Army of darkness
It’s Thursday afternoon. The chill can be felt through the soles of our shoes as we consider a frozen landscape of angst from the vantage point of Main Street’s footpath. Our breaths turn to cloud before us. With conventional exhibition spaces in cold storage, a number of Cavan artists have utilised the Crannóg shopfront for an impromptu gallery to catch the eye of passersby. Participating artists have crammed as many samples of their works as possible into the space. Not so Paul Galligan. He’s issuing a solitary howl from behind the pane. It’s called ‘God Summons His Armies’.
“Of course the world is in a mess at the moment,” begins Paul, matter of factly. “God here represents nature and the crosses represent the armies of God.
“It’s an appropriate time for this kind of an image.”
The aspect of the complete mess Paul focuses on in this composition is environmental degradation.
“The economy is a gauge as to how nature is getting destroyed - if the economy is doing well, nature is not doing well,” he says.
He later adds: “This painting is also a rebellious painting against money making and the rat race - everyone just wants to make money”.
The sullied landscape brings to mind a WWI battlefield, with the crosses littered across the paper, reminiscent of the wooden supports for the lines of barbed wire at ‘the front’. Other times the crosses seem to mutate into swastikas.
“I got to a stage in this where I wasn’t getting enough angst into it, and the crosses just appeared, and they flew out of the left side of the painting and toward the front as if they were the armies tumbling out of the clouds on God’s beckon.”
What clearly emerges from their midst is an open mouthed face, contorted in despair.
So arresting is the stark image, it’s actually a while before the huge black frame becomes apparent. Like a punk’s dogcollar it’s pierced with six inch nails. Aside from the crucifixion itself, for Paul, they bring to mind the crown of thorns symbolising “the Passion, or hurt and anguish”.
His religious references plunge into the Old Testament too.
“It’s a modern day reference to Sodom and Gomorrah where God rained fire and brimstone on that area of the Holy Land - the cities were laid to waste.”
As with most abstract paintings, the viewer brings their own perspectives and biases to the painting and takes what they will from it. It seems Paul enjoys the detective work in deciphering what weight to give different thoughts and influences.
“In retrospect I think of these things, but at the time, I’m doing it for the sake of doing it,” he says, downplaying how planned the references are in the act of creating.
He later elaborates: “You go at a painting and you don’t know what’s going to come out of it. This is what came out of it this time. It could have been anything. It could have ended up a yellow bucket, but it ended up: this.”
Likewise the most famous of all war paintings pops up - Guernica - due to the maws screaming to the heavens, and the pared back palette of blacks, whites and greys. Paul happily admits it was in his mind, and even talks about viewing the masterpiece in person, but then just as quickly he slams the door shut on that line of enquiry: “It’s my colours, and my shapes. It’s nothing to do with Pablo Picasso.”
The Celt suggests that in contrast to everything else in the painting, the clouds don’t appear threatening.
“I wish I had have done them a different way,” he jokes. “They did have to look like clouds or plumes of smoke.”
Paul categorically states the arrival of Lent wasn’t on his mind, likewise he dismisses the observation that the crucifixion was followed by the resurrection.
“No,” he says, unyielding in the matter of redemption.
Then there’s the choice of medium, which he notes have a link to conflict. Conté crayons were developed as a drawing medium for artists in 1795 as graphite was in short supply due to the Napoleonic wars. He also employed oil pastels for the crosses and heavier outlines.
“They allow you a quick mark. The Conté crayon scrapes the paper. It’s not very fluid, but it’s good for getting in and scratching, and expressing yourself through the medium. The oil pastel on top allows you to put on the big strokes.”
A dental assistant by trade he’s had a lot of unexpected free time due to Lockdown.
“I’m loving it,” he says unapologetically. “A lot of people are complaining about it, but I love it, because I feel like I’m living again. [You can have] too much work.”
This is the first artwork that Paul created in his dedicated studio at Corratober.
Now he has a new studio, will he go full time as a professional artist?
“It’s an impossibility. I’m a terrible businessman. I wouldn’t have a hope,” he insists, before a smile breaks through his overcast expression. “But I’m always trying to do that.”