Hughie O’Donoghue: Deep Water and the Architecture of Memory | Marlborough Fine Art

Hughie O’Donoghue is a Manchester-born painter who now lives in Ireland. I say painter, but the works on show in this exhibition are complex, layered collages that include painting, but are also built up through photographs and resin. Especially unusual are the bases: O’Donoghue paints and prints on shiny tarpaulins, sackcloths, sandbags, which must make his craft very technically difficult to pull off.

Taken as a whole, the images are haunting. The big tarpaulins all depict a shipwreck: the MV Plassy, a cargo ship that ended its days carrying cargo in a storm in 1960. (More recently, it’s had an artistic afterlife in the opening credits of legendary sitcom Father Ted.)

hughie o’donoghue - wake i

Wake I (above) is representative of these tarpaulin works. Painted bands of deep blue, white and rust trap and capture the ship. The plasticky sheen of the base material throws the eye off the image, as does the fact the tarpaulin isn’t quite nailed straight to the gallery wall, but instead undulates slightly.

An atmosphere of quiet, saltwater melancholy pervades. It’s from that rust colour, which is everywhere, made up of reds and yellows, connoting crumbling and age, but also a kind of beauty.

I also loved the smaller works on prepared sackcloth, such as Cargo II, pictured below.

hughie o’donoghue - cargo ii

The more absorbent material means that there’s a surface patina on the transposed photograph of rolling waves. A patina that’s unmistakably… rusty.

Again, the work doesn’t quite adhere neatly to the wall, meaning the viewer gets a good view of the white splotches on the underside of the sackcloth. They look like age spots. But, checking the list again, I saw that this work is from 2021, just like all the others in the show.

The only thing I didn’t like about this atmospheric and intriguing exhibition is its title. The MV Plassy ran aground on shallow waters in a storm. And, somehow, these fine works make me feel like the ship is rusting and evolving in the here and now, becoming something new, not just fading into memory.

Hughie O’Donoghue: Deep Water and the Architecture of Memory is at Marlborough (London). 10 November 2021 - 15 January 2022