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From the Hugh Lane Gallery Exhibition Archive 2011 #flashbackfriday remembers: The Golden Bough: William McKeown
In 2005 I curated the group exhibition entitled 'Rooms for Waiting In', at the Galway Arts Centre. The theme focused on the act of waiting, how it focuses the mind in order to consider the nature of time and how we form habits to structure our lives. In this exhibition I had the pleasure of working with the late William McKeown (1962-2011) alongside artists Garrett Phelan, Corban Walker and Grace Weir. I had first met Willie while sharing a studio at TBG&S and found his vision and insight into art practice as something close to a calling. He was always reaching for the miraculous.
Referencing this exhibition McKeown continued this theme at the Hugh Lane Gallery in 2011 as part of our Golden Bough programme, our series of exhibitions that centred on James George Frazer's influential masterwork of anthropology 'The Golden Bough' (1890).
Taking inspiration from Chapter 1 in Book IV of The Golden Bough entitled 'Between Heaven and Earth'. McKeown responded with 'The Waiting Room' and created a seductive darkened space within Gallery 8 to trap the emerging light that came from the adjacent Sculpture Gallery. In our present state of lockdown it seems appropriate to return to this exhibition and consider its mediation on the nature of Time in our living conditions.
“In 'The Waiting Room' I wanted to turn the focus of the space onto the apparently emerging light, the dawn, the vertical path leading out of the seductive trap of the room, the cockcrow warning of the unfurling of a space in the heart, a place of freedom and happiness, a place to breathe in the sky and to dance. Because dancing like breathing and singing live in that cleansing levitating space that exists between earth and heaven. The Waiting Room' is an antechamber to the dancehall. 'Here comes the Sun'.” William McKeown
McKeown transformed the gallery by leaving the space entirely empty and the gallery lights turned off. The walls and ceiling were painted in a dark colour Willie supplied called tanners brown with the only source of natural light from the entrance that links the room to the sculpture hall and glazed ceiling light. Focus was drawn to the centre of the room and the two wooden benches, integral elements of the room’s architecture that invited visitors to take a moment to stop and sit in the space.
The Hugh Lane Gallery acquired a work by William McKeown entitled ‘The Lane’ (2008) for our Collection and can be viewed here.
William McKeown was highly regarded for his paintings, drawings, watercolours and installations that expressed his concern about humanity's ongoing relationship with nature both outside and within. Defined by light, as it falls on his painted surfaces and works in relation to the environments he created – often with a particular sensitivity to natural light and its cyclical characteristics – these spaces have ranged from an exceptionally taut and considered arrangement of works within conventional gallery space.1
McKeown was born in Tyrone, 1962, and was living and working in Edinburgh at the time of his death in 2011. The foundation of McKeown's work and life was his belief in the primacy of feeling. His paintings took on the guise of objective minimalism and the monochrome, but presented us with so much more; nature as something real, tangible, all around us, to be touched and felt. Through subtle gradation of tone, a highly refined use of colour, and his enchanting, 'room' installations, McKeown created moments of exquisite beauty and bliss. He steered our attention not to the distant sky but to the air around us, to the openness of nature, the feeling of our emergence into light and our proximity to the infinite. 2
Recent solo exhibitions include: Dayroom, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, USA (2016); Chance Encounters II, with John Ward at the LOEWE Miami Design District store (2016–17); The Untold Want, Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Ireland, (2015); Lismore Castle Arts, Co. Waterford, (2013); Inverleith House, Edinburgh, (2012); The Waiting Room, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, (2011); A Certain Distance, Endless Light, with Félix González-Torres, Middlesbrough Museum of Modern Art, (2010); Pool with Dorothy Cross, Kerlin Gallery, (2010); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2008); Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2004, 2001) and The Room at the Horizon, Project Arts Centre, Dublin (2003). Recent group exhibitions include: The Extended Mind, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, (2 November – 1 February 2020); Shadowplay, Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, Ireland, (2019); We are the Center for Curatorial Studies, Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, USA, (2016) and Passages in Modern Art: 1946–1996, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX, USA, (2016). In 2005 McKeown represented Northern Ireland in the 51st Venice Biennale.
Image credit line: Exhibition view of 'The Golden Bough: William McKeown', 2011, Hugh Lane Gallery.
1. ‘Reflections in the Dark’ (May 2011) by John Graham
2. Kerlin Gallery website visited 12 May 2020 http://www.kerlingallery.com/artists/william-mckeown