Grove Collective is pleased to present the upcoming exhibition Autrefois, a solo show by Brussels-based Irish artist Colm Mac Athlaoich, on view at Grove Collective’s Battersea space, from May 19th to June 18th, 2022. This is the second solo exhibition that Mac Athlaoich has had at the gallery, with the first coming in May of 2021.
Mac Athlaoich often produces discrete bodies of work, with all of the paintings revolving around a central theme. For Autrefois, Mac Athlaoich explains the impetus behind this most recent series as follows:
Autrefois follows on from my Percept series, where I treated my paintings as tools for exploring the relationship between painting and the photograph; ourselves and the image. Process became both central and conceptual, as in the mark-making was derived from analysing press or publicly published photographs in a way to dismantle the image. In doing so, expanding the time we spend looking and engaging with it, and challenging our understanding of perception. Certain criteria became more important to me, to isolate a narrative, to generate an ‘obedient eye’. Re-structuring of an image allows for new pictorial challenges as well as re-positioning the viewer’s relationship to the subject.
Autrefois takes its name from the title of a short film by American experimental film maker Edward Owens, ‘Autrefois j’ai aime une femme’ (1966). While watching this short I was taken by the simplicity and poetics of the layering narratives. I discovered a comparison between the treatment of the image in Owen’s work to that which I was trying to achieve with my painting, a slowing down or transitioning, movement captured.
My show Autrefois (In earlier times) presents a series of headshot photographs and film stills, taken from mid-century films. I chose to work figuratively in order to challenge my ability to work objectively with a set of personally related images. The subjects in this series are my grand uncles, Keiron Moore (Ciarán O’hAnnracháin) and his brother Colm O’hAnnracháin. Both started their careers in Ireland before emigrating abroad. There is something curated, fixed about these images — they have been considered, lighting is planned and positioning purposed. Through a process of digital editing and chance, absurd and fantastical new compositions provide a starting point for each work. Photoshop has been used to unearth hidden colours from the black and white original image. Painting once again confronts the photographed image, asking how far it can go before it’s completely altered.
Indeed, coming back to questions of mediation and resultant abstractions, Mac Athlaoich returns with a body of work that is at once vibrantly new, as well as a logical progression from past series. His precise language of discovery – “unearth” – pays tribute to this: it recalls finding something new, but only by digging deeper, moving past initial obstacles or questions.
For Grove Collective, Autrefois provides another opportunity to work with an artist who has formed a core part of the gallery’s early programming. Last year’s exhibition with Mac Athlaoich, Percept/Pathos, was the gallery’s first solo exhibition, and marked the publication of the gallery’s first printed catalogue. Now in 2022, the gallery hopes this exhibition to be an exciting update from a beloved artist, and a next step in a long collaboration.