William English Bequest

Michael Coleman (1951–)
Oil on canvas, 76 x 51
Coleman’s work can be seen in IMMA; DCGHL; ACI; OPW; TCD; UCD and many other public and private collections.
Dorothy Walker, Modern Art in Ireland, Lilliput, 1997, pp 104, 141, 159–61, 168 -–70, 177; Dennis O’Driscoll, Troubled Thoughts, Majestic Dreams, Gallery Press, 2001
Portrait of William English, ca 1980
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Born in Dublin in 1951, Michael Coleman studied at the LSA, won the P.J. Carroll Award at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1978 and secured a solo exhibition at the Oliver Dowling Gallery, Dublin just five years after graduation. He was included in the exhibition, The International Connection at the Round House, London, which formed part of the Sense of Ireland Festival of Irish Culture in London in 1980 and had a successful solo exhibition, entitled Hoey’s Court in Dublin in 1994. The poet Dennis O’Driscoll remarked that Coleman was, ‘Always toying with failure… Here is an artist attempting to do justice to the original impulse behind each work, to be faithful to the first promptings of inspiration,’ (O’Driscoll, 2001).Throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s Coleman explored the elements of painting itself, examining first the pencil mark on paper, often on a large scale, then the material ground for the painting; limiting his use of colour to severe blacks in which texture and variation is achieved through the use of different materials, such as leather and recycled fabrics, sometimes crudely stitched together, sometimes with gaping spaces, so that the void area becomes as eloquent as the solid, tangible one. Finally, he made a return to colour, in the form of single, abstract colour-field paintings, where the detail is in the play of light on the brushstroke. In the early years of the 21st century he returned to figurative painting, often using a deliberately childlike approach with simple images and strong colours.This portrait of William English is not typical of Michael Coleman’s work and might therefore be seen as a mark of the friendship that existed between the two men. Coleman’s practice was devoted to non-figurative explorations of colour, ground, light and shade during the 1970s and ’80s when this work was executed. But even if he departed from his usual practice to paint this portrait, all his concerns are addressed in it - the play of light, the use of simple, unbroken planes of colour in place of figurative detail, and the scumbled technique which allows for a real sense of depth. Together they give drama and intensity to the face of the sitter.