t: +353 1 222 5550
t: +353 1 222 5550
Last week we heard the sad news that Janet Mullarney had passed away. She is one of Ireland’s most significant and original artists. The gallery is honoured to have worked with the artist on her 1998 exhibition, The Perfect Family, and to have two sculptures by her in the collection, Dietro le Quinte (1997) and Untitled (1998), which both featured in that exhibition.
The ironically-titled exhibition The Perfect Family was populated with a series of domestic gods, some playful and supportive, others with a sadistic, negative twist where all is not as it seems. For the artist the exhibition explored a theme: “which underlies all my work. It has to do with trying to find a sense of self in life, to find salvation, but salvation very much in this life. It is a continual questioning of background, religion, society and family… We have to look quite hard to see what’s really there.”
Janet Mullarney was born in Dublin in 1952 but spent much of her life living and working in Italy. Her love of making and materials is reflected in her use of a variety of materials including wood, plaster, mixed media and found objects. In her talent for carving she drew on her earlier experience as a furniture restorer.
Dietro le Quinte is a painted wood carving of a dog-headed Madonna-like figure. Its title translates as "behind the scenes". The main figure stands with her hands folded in prayer, reminiscent of a statue of a saint. On closer inspection, a darker side is revealed. In the mouth of the figure’s dog-like head is a tiny girl. The initially pious appearance is undercut by an act of cannibalism.
At the time of The Perfect Family she spoke of how she used animals in her work: "…that has to do with how we think of animals in human terms, of their characters and qualities - you know, as stubborn as a mule, as clever as a fox, as free as a bird. When I think of a horse I see it as a blinkered animal. People see all this animal imagery and they say you must be very fond of animals, but actually I'm not particularly fond of animals at all. It's being able to use them to comment on us that interests me."
The fusion of animal and human forms is also present in Untitled, a work of great psychological insight. Comprising a papier-mâché figure, a metal bed frame, a mattress, sheets and dyed sawdust, it is a fine example of both Mullarney’s craft as a sculptor and her conceptual interests. A lone figure with a donkey head sits uncomfortably in a too-small bed, unable to recline. The artist said of the work: "It's about guilt and inhibition. Our self-identity and our sexuality are a unity, not separate things. But it's so difficult to shrug off these handicaps, to discard these deep inhibitions and prohibitions."
The bed is surrounded by a carpet of blue sawdust, which refers to the Italian tradition of decorating streets with dyed sawdust for the Feast of Corpus Christi. For the artist, the interest was less in the religious imagery, but more in that it represents a great deal of labour invested in a transitory event. This struck her at an event she witnessed in a village in Italy: "Preparations for this festival take six months, then it's all over in about two hours. All that work is only visible for two hours, then it's gone. But what I took from that is the way we can be more generous to ourselves when we're in that state of mind."
Dietro le Quinte was purchased by the gallery in 2000 while Untitled was generously donated by the artist in 2019. While her presence will be greatly missed, we are grateful to be able to continue to enjoy her extraordinary contribution through these two works.