An Encounter With Culley

Paintings by Mersey-side based Irish artist Derek Culley
Gala Leo Casino’s contribution to the Independents Liverpool Biennial Contemporary Arts Festival
25th September 2010 – 29th November 2010.

Reviewed by Sandra Gibson

Bringing the Temple to the market place?

“Crazy place” is Culley’s description of the venue for his latest exhibition; “chalk and cheese” was my father’s only comment when I told him I was attending an exhibition of paintings in a casino.

And it is bold and daft and optimistic to hang your paintings in a space where people are doing something tensely absorbing like trying to influence the fickle goddesses of chance. The gambler’s table-bound gaze does not swivel to the peripheral walls where hang the paintings - you can’t realise your dreams unless you place your chips. Even if you’re there for the purpose of viewing the paintings it’s hard not to be distracted by the Garden of Earthly Delights that is the Gala Leo Casino, with its screens of moving colour, mirrored surfaces, starry, starry night (that’s where the CCTV screens lurk) and eerie blue light casting a mysterious mist on the still waters of Queen’s Dock outside.

Are the inhabitants of this realm of (mostly) unfulfilled desire likely to take notice of the writing on the wall? Not unless it delineates a system that will guarantee untold wealth is my guess - though I hope I’m wrong.

Yet the paintings on the wall have their own intricate kinetic energy and do address the important stuff. In “Picnic in Baghdad” a sombre gallery of skull-like images evokes the tradition of vanitas at the same time that it reminds us of recent killing fields. The way in which the images are differentiated implies varying evolutionary stages and responses to suffering: horror, disbelief, resignation, spiritual…The painting operates on specific/historical and existential levels.

Fascinated since childhood by the spiritual resonances of Tallaght’s history and Dominican Priory in whose Chapel he was taught religion and heard Mass (he is currently at work on 14 large panels inspired by this place) Culley has been influenced by Celtic mysticism in his work. “Keys” with its recurrent Christian motifs and intensely bright entrance points of colour offers a way through and beyond the fairground of existence. This large painting is described as a diptych and the artist is considering making the division more pronounced but I would respectfully suggest that the real diptych lies in the juxtaposition of “Picnic in Baghdad” and “Keys”.

Suffering and a way beyond suffering.

And placing these (unheeded?) messages in a place where people mistakenly believe that they are not suffering or that they can alleviate their suffering by the chance acquisition of unearned wealth creates a powerful metaphor for the way things are in our casino bank culture whether that was the intention or not.


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Sorry Comments Closed

Comment left by Eilish on 2nd October, 2010 at 11:01
Sandra has captured the moment in time as if time stood still while those around us dreamt their roll of the Dice would catapult them to another place. Your work adds another splash of colour. Excellent review

Comment left by Nick Stead on 15th October, 2010 at 14:24
I like the art Derek, I think I understand the inspiration, I would like the opportunity to sit in front of it and ponder. It is not the same on a laptop but nice to have the contact nevertheless. Thanks, All the very best, Nick.