COLIN GLEADELL, Belfast Telegraph 1988
Features Editor, Galleries Magazine
My first encounter with Martin Mooney’s paintings was brief. They stood on the floor, fresh and unframed, leaning against a wall on which hung a host of work by other hands, jostling for attention. I knelt, not out of reverence and noted: Architecture and still life…..traditional drawing, balanced compositions. Absence of figures and movement……absolute stillness. Spanish heat and dust…..light and shade in bold, simplified contrast. Muted tones and restrained harmonies of mellow browns and yellows. Thinly textured, controlled brushwork…..unfussy. Classical and lean…….a solidly arranged twilight world…….’
Falling helplessly into the pool of references that generate comparison and classification, I toyed with a dozen Dutch masters, with a hint of Cezanne or Andre Lhote in the still lives, and then a sort of Mediterranean James Pryde or Venetian Sickert for the Baroque churches of northern Spain. Dissatisfied at that, I consulted Euan Uglow who had been Mooney’s tutor at the Slade. Of course! It was Chardin, Piranesi and de Chirico – masters of the atmospheric, the magisterial and the half dreamt – not plagiarized, but mulled together within and original and consistent personal vision. The voguish untamed expressionism that was swamping the art schools had found no foothold in Mooney’s imagination. Highly recommended by Sir Lawrence Gowing, then the Slade’s professor, he won the Brinsley Ford Award and took off for Spain where he still works.
It is no less than coincidence that this, his first one man exhibition, coincides with the rumblings of a neo-classical revival among contemporary artists (currently on show at the Royal Scottish Academy). However, Mooney’s classicism, subtly transfused from the sources of his inspiration is, in comparison, the more honest, uncomplicated by the gimmicky and crudely collaged references to history that clutter a certain type of post modernism.
Our second encounter, with canvas framed and hung at eye level, will be more equal.