Fontwell Helix Feely - Exhibition text
Alessandro Rabottini

The most frequent comment about the work of Pádraig Timoney is that his solo exhibitions seem to be collective shows. This is true to some extent, or at least it may appear that way at first glance. The fact is that, in effect, Timoney’s work is distinguished by a form of eclecticism we could define as radical. He seems to practise distancing himself from a recognisable style with extreme and paradoxical coherence, whereas the variety of motifs, the alternation or coexistence of abstraction and figuration, and the occasional nature of the inspiration that generates each work as a distinct unit are coordinates he clearly intends to maintain.

But what is it that Timoney is trying so hard to keep at bay, warding off instead a principle device in the narratives of art history? A recognisable style is not merely a goal for an artist or a field of action for the historian and critic, nor is it simply a guarantee for the market. An identifiable style implies far more: first of all, a world view. Style somehow ensures that individual experience can become a language and will remain firmly anchored to that language. Style is structure, because it allows a glance that has fallen on things to become an architecture that can be entered and even inhabited by the spectator. This way of considering style to be a form of visual and linguistic coherence capable of encapsulating the imponderability of human existence and reality can lead to extreme consequences that have ethical repercussions: namely, the temptation to translate the unity of style into a sort of credibility of the artist as a person, as if loyalty to a form means fully embracing a world view, almost literally shouldering it as a gift and responsibility. What can happen at that point is that a shadow looms over those artists who do not fully embrace this form of coherence, almost as if their vision of reality were inadequate, changeable and moody, unstable and spurious.

The artist and writer David Robbins defined Pádraig Timoney as ‘a political artist in the sense that he is building a life by posing questions in concrete form’ [1], and I think it would be appropriate here to dwell on this aspect of the concreteness of form. It has also been said of Timoney’s practice that ‘[o]ften the impetus for a new work may come from something striking if anecdotal’ [2]. In other words, most of his works do not stem from a general assumption, from theoretical or programmatic premises, but, rather, from autobiographical episodes, occasional observations, personal interests and events that remain impenetrable. In this sense, his works retain the unique and unrepeatable elements of each form of experience, and thus we have the dramatic dimension alongside ordinariness, beauty as well as a sense of the ridiculous, mystery but also absolute transparency. Consequently, the visual incoherence that ostensibly runs through his work – the resistance towards a unity of style – can be interpreted as a way to abandon the idea that the experience of the world must somehow be directed, and that style itself is the place and instrument for this way of understanding and directing reality.

In Timoney’s art, language seems to have this ability to be re-founded time and again, and, once more, this act of perpetual reinvention and unstoppable metamorphosis has ethical repercussions: it makes it essential for the spectator to take responsibility. If language is a covenant, an agreement based on sharing, something whose continuity is ensured by the necessary and ongoing negotiation of codes and meanings, then what happens when – as in the case of Timoney’s work – that language seems to be established and re-established each time as a unique and one-off gesture? The stylistic heterogeneity distinguishing his oeuvre and the variety of themes and figures found in it make the spectator aware of this dilemma and opportunity: What should we do with language (and the experience deposited within it) when it abandons totality and the construction of a systemic architecture to offer itself instead as a refractory unit, as a moment and a fragment, a memory or premonition, a faint sign, a clue?


It is no accident that many of Timoney’s works have to do with the idea of something being recorded, something that leaves a trace or imprint. Over the years, Timoney has executed paintings resembling the reproduction of a photograph (though without becoming pure Photorealism, as in the case of The Great Supper, 2012), but also paintings in which abstraction and the figurative point of reference engage in a complex relationship. If we look at Jett Rink (2007), exhibited here, we can see that it was made with a technique often used by the artist, transferring one painted surface to another, akin to Rorschach inkblots. In this work the name Jett Rink – the character played by James Dean in the film Giant (1956) – is arranged on the canvas, making it possible to read it also as ‘INK JET’, thus creating ties between the ink-jet image and the film sequence in which Dean is completely covered in oil. Photograph, copy, cast, impression, fossil… Timoney seems interested in the idea of something mounted on a structure, be it physical, material or psychological. Above all, however, he seems to want to turn our attention to the lack of fidelity, to what is lost in recording, to divergences, blurred edges and shadows, regardless of whether they have to do with the contours of an image or the attempt to stir a memory.

A work such as Warning (1994) is emblematic of this way of viewing images as things existing in, and transformed over time. Two photographs taken of the same advertising poster installed in separate places, manifest the differences in identical objects through varying light conditions and wrinkles created by glue. But the mechanisms of transmission, projection and printing are not the only things at play here: above all, it is the temporality and materiality that condition the structures and which we find inscribed in the inks, materials and technologies.

Timoney seems to be telling us that images are accumulations; they emerge not only during the course of history but also through our individual existence, and they are able to hold an array of meanings. Images settle in the depths of memory – both personal and collective – but their permanence is mobile and unstable, subject to slow, almost geological slips or sudden movements, as if they exist in a condition of permanent uncertainty. What we find in this notion of the image as sediment – or calcification – is Sigmar Polke’s idea of painting and art history, that ‘painting is not only surface, but memory, accumulation and depth, and the surface represents merely a part of that depth’. [3]

The house in The Hitler Haus (1990) seems to emerge from a rusted surface, as if the material nature of the structure has started to threaten the integrity of the image over time, while in works such as FAQ’s Aches (2008), Turns on Top (2007) and 3WME (2005/6) the idea of the image as the outcome of a process of stratification is taken to extremes. Here the alternation of forms and layers create such dense dynamics that it looks like the struggle for survival between species condemned to cannibalize each other.

Although the anecdotal inspiration found in Timoney’s work seems to suggest that what is deposited on the pictorial framework is not only colour but also the remains of daily life, it is essential to underline that his eclecticism does not reflect an ironic disassociation from the practice of painting, as first might appear. Timoney’s stylistic and thematic eclecticism seems instead to be an exploration of the concept of experience through the practice of painting and its codes, structures, materials, conventions and possibilities.

While there is a certain dose of irony in Timoney’s artistic practice, it is not expressed as conceptual posturing or the affectation of those who engage in painting while claiming to have nothing to do with it. Indeed, his irony seems to have the same weight as nostalgia, wonder and pain. It is a way to embrace existence in its various manifestations, turning to the linguistic, conceptual and formal resources of painting.


His reticence towards the unity and coherence of style could not be further removed from scepticism towards art as a language. Here, instead, we are facing a form of extreme faith, professed daily towards painting as a resource of sense, even when it seems to want to negate the images and meanings; bury them, darken them.

Paintings such as American Mirror (2007), Corona Compass (2008), Mirror for Paris (2008), Red Dot Painting (1990) and The Influence of Giordano Bruno (1993) place us before a dialectic of gestures and processes that alternate with each other and are by no means easy to distinguish: a dialectic of deletion and dilution, accumulation and coagulation. Timoney stages the enigma and continuity that exists between creative and discreative gestures, addition and subtraction, the emergence of an image and its disappearance, thereby making painting the place in which we can recognise that not only do all these moments complement each other, but they also necessarily exist next to and within each other.

It is in this osmosis between presence and absence that Timoney’s eclecticism – which, at this point, I am no longer sure should be defined as such – becomes a method of discovery, proceeding hand in hand with life, language and the practice of painting.



Alessandro Rabottini, Independent curator and writer based in London

Translated from the Italian by Catherine Bolton




[1] David Robbins, ‘A Long Campaign’ in Millions of Dead Tamagotchi, exh. cat. (Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, 2002). n.p. 

[2] Dominic Eichler, ‘Free Style’, frieze, no. 110, (October 2007). p.262–67.

[3] A quote from Gloria Moure Cao, at the conference ‘Oltre il canone. Come cambia il concetto di avanguardia tra storia, progresso e idea del nuovo’, GAMeC, Bergamo, 10 February 2010.