Magnum Chaos is Dublin-based visual artist Orla Whelan’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.
A preoccupation with representing the immaterial has been at the centre of Whelan’s practice for many years. While interested in both metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, the artist employs the earthly materials of oil, paint, linen and wood to interrogate the possibility that what is beyond the visible is inherent within its forms, and potentially accessible through the medium of the painting.
Using the formal language of abstraction, Whelan takes an intuitive approach to process, exploring the relationship between colour and form in a series of small paintings Moon, Valley, Dew, Death. These modest experiments operate like visual incantations, employing a set of utterances (forms and colours) repeatedly presented in new arrangements, as if attempting to recall a long forgotten, previously dreamed or imagined order.
The series of large paintings A Powder of Moments, consists of approximately upscaled versions of small paintings. Enlarged to two metres tall, elongated and bisected, the miniature compositions are re-rendered over 50 times bigger, with shapes deliberately skewed to accommodate the alternative ratios of the larger stretchers. This series of paintings explores the translation of ideas from one surface to another.
Going a step further with Chair, Whelan applies the visual language of her paintings to the seat of a wooden chair. The horizontal composition rendered in wood veneers, occupies an object when present in a gallery or museum, is usually overlooked. Sitting adjacent to, rather than the facing paintings, the ‘unseen’ chair, in contrast to the viewing bench, is not positioned for the viewers comfort but for that of an absent invigilator. Chair playfully marries different visual languages, styles and functions, continuing Whelan’s experiments with expanded painting, and site-responsive intervention.
A further link between the painted incantations and modified chair is suggested by the exhibition’s title Magnum Chaos which refers to a 16th Century wood-veneered altarpiece representing the state of primordial chaos prior to the creation of the world. The church panel depicts a composite figure consisting of a single eye with hands and feet, and a sun, falling through the gravity-less void of cosmological chaos. The sheer impossibility of representing a spaceless, timeless void, as experienced by a headless, bodiless entity, along with the compulsion to do so through visual means, resonates deeply with Whelan. Her ongoing formal and philosophical enquiry into the relationship between colour and form, and consciousness and matter, is motivated by the desire to orientate oneself in an increasingly disorientating world.
Orla Whelan is a visual artist whose practice is rooted in painting. Her approach is to consider the visual language and materials of the medium as tools to reimagine contemporary possibilities for transcendence. She is motivated by an existential anxiety, and a belief that abstraction is a viable means to address metaphysical uncertainties. In addition to oil paint on linen, Whelan uses non-traditional painting materials which refer to the materiality and tropes of painting. These expanded forms include: wood veneers on panel, painted plywood wedges, modified furniture, and site responsive interventions that speak to the history and architecture of particular spaces. She frequently explores the role of writing within visual art practice by creating different author identities and experimental texts that challenge ideas of subjectivity, authorship and meaning.
Recent projects include I Don’t Need Anything From Here (magic-carpet-painting) – solo exhibition at RHA Gallery atrium, Nov 2022 – Jan 2023; Matter Mammal Oil Soar – an experimental book exploring the relationship between art writing, authorship and painting which was launched at the Dublin Art Book Fair 2021 at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios; A More Immortal Atlas – solo exhibition at Rathfarnham Castle OPW, Dublin, 2020; A Falling of the Bright – a site specific commission for Facebook AIR Programme at Grand Canal Dock, Dublin, 2019, and Chaos Bewitched, which won the inaugural Merrion Plinth Award, by the Merrion Hotel, Dublin, 2019. Recent group exhibitions include Festival – Gallery and Invited Artists, Hillsboro Fine Art, 2022 and Dubliners – The 6th Biennial of Painting, Zagreb, Croatia, 2021 in association with Pallas Projects.
Whelan’s practice is supported by The Arts Council of Ireland with a Visual Art Bursary in 2022 and 2021. Her work is held in the collections of The Arts Council of Ireland, The OPW State Art Collection, Trinity College Dublin, The Merrion Hotel and private collections worldwide. She is founder and director of AtHomeStudios – a collective of visual artists working from studios based in their own homes, and the art publishing project Whale Dust.