Brendan McGorry – Mirrors on Humanity
As a thoughtful observer of the world around him, Brendan McGorry is fascinated by human-made systems and he scrutinises these structures through his multifaceted art practice incorporating drawing, painting, sculpture, and installation.
McGorry’s work seems to poke fun at the notion that money, fame, power and ownership are common measures of success, and hint that we are sucked into a vacuous game of chance as we endeavour to find some elusive satisfaction. We are randomly born – into privilege, into poverty, into the in-between – and chance may or may not alter our fortunes. McGorry reminds us that twists of fate can occur at any time.
In 2011 McGorry created a memorable, immersive experience with his installation for Auckland Ars Festival’s inaugural White Night. He describes the work God’s Little Launderette as a room dedicated to ’the randomness of your birth, the chance events that led you to reaching here and the unforeseen events of every consequent day you have.’ The space, constructed from plywood and covered on every surface with free-flowing drawings, was a chapel-come-laundry-come-interactive-board game where one could ‘play, pray and be cleansed.’ The aim of the game was not evident, and without prescriptive rules ‘players’ were left wondering about the potential outcomes, which implied that life is essentially a simple game of chance as McGorry asked us to ’remember that day when you turned left instead of right and your world changed.’
For Here we are now (2013) a mixed media sculpture shown at the Pah Homestead, McGorry imagines a reality where his protagonist, inhabiting a devastated alternative Paris, constructs a shelter from canvases salvaged from the ruins of the Musee d‘Orsay. Line drawings representing Manet’s Olympia and Degas’ Bellelli Family, among others, cover the tent’s outer surfaces. Once inside, viewers are confronted with scrambled visual imagery; McGorry imagines his character making cave- like drawings in an attempt to reconcile the changed circumstances of a hopeless new world. We are transported to a dimension where we can explore human psychological decline – where celebrated art represents a pinnacle in human development – and the incoherent ramblings of the internal drawings seek to bring order, and deliberately fail.
The Belle Époque Project from 2014 is an expansive mural drawn in free-hand line directly on the wall. It details a nineteenth century French interior complete with ornate furniture, vases and Parisian cityscapes through open windows. Within the mural, McGorry’s paintings hang in a strange trompe l’oeil-like situation. It’s not as if we are fooled by this as a ‘trick of the eye’, but we are at once aware of both the white-walled gallery we stand in, and the illustrated suggestion of this co-existent space.
Individual paintings that populate The Belle Epoque wall drawing are McGorry’s take on works by the masters of French Impressionism – Manet, Caillebotte, and Renoir to drop names. One such painting is Frances at the Folies Bergere, a riff on Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère (1882), famous for its deceptive composition of a barmaid standing slightly askew to the mirror behind her. These new interpretations of iconic paintings have an energy akin to the style of Egon Schiele, with the hand of the artist apparent in every wavering line. Washes and drips of acrylic colour build up the surface beneath the charcoal drawing. The blocked-in colour of accented elements enliven McGorry’s compositions – the vibrant red and orange of Frances’ hair bounces around with the highlights of yellow lemons, and the greens of a bangle, bottle, and the tiny shoes of the trapeze artist. Likewise, pops of red and pink punctuate the cool watery blues in Another Day Another Galette.
McGorry uses our knowledge of art history as a device for social commentary. His work seems to question whether human kind will continue to evolve on a positive course. Have we passed our peak of intellectual growth and are we now devolving? McGorry asks us to consider, on a personal level, our time and place in social evolution. Are we good people? Are we merely aging as opposed to becoming enlightened? In looking at his work, we may be contented to celebrate the history of art and have it echoed back to us, but perhaps we should be wondering if McGorry is asking us “why” as he holds a mirror up to humanity.
Essay by Steph Chalmers
Awards/Distinctions: The Wallace Art Awards – Finalist (2016, 2008-2014, 1992–1999); Molly Morpeth Canaday Award – Finalist (2015, 2011); Molly Morpeth Canaday Award – Merit Award (2014); Estuary Artworks Award – Paramount Award (2010); Field Days Number 8 Wire Art Award – 2nd Prize (2009); New Zealand Painting and Printmaking Award – Finalist (2009); National Drawing Award, Artspace and The Physics Room – Finalist (2008); North Shore City Art Award, Mairangi Arts Centre – Finalist (2008); Walker and Hall Waiheke Art Award, Waiheke Community Art Gallery – Finalist (2008); Anthony Harper Contemporary Art Award, COCA, Christchurch – Finalist (2008); Adam Portraiture Award, New Zealand Portrait Gallery – Finalist (2008)
Collections: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington; James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland; Auckland City Council
Public Exhibitions: NZ Sculpture OnShore, Auckland (2014, 2012, 2010); Male Nudes, Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland (2013); Portrait Painting, Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland (2012); Auckland Arts Festival (2011); Gods Little Laundrette, Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland (2011); Works on Paper, Uxbridge Creative Centre, Auckland (2011); Through the Looking Glass, Uxbridge Creative Centre, Auckland (2011); Skins, Outdoor Billboard Project, Auckland (2009); Lopdell House Gallery, Auckland (1990)
Articles: ‘Great Expectations by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Oct 2015; ‘Long live the art of Painting’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Aug 2016; ‘Exploring space and absence’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Aug 2009; ‘Perspective on art’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, 1994; ‘Joy of life’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, 1988