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Work of the Week | 14 September 2020

CAG.2741 Hughie O’Donoghue, Medusa, 2005-06, oil and mixed media on canvas, 250 x 184 cm. Presented, 2011. © the artist.

This eye-catching WORK OF THE WEEK draws on (art) history to tell a serious tale…

Medusa (2005-06) is a large canvas by contemporary artist Hughie O’Donoghue. Its luminous abstract qualities and deep orange-to-yellow ochre tones are characteristic of his work, which seeks to achieve “an equivalent for something felt; something that embodies rather than illustrates meanings.”

The title of this work refers to a monumental painting, The Raft of the Medusa (1818-19) by Théodore Géricault, which is in the collection of Musée du Louvre. This earlier work was a response to a specific event: the infamous wrecking of the French naval frigate Méduse off the coast of Mauritania in July 1816. In Medusa, however, O’Donoghue uses it as a universal symbol for maritime disasters and the tragedy of ordinary people caught up in historical events. In this way, it also holds poignant resonance with works by Daniel Castro Garcia currently featured in IN TRANSIT.

To this end, in Medusa can be perceived the dark, ghostly silhouette of a wrecked vessel, the MV Plassy, which ran aground at Inis Oírr on 8 March 1960. It is probably from this that the rusty tones of the painting are derived. Emerging out of this rich colour at the centre of the painting is a Géricault-style face – perhaps an echo of a life?

“The image of the sea appears as a metaphor,” the artist notes about the relationship between his work and the ongoing crisis of global sustainability, “ever moving and changing its form, relentless and illusive but also timeless and constant.”

Hughie O’Donoghue (b.1953) is currently exhibiting Night Cargo(5-25 September) as part of Galway International Arts Festival 2020. Medusa (2005-06) is featured in lucid abnormalities (until March 2021) in our Gibson Galleries on Floor 1. Free entry and open daily.

Tune in to The Arts House with Elmarie Mawe on Cork’s 96FM and C103FM every Sunday morning as Conor Tallon chats with assistant curator Michael Waldron about each WORK OF THE WEEK! Listen back to this week's chat here:


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