Philip Lee: Childhood lost and Samantha Clarke: Once the stain was flawless, Stone Gallery, Dublin, 6 June – 5 July 2008

Philip Lee
Philip Lee: Accident , oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm; image held here

The activity of delving into the personal subconscious and the consuming quest to get in tune with the ‘inner-self’ are both no strangers to the course of art-historical endeavor or, indeed, a yoga group. Kandinsky got a book out of it. Here, Philip Lee compels and edges us over that fine line – that of the public and private. Stepping into the Stone Gallery becomes a step into someone else’s memories, someone else’s past, someone else’s sense of self: Lee’s own.

The title of the exhibition is key to the overriding tone of  the ten works presented. In Childhood lost the thick swabs of little-modulated oil paint on linen canvas, which unite to create indistinct and shady figures and objects, become the chosen vehicle for Lee’s personal reflection and his way of sharing his troubled meditations with us. In the exhibition, there is a persistent, inexplicable feeling of something colder that goes right to the bone

The works manifest a memory clouded by something inaccessible to us, a smothered image of a childhood passed; a feeling of protective worry kicks in, making the felt sentiment of some of the works hard to come to terms with. There is also a lingering sensation that these ‘terms’ are also not our own, they are removed from us, we are merely reduced to playing the silent part of exterior spectator. We become the eyes – like the haunting eyes of his work Accident - unremittingly watching a man searching the recesses of his darkened memories and happening to unearth more than was bargained for. There is no nostalgia in Lee’s work, no ‘conventional’ childhood sensations of joy, giddiness, needless tears, adventure, only a shadowy, unnerving memory of a lost reality - memory blotted out for reasons unknown to us, the final piece in the puzzle taken from our grip.

Philip Lee: Madness, oil on linen on board, 120 x 122 cm; image held here

Within the small confines of the gallery walls we are confronted with the challenge of grappling to understand memories that are not even our own. Uncomfortably, but unavoidable, constantly echoing around the back of your mind is the realisation that these works are based on a ‘lost’ childhood.

This allusion to a bruised or blotted memory is further emphasised by the ‘dissolving’ and temperamental treatment of his painting surface. Psychological concerns fuse with aesthetic preoccupations. Figures or objects move in and out of focus due to abandonment of rational perspective and a seemingly accidental interplay of concealed and revealed elements; location is only insinuated at – a darkened corner of a room in Madness , a brief glimpse of a car in Dallas abject . Situation is relegated in importance, leaving you with the questions of where, why and when?

The element of blotting finds resonance in Samantha Clarke’s pieces in the lower gallery. Her work, however personal one can perceive it to be, foregrounds accidental physical staining, removing our personal involvement. She alters the nature and reception of unexpected finds such as aged fragments of  paper, battered by exposure to life, through the inclusion of reduced, fragmented imagery located primarily in the lower right-hand corner of the picture plane. Uncomplicated imagery - ranging from a depiction of a stunned hamster to a jittery infant chick to the unadorned images of two boys holding hands captured mid-walk - imbue her work with a softer, more relaxed atmosphere. Such imagery, I find, evokes a sense of timeless stillness, though it does not suggest anything deeper or provocative, in contrast to the works by Lee.

A lack of coherent narrative is a feature in the work of both artists. In Lee, it is an anxious unresolved narrative that we actively though apprehensively try to engage with. In Clarke, the notion of a readable, tangible narrative is readily abandoned and rather the relationship of two unlikely matters, such as a coffee stain or blot of paint juxtaposed with a refined drawing, is given elevated attention. The personal legacy one feels on encounter with Lee is somewhat muffled by Clarke’s bare though sweet focus on more theoretical concerns of medium and creation.

Samantha Clarke: Circled Field, mixed media on paper, 24 x 32 cm; image held here

Katarzyna Murphy is a graduate of History and History of Art and Architecture at Trinity College Dublin.