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Betty Gannon

December 6, 2010

Betty Gannon’s large powerful Structure drawings dominate any space in which they are hung.  Graphite powder, sticks, pencils, even blocks of this shiny carbon mineral are manipulated on square or generous rectangles of hot press paper.  The work is process based, rubbed, scratched, manipulated.  Powerful physical marks made using the whole strength of her arm are contained within a series of grids, which gives an element of control. She works very quickly and the energy that this speed generates suggests the interior energy contained within the buildings she draws. Her working method is rhythmic and repetitive, the size of the work necessitating long periods inside a meditative space in which, she says, she gets lost and which she finds is “a nice place to be”.

She is interested in architecture and urban spaces often homing in on derelict and abandoned buildings as well as the many construction and demolition sites that still litter the Irish countryside following the collapse of the boom years of the Celtic Tiger. “In the last four or five years, everyday there has been a new house on the landscape.  There are half-built housing estates on the edges of towns.  They call these ghost towns.”  In 2008 she had an opportunity to work with two other artists inside Bellacorick peat-fired power station in north Mayo before it was decommissioned. In March 2010 together with photographer Michael Gannon and Ian Wieczorek her large drawings were part of an exhibition, ‘Bellacorick-impressions of a place’, at the North Mayo Arts Centre, Aras Inis Gluaire.

Gannon has a huge vocabulary of marks and tones at her disposal from the darkest, so deep there is a waxiness to the texture, to the palest of gently rubbed graphite.  A chaos controlled by the order of geometry; softness versus hard and deep unrelieved black opposed to ever lightening tones of grey. She is interested in change and returns again and again to the same place, recording the changes photographically.  This element of repetition occurs in the physical making of the work too! Although it is essentially all about mark-making and a sense of enclosure.  House shapes with energetic marks inside them, not desperate to get out, I don’t think, but certainly not going over the edges of the shape, reveal an element of autobiography in the sense that they are directly sourced from her surroundings and her situation. Choosing to work at home in order to be there for her family as her children grow, her work has often centred on the location of her daily life. In her house drawings, the structure of the external shape contains and supports the skeleton of the drawing. Circling lines weave and curve around the rectangles hinting at other interpretations:  pipes and wires carrying water and electricity within the fabric of a building; lifeblood moving around the body in veins and arteries; family life flowing through the spaces of a home. Far from restricting her as an artist, her daily routine has provided rich sources of inspiration as she looks outwards through doors and windows, the gaps in walls. She constantly gathers references, which will feed into a new set of drawings, as diverse as: the footsteps of children running between her garden studio and her kitchen; the worn sections of the yellow lines on a road; to a discarded red ribbon in a Renaissance painting of St George and the Dragon. Her perennial concern is to explore change, to let things move and develop, to retain the sense that everything is always in a state of flux. However she says, “It is important to contain an element of control, otherwise it would be chaos”.

On occasions the drawings metamorphose into structures themselves as she bends and shapes the paper into cylinders, rectangles and boxes with lids.  “After I have the drawings done I need to put them into 3D.  They seem to want to come off the page.”  An interesting development arising from this necessity to create a three dimensional form is that the form itself takes over the structural element of the drawing, leaving her free to draw in a looser more organic way.  This softer approach is evident in her new series of drawings inspired by broken surfaces. In the  ‘Breaking Down’, drawings, the enclosing rigidity of strong verticals and horizontals has been replaced by circles and curves; dividing and multiplying like cells; spreading out from the centre of the paper like a stain. Ink becoming a species of decay where the bruise moves from the initial source of impact to contaminate the surface of the pristine page. However, the circles spreading outwards in these recent organic drawings have unbroken lines.  In a volte-face it could be the white of the paper, which is encroaching on the inked marks so these curving lines still function as a boundary, protecting the disintegrating miasma within them.

©  Fiona Robinson 2010

Restless Structures

22nd November 2010 – 17th December 2010

by Betty Gannon ‘Restless Structures’ is an exhibition of drawing that explores architectural and industrial forms and spaces, which are at the stage of being developed, demolished or left to decay.

At The Alley Arts Centre, The Alley Theatre, Railway Street, Strabane, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, BT82 9FJ.

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