Dublin-born, Berlin-based Eoin McHugh’s new exhibition “Loje, jelo, laso” at Kerlin Gallery, explores new verbal and visual languages. The paintings are accompanied by over 100 notebook drawings made during and in response to therapy sessions. Developed “as a way to make sense of the world,” the works are McHugh’s most autobiographical to date. Ranging from linear abstractions to meticulous hallucinogenic images, the drawings are exploratory in nature, and are heavily layered with image, line and text.
Your new exhibition takes its inspiration from Toki Pona. How did you come across this language?
A few years ago I was struggling to title new works. I wanted to avoid the typical strategies: dull description (woman in red hat), non sequitur taken from song lyrics (a squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous), or worse still, the dreaded Untitled. I once heard the artist Nevan Lahart quipping to a younger artist “you wouldn’t call your child Untitled, would you?” And he’s right. I tested random word generators and found the results predictably arbitrary. Then I trawled Finnegans Wake, compiling a list of portmanteaux, which I used for some pieces but ultimately found it too pretentious. Researching Finnegans Wake, however, I arrived at invented languages. This not only helped with my titling issue but has shaped the way I’ve worked over the past few years.
How have you translated this language into the medium of painting?
Sonja Lang created Toki Pona to simplify her thoughts during a period of depression and hoped that the language would induce positive thinking in its users. “Loje, jelo, laso” the title of my current exhibition, means red, yellow, blue (or green) in Toki Pona. These are the only words for colour in the language. This sounds wonderfully bright and simple at first glance, yet it becomes incredibly limiting, confusing and somehow sad when confronted with the real world. But this seems to me to be the point of many invented languages – to recreate the world in the mind of the individual and not the other way around. So, I have created series of works with different linguistic limitations, approximating the structure of Toki Pona and other invented languages. For example, there is a series of notebook works created mainly with black line on small white pages. Simple forms, dots, squiggles or slashes, are repeated to create compound forms. The works were then compiled together in sets of six to create some form of syntax and autobiographic narrative.
How and where do you work?
I’ve a studio in Berlin with two main spaces and a minuscule library, which I love. I’ve worked a lot from home in the last few years too. I normally start a new series with a period of daydreaming and doodling, research and notebook work. My favourite part of the process is dreaming up ideas: reading and researching with no specific goal in mind. Sometimes the hard part is making the work, although I’ve had a blast with some of my recent work – which might best be described as squiggling. In the studio I have different routines for different media and different subject matter and I try to be as flexible as possible – to experiment and learn as much as I can and to stave off boredom.
How do you define your own painting?
I’d say some combination of naturalism and surrealism. On the side of naturalism I’ve studied the techniques of Vermeer and Rembrandt and I’ve painted a lot from life. From this I learnt about colours reflecting off each other; about cool and warm light; about the boundaries of objects as they are perceived and so on. I paint with these ideas in mind, trying to create a painting as if it were a parallel world extending behind the surface. Painting for me is more about exploring ideas than self-expression. On the side of surrealism – although I dislike most surrealists – I definitely feel a connection with their literary and psychoanalytic interests. I see my work as thought experiments and I know I’ve learnt a lot from Magritte.
Need to Know: Eoin McHugh’s exhibition “Loje, jelo, laso” opens at Kerlin Gallery, Anne’s Lane, Dublin 2 on Thursday, October 24 – December 7; www.kerlingallery.com.
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