‘NUMB’ – Stephen Doyle – Triskel Arts Centre

This is an exhibition of new work by the artist Stephen Doyle that examines the experience of Chinese LGBTQIA+ community. The work is informed by a residency in Shanghai and is on display in the Triskel Arts Centre until the November 2020. Free tickets to book a viewing of the show are available on the Triskel website: triskelartscentre.ie

You can follow the artist on instagram: @stephendoyleart

Worn by 12 am, Oil and Mix Media on Canvas, 35x25cm. Image courtesy of artist

– ‘Do you have a ticket?’

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– ‘Follow the arrows going up the stairs and keep to the left’ . . . . . . .

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  • Shanghai Citizen

Strolling up the ramp of the Triskel Gallery Space with its metal railing and low ceiling, I begin to feel like a passenger on little subway carriage. Stephen Doyle’s paintings are spaced out as if they are windows out onto the platforms of everyday life and I’m in that lovely transitory feeling of observing; being in and out, distanced and removed, like The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway, the action happens around me. The work depicts scenes from public transport and city life. The paintings are filled with people, there is a couple in the gallery space with me and yet, I am alone. Numb is the bold title of this series depicting the LGBTQIA+ community, inspired by Stephen’s residence n Shanghai. The work comments on the exclusion of these individuals from society and the numbness and sense of isolation they feel as a result. Numb: unable to think or react in a normal way. I’m thinking this room should be packed full of bodies, sardines in a busy train carriage, full of Stephen’s friends and peers congratulating our friend. We should be hugging, shaking hands and having conversations about the work. Commenting on Stephen’s skill but also using the space to talk and learn about LGBTQIA+ issues. I’m thinking how important and powerful it is to have a physical space to raise these issues. I’m thinking how lonely these past few months have been. Of course there is always the awkward eye contact that jolts you back to the real world, contact with the here and now and the girl at Caihong at an Intersection in the Changning District is catching my eye. I feel her eyes on me on the other side of the room. Back in the here and now, I begin my journey through the exhibition.

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  • Between Grindr and Yili Road

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  • Lost in Commute

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This work is typical of Stephen’s painterly style. Perfectly imagined, designed and executed. There is always a strong structure and composition in Stephen’s paintings. Solid shapes, angles and lines create the artists world. His formulated depiction of commuters on a subway perfectly demonstrates this . However amidst this precision there is always a sense of play. The bold, baby-pink, train-track stripes that run along a man’s sleeve or the subtle use of a light-green, oil pastel line to create an insignia are mark-making skills that breathe life into these works. There is an extraordinary amount of control in this process. Meticulous planning is involved in Stephen’s approach. Stephen has always been organised. We started out in Crawford together. I went through endless existential crises – considering dropping out to go do law or teaching or anything other than giving into this base desire to make art. Stephen is forever rock resolute in his intention, in his vision, in his boundless ambition. We bonded over our commitment to hard work and utter fascination with the art world. I helped Stephen set up for his degree show and the next year, when I graduated, I was allotted the same space. We joked that it was a lucky spot but we knew it was hard work that got us to where we were. Stephen worked in the paint store throughout my final year and was always on hand to offer wise counsel on what materials to use, or what to take away from a challenging tutorial, or to advise on fund-raising for the show. When I graduated out into the big, bad world I was lost. Stephen was also a member of the Backwater studios and ambitiously planning his latest attack in the art world – it was college all over again. He introduced me to a gallery in Dublin… He helped me install my first solo show… I reread his artist statements…He teaches me about queer culture.. I went to his first solo show in Dublin.. saw his painting in the National gallery and bought the catalogue feeling proud.. I try and let him into my mess of a brain.. jumped for joy when his work was acquired by the Crawford Art Gallery.. we bitch and moan about our struggles for funding.. send each other in opportunities and plan our careers together.. We journey together.

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  • Worn by 12am

When I saw this painting in Stephen’s studio many months ago I started to get really excited about where this new series would bring the work. Watching the series evolve and emerge was a thrilling experience. Ideas and impulses becoming concepts and creations. Seeing all the paintings together in the one space, I am drawn once more towards this melancholic, intimate work. At first I thought the power of this piece lay in the mere novelty of seeing Stephen’s work on a small scale, but seeing it again in this new space makes me realise I was wrong. The man seems to be haunted by the steps he sits on. Infact, he seems more solid than his surroundings. Maybe I’m still there. The words floated into my head in a loopy blue handwriting. I remind myself to root out that notebook once I get home.

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[I will transcribe it for you now: Robert Morris in Convo with W.T Mitchell 1994 – Joseph Brodsky once said something to the effect that one of his strongest visual memories was of sitting on a wooden porch in Russia at the age of five looking out at a mud road, and wearing green rubber boots. ‘Maybe I’m still there he said’. The note comes from a Whitechapel reader I perused while attempting to do research for my undergraduate thesis. I was sitting in studio, both legs under my desk, I had a little maquette of a landscape scene perched at my elbow and I believe there was a window facing my back. I remember urgently copying it into my notebook, even though it had nothing t o do with my chosen topic. Maybe I’m still there.]

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  • Not my sister, not my friend… not here

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‘Where did he get the camera?’ The other masked people in the gallery space are wondering. Again, I am transported back to the present. In this work, two women are conversing and a security camera extends out from the painting actualizing into an object in the gallery space. I want to tell them but I’m unsure if I should talk to them. I make sure I keep my distance as I shuffle along from painting to painting. Following their pace is the only physical interaction we share. A couple of times I think about interrupting explaining I know the artist; that I had witnessed a lot of the work being created but I can’t bring myself to do it. I am a solo passenger on this journey through the exhibition.

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  • Searching…

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Immediately I look for my favourite mark of the whole series. A singular, brush-stroke movement. The totally unapologetic process of a wonderful wrist action that sits in a row of pristine trees – big, fat and lush I think back to my squeal of delight when I first saw it and Stephen grinning in appreciation. Mark-making is a shared love of ours and now I am remembering our recent chat about my work. We both stood swilling our cups of tea in contemplation of my work; ‘That’s gross’ -‘Ok yes but just ignore that bit and imagine the texture and I’ll be doing a wash over that later and obviously I’ll be changing the whole of the right side because that’s a fucking mess.. well I’ll be knocking it right back anyway but the composition is there’.. ‘it’s a great composition’.. ‘ya I’m happy with it’. We started laughing once we realised how silly we sounded and I realise that I’m smiling now as I move along to the next work.

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  • Caihong at an Intersection

in the Changning District

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The couple before me have left now and a new bunch of passengers are permitted to enter the space. The woman in Caihong at an Intersection in the Changning District observes us all.

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  • Voguers in the Afternoon

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I reach the final painting of the exhibition. Two friends having a cup of tea stare back at me. Stephen originally contemplated calling this piece by another title. Spilling The Tea he explained made reference to the ceremonial aspect of tea in Chinese culture while invoking a queer phrase. ‘Spilling the tea’, I’m embarrassed he had to explain to me, is having a good gossip. I leave the exhibition and immediately ring my friend.

Sarah Long

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