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MEXICO CITY — Certain professions have a niche within the avocation — practitioners who are lauded by their colleagues due to their nuanced approach to their field, but perhaps under-recognized by a wider audience — “comedian’s comedian,” “athlete’s athlete,” and so on. Irish painter Pádraig Timoney is sort of an “artist’s artist.”
One reason for this is the stubbornly interdisciplinary and stylistically eclectic nature of his work. In a solo exhibition of works by the artist at Lulu in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood, the small front gallery — slightly larger than a freight elevator — manages to feel nonetheless austere in presenting only five works by the artist: a painting, a small sculpture, a photographic print, and two framed drawings. A comparatively more generous cross section of small works by Timoney, including a kind of odd echo of the same statue, are on display in Lulu’s rear (and original) gallery space, but these still do not offer an immediate sense of cohesion or insight into Timoney’s narrative. They appear more as sliding doors into a mind that is constantly scrying the world for a clue as to its underlying connective tissue.
The oil painting “Did He Aye?” (2018), for example, is the immediate focal point for a viewer walking in from the street, and features a quasi-pastoral scene spotted by artist from a train traveling through the French countryside. In passing, the artist was able only to discern the presence of a large white monument of some kind. Upon revisiting the site via Google Maps, he came upon his subject in greater detail — an edifice proudly proclaiming the adjacent village as the site where Nicephore Niepce invented photography in 1822. Much of the picture plane functions as an excellent example of slightly impressionistic landscape painting, but the rendering on the sign’s lettering reveals astonishing precision in Timoney’s craft. The other notable features are organized in the upper lefthand corner of the painting, where Timoney has inset his own painterly take on Niepce’s inaugural photographic image, and the lower righthand plane, where the shadow of the Google street car that captured his source image is seen on the ground. Timoney consolidates the evolution of media, from its “invention” to one of its more cutting-edge applications in contemporary society, in an equal rendering, with all elements casually coexisting within the space of the painting.
On a low plinth sits a little monochrome assortment of what appears to be broken stone. This form began its life as a piece of the Rio Grande riverbed, displaced by nature or pried up by the artist, and broken in transport to the current state — which is actually an imitation of the original riverbed shards that have been 3D-printed in stonedust. One begins to form a loose association between this work, titled “Printed Rio Grande (Stonedust)” (2018), and “Did He Aye?” in terms of their interest in imperfect reproduction (cue Walter Benjamin, the philosopher’s philosopher), but this is about as close to a theme as one might derive from Timoney at first pass. The third work in the room is a candid portrait of a smiling Mexico City cab driver, caught gazing backwards between the front seats as he runs the car in reverse. Aside from Timoney’s will, and the fact that it was taken in Mexico City the previous year, this image seems to have little relation to the other works in the room, which also includes two framed pieces from the artist’s sketchbook.
There is something rather engaging about this artist’s penchant for arrangement of such disparate presentations. In a sense, Timoney presents a kind of salon-style show, but all emerging from a single mind. The complexity of this assortment defies the sense of ease in consuming art as entertainment or as a market commodity, and makes it into something much more personal, and requiring much more thought. There is not so much to be unpacked, perhaps, in a little framed drawing by the artist that features a funny motif of eggs and milk bottles, other than to wonder at its juxtaposition within a half-dozen images that are all banal, oddly whimsical, and intensely specific in their own way.
The tightness of Lulu’s presentational aesthetics owe much to writer and curator Chris Sharp, who founded the space in 2012, and maintains a fanatic interest in its details. Lulu repaints the floor of the front gallery for each new installation, and framed works are presented without protective glass, giving them a greater sense of presence and immediacy when faced by a viewer. One would normally struggle to find much room in a gallery so small, but Sharp has managed to make it feel spare and breathable — a necessity to give the work the kind of gravitas conferred upon it by Timoney’s devotees. There is perhaps even enough space to command the attention of those of us who aren’t quite inside enough to appreciate its significance.