The art of war reflects feelings of those shaped by long conflict

Critic's Corner//Art

Northern Ireland works are on view in Washington

Art Column

May 02, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

In the aftermath of "the Troubles" that ripped through Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods and spawned legions of paramilitary death squads between 1969 and 1994, Northern Ireland's artists began trying to make sense of the tragedy that had overtaken their homeland.

Those efforts are on display in an intriguing exhibition at American University in Washington. Resolutions: New Art From Northern Ireland presents about 50 works by 21 artists who have attempted to express their experience of conflict and war in visual terms.

Most of them succeed without resorting to the simplistic rhetoric of political propaganda.

Sharon Kelly's menacing charcoal drawing of a mysterious hooded male figure, for example, gives no indication whether he is Protestant or Catholic.

Yet as a marker for the "disappeared" on both sides - victims of sectarian violence whose bodies were never found - the hooded figure is a chilling metaphor for the impersonality of the killings and the randomness of the war's victims.

Similarly, photographer Willie Doherty's dark, nocturnal views of anonymous city streets have a nightmarish quality that evokes the paranoia and dread of living in a community perpetually at war with itself.

It's an aesthetic akin to cinematic film noir but ratcheted up so many notches that the traditional interplay of light and dark recalls the morbid intensity of Dante's infernal fires and the tormented souls they punish for eternity.

Not all the artists on view are consumed by such gloom and doom, however.

Susan MacWilliam's clairvoyant outdoor scenes, for instance, are magical evocations of the paranormal and the supernatural, which she evokes through an ingenious array of 3-D viewing devices that incorporate photography, video and installation.

Likewise, Mary McIntyre's large color prints of the Emerald Isle's proverbially green forests and fields combine the melancholy beauty of landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael and Camille Corot with a wholly contemporary sense of place and the theatrical.

Also on view outside the Katzen Center are three large painted steel sculptures by Jules Olitski in festive hues of pink, lime green and purple.

The pieces were commissioned last year by the center's patrons, Cyrus and Myrtle Katzen, and they perfectly complement colorfield.remix, the citywide celebration of the Washington Color School and its legacy.

Resolutions: New Art from Northern Ireland and Jules Olitski: Late Sculpture run through July 29 in the Katzen Arts Center at American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington. Call 202-885-2787 or go to

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