You can’t quite tell what’s going on Mary Modeen’s prints – here there’s the hint of an ethereal lake, there a vague suggestion of sunlight passing through leafy trees in spring. The prints are glimpses, or barely suggested forms that apparently ‘prompt our ability to imagine’. However, Modeen’s layered works prompt me only to remember my days as a teenage art student, blithely layering images on Photoshop, adjusting the opacity, and slapping on a Gaussian blur.
In a revelation for printmakers everywhere, the theme of memory ties Modeen’s collection of prints together; the layered images are (surprise surprise) supposed to reflect the layered nature of our memories. This oh-so-tired metaphor, exploited by uninspired art students everywhere, fails to provoke anything other than frustration. Reading the verbose text that accompanies the works doesn’t help to ease the viewers’ pent up irritation. The text reads into the works in such a way that the whole thing sounds like something from pseuds corner.
The choice of imagery doesn’t do the artist any favours either. The layering of graveyard tombstones alongside foliage, overlaid with silhouettes of shadowed figures tries to engage with the ‘prodigious’ themes of death and nature. Yet the shadows of figures that appear in one of Modeen’s prints reminds me more of friends’ ‘arty’ facebook cover photos than the ‘experience of love from another past, how it was lost, how it was found, how it was stolen, broken, betrayed, abandoned’.
Two toned cyanotype pieces in a smaller back room of the Printmakers Gallery offered welcome respite from the disappointing digital offerings. The use of relief print and small overlays of silver leaf in ‘All Light Comes to Me’ and ‘Past and Present’ created works that were delicate and aesthetically pleasing, something that should be celebrated. You are left wondering why the gallery chose not to feature these works more prominently.
Modeen’s work clearly comes off best when it isn’t trying to be grandiose. The wordy catalogue to The Absolutely Other doesn’t succeed in creating ‘meaning’ from otherwise self-explanatory work. Embracing art for it’s aesthetic quality rather than attempting to impose complex concepts on work is something that seems to have been overlooked here. After all, Modeen’s is clearly adept at producing work with a certain visual charm.