The Molesworth is delighted to present The Tasting Menu, Shane Berkery's third solo exhibition at the gallery.
The title refers to the breadth of themes and styles the artist embraces, never shying away from difficult subjects, whether technically or aesthetically, but also revelling in the joy of colour and the challenge of engaging the viewer with the compositional strength of each new painting.
He explores similar themes in the work to those in his previous exhibitions at the gallery, distilling an array of imagery, ranging from an archive of family photographs, documenting his Japanese-Irish heritage, to the stream of posts assailing him via social media feeds. Visual references are sampled, spliced and refracted through the prism of his very distinctive palette of Vandyke brown, white, ultramarine, cadmium yellow and permanent rose.
A first-class honours graduate of NCAD, Berkery was awarded the Hennessy Craig Scholarship and Whyte’s Award at the RHA Annual Exhibition in 2016, and the NUI Art and Design Award in 2015. He has also been selected twice for the Zurich Portrait Prize Exhibition (formerly the Hennessy Portrait Prize) at the National Gallery of Ireland.
THE TASTING MENU
The past two years have been creatively challenging. I found I was painting increasingly with my head, being concerned too much with detail and spending too long in one place on the canvas, which all lead to a certain lethargy and, in turn, a loss of confidence in painting. I experienced a similar feeling outside the studio too. I went through a process of re-evaluation and addressed the things I felt were wrong and emerged with a new perspective and a renewed drive for work, and came to a conclusion that the painting process has to be enjoyed in order for unique discovery to occur.
Painting needs to be about discovery and improvement, and I feel that my own practice for a while had become stuck in the improvement part, narrowly focused on representation in a way. There is only one destination when working toward photorealism and that is ultimately the photo itself. Maybe my strengths in painting and what I should be pursuing don’t lie how accurately I’m able to reproduce visual perception. There is more to colour, visual problem solving and intuition than is given credit. Painting does not need to be about an external thing, there is infinity between pigment and canvas and the hand that put it there. Intention does not have to be verbal in nature and explanation can and should be abstract. This exhibition is a display of the new intent, instinct, and thought that emerged from my renewed drive to paint, and my reacquaintance with a confidence that I thought I had lost.
The title of this exhibition alludes to the variety within the body of work as well as the quantity of paintings. The show is a presentation of what is currently on offer in much the same way a restaurant’s tasting menu would be an extensive experience created by the showcasing of their signature dishes. It is an exhibition of joy of painting, skill and concept in all the different flavours currently available. I like to think of it as a precursor to what may come next. The variety among the near 20 paintings in this exhibition is just shy of cacophonous and I consider that a concept in itself. I feel that I rarely see an artists’ solo presentation with such variety, but I do often see repetition and stuffy concepts that weigh the work down rather than give it weight.
This is a retreat into my own interests, whims and thoughts, giving in to them to see if there is anything worth exploring that comes from the unconscious/subconscious mind - so in a way I am both on the delivering and receiving end of the tasting menu experience.
My work is not meaningless. I began making art when I didn’t know who I was, it was a form of escape then, and somewhere along the way it just became routine practice but below it all remains the search of self. That is probably why it is people that I paint most. They are other people but they are different iterations of me, maybe coming from the residual desire from back then to be someone else. I am happy to be me now though, so don’t worry!
I think there is something wrong when a painting needs explaining in words, maybe some to assist is ok, but not full instructions. I think that sometimes the viewing of a painting should not conclude in articulated thought. The most successful painting ought to be that which places itself somewhere between or beyond the scope of words. It’s not just a picture of a person, there is the decision, the act of painting, the problems presented and their solutions, and the entire process that encompasses that and all subsequent interactions with the painting from then on.
I think ‘What does the artist want to say?’ And ‘what does it mean?’ may be the wrong angle to approach art.
Anyway, this exhibition is only a display of where I am at now, and hopefully I will achieve my goals in painting one day.
Shane Berkery, May 2021