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Recent work by artist Hughie O'Donoghue on view at Abbot Hall in Cumbria
Hughie O’Donoghue, The Changing Face of Moo Cow Farm 6, 2012. Oil on linen canvas, 56 x 66 cm© the artist, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

CUMBRIA.- Abbot Hall's fiftieth anniversary programme concludes with the work of Hughie O’Donoghue, one of the most ambitious artists working in the UK today. Drawn from both private and public collections the exhibition brings together selected works from a period of almost thirty years, tracing themes and motifs that have preoccupied the artist consistently over this time. The exhibition also presents one of the first opportunities to see some of his most recent work.

The human figure immersed in the landscape is a constant subject in O’Donoghue’s work, man in his environment, sometimes the two merging into each other, as in the painting Liquid Earth 1984, where a human head emerges from a ground resembling a flow of molten lava. The natural world, memory and myth are recurring motifs that O’Donoghue uses in his quest to unearth meaning in his painting. His figures, always human scale or larger, are not modeled from life but rather excavated as he seeks a poetic equivalent for his subject in paint.

As well as the human figure, at the centre of his practice as a painter, is the recuperative act of remembering. The idea that memory is a creative process that draws upon the imagination and on our ability to be empathetic with the lives and experiences of others. This has been manifest in various bodies or groups of works all of which have their own particular story or subject and all of which are personal. History is personal and rather than the generalized histories which focus on leaders and big world events, O’Donoghue is driven to unearth meaning through focus on the individual.

Formally the paintings are built up in successive layers of oil paint over time and following no clear plan or drawing but rather being freely improvised in relation to their subject, the painted surface often acquiring a weathered or excavated quality reflecting the parallels of his painting process to an archaeological dig.

Born in 1953 in the city of Manchester O'Donoghue gained an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London in 1892. He was the artist in residence at the National Gallery in London from 1984-85. O’Donoghue has showed extensively throughout the UK and Europe including the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and most recently the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague. O’Donoghue’s work can be found in the numerous national and international collections including Arts Council of Great Britain, The National Gallery, London, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide and the British Museum.

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