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Janet Mullarney, Catherine Marshall, Mary Ryder (eds.)

Valérie Morisson
p. 156-158
Référence(s) :

Janet Mullarney, Catherine Marshall, Mary Ryder (eds.), Newbridge, Irish Academic Press, 2019, 222 p.

Texte intégral

1Catherine Marshall and Mary Ryder’s book on Janet Mullarney (b. 1952, Dublin) aims at archiving the artist’s work over more than fifty years, from 1962 to 2018. It features essays by famous art historians, brief texts from friends of the artist as well as architects she has worked with, a complete catalogue of her works (p. 162-213) and a biography / select bibliography (p. 214-220). The numerous colour plates allow the readers to get a precise idea of the evolution of the artist’s work and bear witness to her preoccupation with materiality, light and space. Janet Mullarney was born in Ireland, travelled across Europe before settling in Tuscany, where her house and studio are peopled with her hybrid creatures. Rather than giving the readers a linear presentation of Janet Mullarney’s life, works (sculptures, installations, drawings), or sources of inspiration, the authors share their impressions of her art, drawing a multi-faceted portrait of the artist.

2In her essay, “All the Stances of Shyness” (p. 10-12), Catherine Marshall focuses on Mullarney’s double geographical anchorage (in Ireland and Italy) before stressing the originality of her art: opting for figuration, wood carving and object-based sculpture meant going against the grain back in the 1980-1990s. Her art is neither modern nor traditional but reconciles the two. It embraces the common ground between man, animal and the landscape while hinting at themes such as oppression, imprisonment, shame or shyness, themes which Catherine Marshall connects to Irish history of famine and colonialism.

3Declan McGonagle’s text, “Entre chien et loup [between dog and wolf]: Situating the Art of Janet Mullarney” (p. 14-36) foregrounds the tensions between the tamed and the untamed, the domestic and the wild, the pious and the profane which suffuse Mullarney’s output. McGonagle highlights the artist’s ability to see self in relation to other and to discard modern dogmas. The artist’s work embodies connectedness, he argues, exploring empathy as much as relationality in an age which favours separatedness. McGonagle views Mullarney’s works as an attempt at making empathy visible. “Janet Mullarney’s pieces act like reminders that we all swim in a sea of continuities, of memories and of dreams”, he writes (p. 15). The artist has always been interested in other cultures and times, in mainstream as well as marginal cultures, in European or non-European traditions. McGonagle stresses the cultural significance of wood-carving, hinting at art from the Renaissance but also at the forest, the myths and beliefs it has long sprouted. In a brief text, “Second Self / Affinity” (p. 38-39), Mary Ryder, a close friend of the artist, draws a personal portrait of her as a Renaissance woman having developed “a love of the beauty of the natural world, the emotional world and the primordial objects and imaginative feelings that inhabit those spheres” (p. 38). She equally evokes the artist’s sense of outrage and sadness at intellectual, social and human misery, and her concern for human well-being.

4The catalogue includes shorter contributions: in a letter to the sculptor, Nataly Maier, a painter and a friend, celebrates Mullarney’s use of light; Alice Maher evokes their lasting friendship; John Tuomey alludes to their conversations and confesses his attachment to her sculpted figures “parading their difference” (p. 95). Italian architect Adolfo Natalini, who commissioned Janet Mullarney a piece entitled Farsi Largo – Making Space, 1995, pinpoints her ability to initiate a dialogue between figurative wood sculpture and modern architecture. Equally emphasising site-specificity, Sheila O’Donnell relates her visit to the artist’s house in Tuscany and remembers her collaboration with Mullarney, who created a group of figures for a primary school in Dublin. She marvels at the way the figures in the installation enrich the vaults of the building: “They are beautiful, they are strange, there are irreverent, and they belong in this building. They live there” (p. 70).

5Dino Carini (“Janet’s Garden”, p. 96-98) writes about his visit to Janet Mullarney’s garden, where one of her installations was set up, and replaces the artist’s acephalic figures, moving “with grace and balance in situations of dangerous instability”, in the course of European art and culture by alluding to George Bataille and Edgar Degas among others as well as medieval Tuscan and Sienese artists. Arabella Natalini and Stefano Velotti evoke Mullarney’s figures, whispering consolations and threats, seemingly emerging from classical or Celtic myths, dancing in space, looking both strange and familiar. They celebrate the artist’s ability to move between different times and places. The last text making up this singular portrait, “Paysages de Phantasie”, by Pier Luigi Tazzi (p. 124-126) also evokes the threads that connect the artist to “the Tuscany of myth” and Ireland while underlining the artist’s independent solitude and feminine sensibility.

6This collection of texts does not document the artist’s works and processes, nor does it dissolve the fascinating mystery surrounding her pieces but it gives multiple insights into the singularity of her imaginary world. It is therefore an invitation to discover, or rediscover, Mullarney’s sculptures and installations, to delve into the geographical hybridity and the profound emotional beauty emanating from her uncanny figures, to embrace the cultural and human continuity her works celebrate.

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Référence papier

Valérie Morisson, « Janet Mullarney, Catherine Marshall, Mary Ryder (eds.) »Études irlandaises, 44-2 | 2019, 156-158.

Référence électronique

Valérie Morisson, « Janet Mullarney, Catherine Marshall, Mary Ryder (eds.) »Études irlandaises [En ligne], 44-2 | 2019, mis en ligne le 06 mai 2020, consulté le 02 juin 2020. URL :

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