Nicholas Byrne, A Catholic Episode, 17 October – 7 March 2010, Vilma Gold, London, UK.

Nicholas Byrne’s thirteen new works presented at Vilma Gold possess an incongruous union of haste and hesitance. The figurative looping curves and scraped layers of mark-making in his paintings attempt to display a chancing visceral energy, but instead are a transparent insecure editing process. Byrne has a heightened awareness that works against him. He coats large areas of his laborious marks in bright coloured paint blocks as though to conceal the shamed work of his own hand, leaving only his tentatively selected leftovers. These chosen visual remains are not enough to compensate for the unrewarding curiosity produced by the suffocating marks behind his pastel shades.

Many of his new works introduce abstract characters created through swooping scores in the paint, though somewhat playful, they lack the intent and enthusiasm of some of his more geometric works shown previously at Studio Voltaire in 2008. Byrne is more at home when forms are methodical, even his selection of pleasing vivid colours and use of linen and copper does not mask the distinct smell of doubt wafting throughout the gallery.

A Catholic Episode
as the title of the exhibition however, is well suited to Byrne’s dubious reveal-conceal approach. It conjures up images of church goers running to confession bursting to tell all, but hesitating at the threshold of sanctuary. Byrne’s cautious decision making within his new paintings reiterates his comfort with rigid forms and materials, as when compared to his metal sculptures, both past and present, drive and confidence is more evident in his three dimensional work. It is as though these paintings are transitional, and if Byrne would unveil the richness of his sins behind all that paint, they could be well on their way to redemption

Danielle Sachar

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