The Painting of Rod Coyne
The following is a transcript of the opening speech held by Dr. Ralf Seippel of Rod Coyne's solo exhibition at the Roland Gallery, Koeln, Germany, on the 28th of February 2002. After a short introduction to the artist's biography Dr. Seippel explains Rod's work to the audience…
"Rod Coyne is remarkable in many ways as a young contemporary painter. In particular the fact that you can recognize what you see in his paintings. His work is traditional in the regard that he paints the three key themes which have occupied painters and painting over the centuries. These are the figure, still life, and landscape/nature.
The backbone of this exhibition is landscape, because during the last 18 months in particular he has created some stunning Irish landscapes. In these works we don't just meet Ireland but we meet the artist himself.
Landscape, some would say, has gone out of fashion, but I believe it remains an important subject in painting. Today there is a lot of landscape-
Rod's paintings are also exceptional because they are created 'plien aire', that is to say outdoors, on the spot, and confronting nature. This is the exception to the rule, and has always been the absolute exception in landscape painting. Traditionally artists of old created their landscape compositions in the studio from sketches and drawings. Consider the literary or historically based landscape pictures, maybe with a building or figures added to increase the sensation of depth.
The Impressionists were the first to say we've got to get out there, and experience and breath nature on site. Rod Coyne doesn't necessarily follow the complete ethos of the impressionists, but he follows the concept of experiencing things first hand and in the flesh. And so it is fitting that 90% of his work is completed in this way.
The importance of this 'plien aire' approach is apparent in his works on paper. These are sketches of nature where the energy of the cloud situation or the temperature is quite tangible. This energy is communicated by the sheer speed with which they have to be executed to keep up with the constant changing of the clouds, the sun moving across the sky, and the shadows drawing long. These elements which so often get lost in the studio are alive and well in Rod Coyne's work.
Here is an artist who feels so strongly about how his work comes to be that he usually writes notes on the reverse side of his pictures explaining what the day's weather was like, whom he met while working and even what was going on in his own life on that day. He has the capacity to communicate in a literary style his reaction to his meeting with nature.
Everyone going through this exhibition will quickly identify a central theme, namely Ireland. But Rod is not pandering to the obvious clichés; Ireland is green hills, water, sea, gray and blue skies. It's this pallet of colures that he manages to capture so masterfully. These are the nuts and bolts of his craft.
Rod Coyne's work is remarkable also for his regard of the formal aspects of painting, with that I refer to his use of format. He has had a long, in depth, and playful relationship with the square composition. It starts with his square catalog of square paintings, in which he tests many combinations of square composition finishing with squares made of smaller squares. This is interesting because painting traditionally avoids this format, because of the awkward nature of it's symmetric and mathematical properties. Usually landscape is depicted in rectangular compositions either horizontal or vertical. When you look at Rod's pictures you realize that he is deliberately breaking these mathematical rules to a point where the square format becomes as important as the subject itself. He imposes this square format on the landscape and manages to make it fit.
There are many variations to how Rod uses the square to his own advantage. The 'Pink Plymouth' 2001, three squares hung together to make one rectangle, the lines of the car are unbroken and paneled effect is subtle. While in his painting 'Glendalough Lake' 2001, a triptych of squares you see an interesting panorama, a wider view than the eye can normally encompass. Here the three panels are hung with a small gap between each, maintaining the panorama but forcing the viewer to accept each panel as an individual picture, and yet simultaneously we see one composition. With this technique the artist creates tension and excitement using the viewers sensation of having solved a puzzle or answered a riddle.
Rod pushes the play on the square to an extreme in 'Wicklow Valley' 2001; this is a composition of five squares hung with small gap between each to form the shape of a cross. As a result the top panel is pure sky and the bottom panel is pure foreground, and both are completely devoid of the orientation of the horizon line passing through the whole painting. So you can see the broad spectrum of compositional questions Rod Coyne asks of the viewer using a simple a building block, the square.
As mentioned before this artist's inspiration comes from the traditional themes of painting; landscape, the figure and still life. In this exhibition still life is represented amongst others by the 'Pink Plymouth'. The figurative, or even historical painting, point of view clearly depicted in 'Belfast' 1997, showing a civilian confronting soldiers in front of an armored car. In several of Rod's pictures he draws on the present political situation. In this way he uses real life and the reality of our daily lives as a legitimate subject matter. He takes these themes and through his pictorial depiction moves the subject onto another level and allows the viewer to see the world from a new perspective.
While going through this exhibition you will gain an interesting experience of Ireland. And you will be treated to an exciting incite of young painting today."
Dr. Ralf Seippel.