Many landscape painters consider the representation of space as their primary goal. Other landscape painters focus less on rendering space primary to one location and treat it more conceptually. This is painter Caolan O’Loughlin’s approach as he expands one’s understanding of landscape through a time-honored process that unites past and present both in time and place.
“I have come to realize how important process is in creating a piece,” O’Loughlin said. “The Thermal Relief technique is something I learned from my grandfather, Sig Purwin.” The result for both him and an imaginative viewer is an interpretation of space that is expansive, that knows no boundaries and can even be a bit disorienting.
Birdhouse Collectible, is exhibiting a new body of work by the artist titled …And He Labored to Realize the Endlessness of the Skies. Landscape’s considerations of place, space, and location are given full range in this lively discourse between his larger Thermal Relief pieces and small watercolor and acrylic paintings.
Though O’Loughlin grew up in Ireland, traveling to the United States every summer to visit his mother’s family gave him an insight to both cultures. “It’s a dual vision,” he said. “I know two places at the same time, yet feel I have no place.” The artist’s first visit to Omaha was in 2001 after receiving his National Diploma in Fine Art from the Sligo Institute of Technology. Traveling to the western part of Nebraska at that time, he said, was to experience above all the vastness of the land.
“Having grown up in Ireland, I have always experienced definite boundaries in landscape,” he writes in his gallery statement. “If I travel in any one direction, for even a relatively short time, I will surely encounter both human activity and the horizon line as a body of water. In contrast, traveling through the Nebraska landscape has a sense of infinity, and frequently only suggestions of human activity. I find this fascinating.
“My current work continues to be made in reaction to the landscape, becoming less representational the more I become accustomed to the Midwest. My ‘new normal’ is not expecting human activity and the horizon line as a body of water. I have shifted my focus upward, inspired by the seemingly infinite skies above the surface.”
The textured surface of the Thermal Relief pieces present flowing movement punctuated with more intricate configurations. The relief’s impressions reflect any available light source. The physical reflection of light from the surface contrasts with the painted description of value gradation on the surface. Titles such as “The Payne of Grey” or “Ochre and Umber Ground” are another reference to the process of painting. The physicality of their construction is intriguing. A topographical map of ambiguous territory, these “landscapes” with no people have a palpable human presence.
The curved corners and edges of the small Untitled Landscape series are an invitation for closer scrutiny. “They have a Nebraska feel with an Irish influence,” O’Loughlin said. “I was in Ireland this summer, photographing the grays and browns.” Here the paint handling is direct. The strokes of color create a reference to landscape as well as a reference to the act of painting itself. The light and dark rhythm created by the painting’s placement in the installation provides a discourse between these smaller pieces and the larger Thermal Relief work.
It is also interesting to see three “plein air” water colors done in Brownville, Nebraska. Painting from observation is a process of recording immediately perceived information. O’Loughlin’s adoption of this traditional technique appears to facilitate the problem solving done in his studio.
“I know the material I’m using,” he said. “When I do the process I know what’s going to happen. Happy accidents are OK, but I wouldn’t rely on them. You can create what you set out to do. I know when I’m working it’s going to look the way I want it to.”
So too for the viewer who, because of O’Loughlin’s mastery of concept and technique, can just as assuredly connect to a landscape of mind over matter.
…And He Labored to Realize the Endlessness of the Skies at Birdhouse Collectible, 1111 N 13th Street, Saturdays, 11-6, 577-0711 or visit http://caolanoloughlin.com/home.html.