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29.06.18Silent Skies


In Lucy O’Doherty’s new body of work, the painting, ‘The Ruins at the End of Your Street’, in shades of blue, is of a row of huts. A road bisects the scene, separating the huts from a smaller shack, and appears to end at the edge of a cliff. It looks like a European late summer evening, but the huts cast deep and strong shadows. Lights are on in all the buildings, but an open door reveals an empty room. There’s a sense of recent abandonment – a theme she has been interested in for a number of years – as if the residents have had to leave in a hurry. It’s not a surprise to discover that O’Doherty is a science fiction fan; there are echoes of John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic worlds. Equally, though, there could be a perfectly benign reason for the emptiness – O’Doherty likes to present a moment, and allow viewers to form their own narrative.
As with the other works in the exhibition, ‘The Ruins at the End of Your Street’, a scene in County Kerry, came about through the artist’s recent travels, including a residency at Cill Rialaig in Ireland. This followed a residency, through the Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, at the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris. All the works are in O’Doherty’s customary hazy style, but here the mist is as much an indication of the weather conditions as a technique to evoke a sense of dreaminess and nostalgia.
Canvases are larger than O’Doherty has used before. That’s partly a reaction to, for practical reasons, not being able to use oil paint when she was on the road – during her time away, she worked instead in pastels and charcoal pencil. Metaphorically, though, it could be viewed as representing the experience of travel. Where previously she found her subject matter literally in her own backyard, or close by with her imagined interiors, in this body of work, she’s exploring a much broader world. Her focus was usually on domestic scenes; here, she also looks at landscape, almost entirely without any manmade structures in them, but still with that same feeling of abandonment, as if things may have looked quite different even a short time before. 
In a break from her normal practice, recent interiors are of real public spaces, such as New York’s Russian Tea Room and Sketch in London. However, O’Doherty has turned them into the sorts of slightly surreal places she could have imagined herself. And subversively, Sketch, a favourite of Instagrammers, is transformed into a deserted room. Unlike previous works, which seemed quietly observational, she has painted these interiors in such a way that the viewer feels as if, Alice in Wonderland-style, it would be possible to step right into them.
While the inspiration for virtually all works in this exhibition comes from her time away, for continuity O’Doherty includes a shack in the familiar setting of Sydney’s Royal National Park. Compositionally it is a shift from earlier works; this time she incorporates more of the surrounding landscape, which serves to dwarf the manmade structure. 
Another shack painting, which could be in the Royal National Park, turns out to be in Calanques National Park near Marseille. Close to an area colloquially known to locals as ‘The End of the World’ and thousands of kilometres from an area she knows so well, O’Doherty manages to isolate what is ostensibly a recognisable scene and make it her own.