s a flux, but ultimately it’s our choice as to what stays and leaves.”
These issues are explored in the work, whether directly or obliquely. Topographical features, figures, buildings and animals emerge from a richly-opaque ground, conjuring a hauntingly-beautiful parallel world. He uses this romantic landscape to critique the marginalization of animal spaces, often appropriating and re-working found imagery to complement his invented narratives. The limpid colour palette in the paintings give them a visionary, almost poetic quality.
The work is informed by a broad spectrum of authors, social commentators and ecologists, such as John Gray, Mark Rowlands and Emma Marris. Painting is not used analytically but rather to interrogate how different forms or techniques can be used with each other to create tension, power and the sacred. While the themes explored in the work may seem portentous, there is humour here too, along with compassion, contrition and a desire to protect.
Gabhann is a former winner of the RDS Taylor Art Award and the Hennessy Craig Scholarship at the Royal Hibernian Academy. He was described by Cristín Leach - writing in The Sunday Times in May, 2015 - as ‘one of the best Irish painters of his generation’.