Press: The Visual Artists’ News Sheet July / August 2012

THE press release for Gary Coyle’s ‘Hello Darkness’ employs the word ‘Gothic’ as packaging for the dreary menace that glides sullenly and persistently through his work. Its a teasing, slippery description.In architecture, literature, art, even music. ‘Gothic’ connotes a gut reaction rather than a strict formal categorisation. The term had nice been coined as a slur – grim cathedrals were ‘Gothic’ in that they seemed like something the Teutonic barbarian tribes would have thrown up to house their trophies and treasure. Time and fashion have leavened the word so it now refers to a certain ambience, a pervasive sense of dormant but inescapable violence.

‘Hello Darkness’ is made up of 15 works (plus one in Kevin Kavanagh’s office) of various sizes, all charcoal on a roughened, heavyweight paper that slightly compromises the draughtsman’s control and reinforces a blearily cracked texture to his skies and streams. Virtuosity doesn’t necessarily announce itself in the drawings. Some are rigid and precise while others are more gestural or perfunctorily descriptive, like a snippet from a dream log or a scene sketched according to eyewitness testimony.

Pieces like I’ll be your mirror and registered trademark posit bizarre juxtapositions usually seen in photographic collage, but rare for the ancient low-fi medium of charcoal drawing. They read like Ed Ruscha’s take on Andre Breton: hand-rendered mimicry of embossed or laser-cut lettering- intentionally boring font over scenes of rocky terrain or fluid embellishment. in I’ll be your mirror, an intricately drawn human eye stands in for the R in mirror, which would have been a very different kind f decision if the letter R in any way resembled the eye.

Other Peculiarities park themselves in the picture plane like vestiges of a dreamscape squatting stubbornly in waking thought. Fluctuating striations like those found in aboriginal painting obscure otherwise straightforward pictorial landscapes. In hello Darkness, a wavering sideways arc motif surrounds an ovoid off-center staging of the sinister hooded figure , whose shrouded profile has recurred in Coyle’s work intermittently. Too irregular to constitute a pattern and too abstract to integrate into the frame, these gestural forms in their intrusion into the photographic reality, compound the pastoral parody of the already suggestive mise-en-scene.

Culled from South Dublin, many of the photographic backdrops are places to which Coyle has periodically returned, physically or topically. In their staggered , tasteful presentation they could commemorate tragedy, portend destruction, or have nothing really to do with anything. The more we search for significance in these empty settings, the more they resist our prying. Coyle is playing at obsessions and delusions, spinning nightmares out of postcard photos.

Registered Trademark


The scenery of South Dublin supplies much of the material from which this surreal montage is constructed. on paper, Coyle clearly communicates the natives’ visual colloquialisms and in doing so he enters, as the press release mentions, the “psycho-gepgraphy of places”. Though Joyce is the obvious exemplar of the narrative mapping of Dublin city, the obscured wit and absurdity of ‘Hello darkness’ at once morbid and lyrical, bears a sharper resemblance to another literary figure. Flann o Brien’s fondness for whistling through the graveyard, for an insouciant tincture of nostalgia and disgust, seems a more appropriate model for Coyle’s knowingly quixotic journey around the mouth of the abyss.

To state the point simply , he doesn’t just immerse his work in a pre-processed mood and let it simmer. Even the strictly Dublin based images like that of the Stillorgan dual carriageway in The Bridge are a platform for other loci of gloom to rest upon. Over the image is a type set binary encoding of the words of the “Son of Sam’ Killer David Berkowitz, addressed to New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin in 1977:

“Don’t think since you haven’t heard from me for a while that I went to sleep. No , rather, I am still here. Like a spirt roaming the night. Thirsty, hungry, seldom stopping to rest, anxious to please …..”

Novelist Ann Radcliffe, progenitor of Gothic as a style, privileged ‘terror’ over ‘horror’, espousing the first as a means of heightening the the senses to an elevated state of awareness by depriving them of the full realisation of a threat. By allowing ugliness and pain to hover half- defined, terror strings a psycho-emotional fibre-optic between our very human perceptions and our animal reactions. The higher cognitive functions strive to know more, while the glands and nerve clusters prepare for fight or flight. Coyle is at work in the vein of Hitchcock or the darker tones of Arthur Conan Doyle. At first, his narrative haemorrahages the most vivid frames from the reel. The author then recedes, letting us scramble to connect the dots, chuckling darkly as he goes.

Curt Riegelnegg

The Bridge