Vivid Field: Hughie O'Donoghue's monumental paintings at Kendal's Abbot Hall Gallery

By Richard Moss | 21 September 2012
an abstract figurative landscape
Hughie O’Donoghue, A Moment’s Liberty I (2012). Oil on linen© the artist, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

Exhibition Preview: Hughie O'Donoghue: Vivid Field, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, September 28 — December 22 2012


In his landmark 2003 exhibition for Imperial War Museum, Hughie O'Donoghue emerged as an artist who really understood the power of large scale oils to evoke personal memories amidst the broader sweep of history.  

Taking his father’s experiences during World War II as a starting point, Painting Caserta Red featured a series of impactful yet poetic paintings that were both physically and metaphorically layered — often using wartime snapshots to offer a personal and accessible take on abstract figurative art.   

This potent mix of memory and drama makes an appearance again at Abbot Hall, where the concluding exhibition in an impressive 50th anniversary programme is a timely retrospective of 30 years of O’Donoghue’s output.

Memory, myth, the natural world and a finely honed technique, which owes as much to abstract expressionism as it does to any kind of English landscape tradition, are on show here in a series of impactful paintings that include figurative pieces, landscapes and the often blurred spaces in between.  

The Changing Face of Moo Cow Farm (2012) is a series of studies of the changing effects of light. Although it retains the deeply layered oil and burnished glow that has become an O’Donoghue hallmark, it’s one of several recent pieces that seem to introduce some relatively conventional pastoral elements.

A Moment's Liberty (2012) continues this theme but re-introduces a typical motif – the hiding figure that appears to coalesce with the landscape. It’s a painting that offers a direct line to his Liquid Earth (1984), whose central figure emerges like molten lava from a rock-like fissure in canvass.

It has been said that the process of painting these great canvasses is like the progress of an archaeological dig, with successively thick layers of oil paint applied over time offering a weathered or excavated quality.

It’s an apt description for a man so enamoured with history and personal memory, but it’s the haunting and poetic quality of these monumental paintings which makes them so compelling.

  • Open 10.30am-5pm (4pm from November 1, closed Sunday). Admission £6.85-£8.30 (free for under-16s and full-time students). Visit the gallery on Twitter.

More pictures:

an abstract painting with a central motif of a figure and lava in a fissure
Hughie O’Donoghue, Liquid Earth (1984). Oil on paper on panel© the artist, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.
an abstract paitng showing the apex of a roof
Hughie O’Donoghue, The Changing Face of Moo Cow Farm 4 (2012). Oil on linen© the artist, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
a painting of a red landscape with a building outlined in the middle distance
Hughie O’Donoghue, The Changing Face of Moo Cow Farm 6 (2012). Oil on linen canvas© the artist, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
an abstract painting of an apex roof with sunlight smothered by cloud
Hughie O’Donoghue, The Changing Face of Moo Cow Farm 9 (2012). Oil on linen canvas© the artist, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
a painting of a a face submerged in red
Hughie O’Donoghue, Cumae III (2011). Oil on linen canvas© the artist, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
a painting of an abstract prone figure surrouded by swatehs of black and red
Hughie O’Donoghue, Vulcano: Solfatara III (2012). Oil on linen© the artist, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
  • A full colour publication has been produced in liaison with Marlborough Fine Art to coincide with the exhibition.
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