A Little Gem in The Park – ‘Life in Still Life’ – a cross border collaborative art exhibition

Life in Still Life

Where: Ashtown Visitors Centre, Phoenix Park, Dublin 2 

When: running now until 13th March 2020

Admission: Free

Enjoyment Value: Superb


I stumbled upon a precious stone in amongst the pebbles today, a brimful exhibition in the Phoenix Park Visitors Centre, Dublin, and boy was I glad, so glad that I had to share it. We had spent a long two hours in a meeting down by the Quays and went in search of a little lunch. My friend suggested the cafe in the Phoenix Park as parking is always a problem in town. So off we went, sailed in and parked the car with ease.  After a delicious lunch I wandered across the courtyard to have a little gander at the visitors centre.

As you walk in the door, to your immediate left, is an exhibition space. To my delight this space is home to a bounteous exhibition which is touring the country. Life in Still Life is a collaborative effort between the Office of Public Works (OPW) , Republic of Ireland and the Department of Finance(DoF), Northern Ireland. These two bodies come together annually to organise a joint art exhibition which they move around the country.  This in itself struck me as a very interesting partnership and of course a positive message of joining the two parts of this island of ours. With the exhibition comes a FREE catalogue in book form, beautifully presented and published, which explains the background and history of this collaboration. It seems it has been going on for more than twenty years and many themes have been covered over that time and I’m sure many audiences have enjoyed some spectacular art.

I was enthralled by these works and intend to go back to have a more in depth look at them before the exhibition moves on to its next location. The selection of artworks cover a wide range of mediums —paint, print, photography, lithograph, risograph, drawing, sculpture and c-print. A fascinating selection of still life art works which command you, the viewer, to look and look and look.  And like me, to go back to look again.

The curators of this exhibition are arts educators who are members of the Association of Art & Design Education (AADE) in Northern Ireland. It is their hope that visitors to the exhibition will bring their own curiosity to the theme of the exhibition. Questions like what does still life in our present era mean? Can a glass sculpture, or any sculpture, be a still life? What is a still life to the contemporary artist?

The painting which actually pulled me into the room was Morning Light by Campbell Bruce, oil on canvas. Referred to in the catalogue  ‘like a modern version of a Matisse.’

‘Morning Light’, a frame within a frame

In the painting a doorway frames a composition before and beyond, so within the frame of the picture is another frame and within that another frame.  The sheer and brilliantly established light in the painting is spectacular. As is the contrast of colour and tone. The frames guide your eye out through the doors and back in again as you keep looking and discovering. In this, the aim of the curators was certainly attained, in that they set out to question ‘is there life in still life?’

The fact that there is a glorious cafe to grab a coffee and a cake just a across the courtyard is not to be scoffed at either. I urge you to take an easy detour and go and discover this little gem in the Park. The exhibition is moving on to Portumna Castle, Co. Galway mid March so do get your skates on.

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