Liam O’Rourke’s studio is a relatively small shed where the garden of his family home in Killurin ends and a field which seems to rise inevitably toward the sky begins. I have seen it in most seasons, and naturally the view is subject to flux. There is a temptation to describe the field as exceptionally idyllic, but it isn’t. In fact, from Liam’s perspective looking out the window, there is nothing atypical about it. It does, however, have character: there is a vigorous verdancy to the swath of grass, whose purpose is to feed cows, and if it is breezy or a sudden shower falls like a shoal of silver fish, you can spot the unlimited variegation of the green striation at play. At sun up or sun down, I can imagine a field of fire.
And the sky. From Liam’s studio, it looks like a Montana sky, or a Suffolk sky. Whole. Big. I haven’t stood in his field at night, though I plan to: I can only imagine, with zero light pollution, the sensation of experiencing the immeasurable portal to another existence, absolutely beyond our ken, no matter how many probes NASA send to far off planets.
Liam’s field and Liam’s sky are fluctuating continuities in his life: they are embedded in both his memory and his imagination, an enmeshment of unseen tremors, an aquifer through which sensations go back and forth. What you see in Liam’s work is a distillation of what he encounters every day.
He is not shy in his deployment of paint, nor always restrained in his choice of canvas, but see the end product as an invitation to share his world, but anew. An engagement with a Liam O’Rourke painting, no matter how many times, is never quite the same, and so your experience is mimetic of Liam’s when the canvas is blank. Try picture Liam immersed in the tactility of his field, the tactility of the onset of autumn, the tactility of the wan light of a soft morning, the tactility of cold fingers on an unforgiving dawn transforming a brush into a wand, and releasing from the stationary custody of a day struggling from its caul, a bold and warm flowering.
The artist’s obsession with a patch of turf is not new: Monet’s garden at Giverney and Cezanne’s Mont St. Victoire were stimuli to a closer study of nature. Peter Lanyon’s landscapes from a glider over the Devon countryside allowed him to construct multiple viewpoints in parallel with layers of meaning. John Hoyland chose the circle as the defining form in nature. Closer to home, Mary Lohan’s studies of Ballyconnigar and Blackwater revisit what Elizabeth Bishop would have described as low light floating and gliding.
Liam is probably closer to the Colour Field school of painting, characterised by the deployment of solid colour, removed from an objective context, and becoming the subject itself. But who knows? He can use geometric patterns to reference nature, but when you characterise an artist, he or she will turn around and do something profoundly different. What is certain is that the studio of Liam O’Rourke is in a field in rural Co. Wexford, and that field tethers the artist. He continues to scrutinize that field with its quivering trees and their jesses of branches and the sky which rises from the field and segues what is grounded and what isn’t. Colour as subject? Why not? Look closely and you will find the complex expression of a simple thought, the impalpable dissolved by Liam’s harmony with bold colours, and rendered diaphanous. But always with vitality. The imagery, if not recognizable to you, is still recognizably there for the artist, for modern art as we know it has ceased to sustain the illusion of an illusionistic function, and the artist is liberated to negotiate on his own terms