Happiness Engineering, 2023
Molesworth Gallery, Dublin
3 February – 3 March, 2023
A series of humourous aphorisms with the occasional neologism best describe the text paintings Alan Phelan has made for this, his second solo show at the Molesworth Gallery, and first ever exhibition of paintings. These new works are accompanied by several new Joly screen photographs, and the striped method of this colour process carries over into the paintings as painted stripes with words. Red, green and blue continue to dominate Phelan’s visual lexicon, ever expanding into further formats, objects and now paintings or as he prefers to call them “painted photographs”. Imagery shifts from image into words and back again as the illuminated photographs interconnect ideas around art history, internet algorithms, romance, gay sex, and short attention spans.
Phelan subverts gestural minimalism and the once radical interventions of Daniel Buren into the commodity of the painting. Mechanical production collides with the hand of the painter, adding a thin layer of authenticity. The texts also seem to come from somewhere else, familiar bits of soundbites or memes, edited into sharper, shorter, sentences. Appropriated fashion images replace text in two instances, connecting to a Joly photograph, interlocking body parts with flowers and mass advertising.
Joyously fragmented, a broken narrative emerges, reflecting a broken world. Fragments have always been important in Phelan’s practice, pieces that the audience have to assemble for meaning. Embracing the contradictions of history and pushing through timelines in the wrong direction is a recurring theme, resembling meaning en route.
The mechanical reproductive quality of photography has been already called into question with his unique Joly screen photographs which are non-editioned. It is important to have this in mind when navigating this new painting territory for Phelan. The root of this work is the first issue of the Small Night Projects ‘text art’ screen printed publication TONE, also on display. Phelan has taken his artwork and edited his text differently onto single canvases. The first versions of this new work began last summer with experiments in the “Larry Larry” works which took on several formats and locations, one of which can still be seen in Wilton Park, the result his RHA/IPUT residency at Wilton Park Studios 2021-22. This work has also been facilitated by a Visual Arts Bursary from The Arts Council 2021-22, which Phelan would like to acknowledge.
Acrylic and ink on canvas, all 2023, 12×12 inches
Joly screen photographs, all 2023, 10×10 inches