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Bernadette O’Toole

September 30, 2009

Interesting session with Bernadette O’Toole this afternoon. We spoke for a while about her new painting work, which she describes as paintings of spaces. In retrospect, one of the ‘spaces’ she has created has something in common with the cubic spaces Francis Bacon’s drama’s unfold in – although it exists more as an abstracted image in its own right. It’s seductive stuff, and I got a real sense of her intention to have people pause a while and spend time considering the paintings. In particular we spoke about the newest painting in her latest collection, a small round painting that seems to have a quilted or padded surface. Bernadette was pleased that this was the most popular painting in the show, because she felt it was, in a way, the culmination of the technique and atmosphere of the earlier work.


Following from this we discussed how the process of showing and receiving feedback is part of the process of understanding and deciding on the direction towards the ‘ultimate painting’, rather than about the finished product of the show itself. This sentiment is echoed in the conversations I have had with several of the artists featured – and has clear corollaries with Christian Wiman’s discussion of the difficulties of longing for the perfect work as a ‘young’ artist.

I can’t find the book to quote from precisely, but he writes about the danger of seeking the ‘perfect’ or ‘ultimate’ poem (or painting, whatever), because inevitably the fulfilment of this would result only in falling silent afterwards – which is the silence that the feeling of needing to create is there to help us survive.

Anyway, we spoke of much more than this, including more about the need to create, and the closeness of drunkenness and alcoholism and madness to creativity – which is obviously a central theme in much of the work in the current Under the Volcano exhibition at the Bluecoat. Then we wrote these collaborative poems…

Folding space like

paper to write my first wish on,

string to hang yourself.

Hang yourself by the teeth

falling like white mice, melting

into the milky way.


In these spaces that are silences we seek

you shall find my friends hidden

behind the door of another room.

I found another room.

Softer and darker than the first and was lost.

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