Painter Francis Matthews’ deserted streetscapes are more prescient than ever

A new art exhibition at Dublin’s Molesworth Gallery is as haunting as it is beautiful


Francis Matthews has always been drawn to the hearts of darkness of cities and suburbs; Dublin at night-time, illuminated only by street lamps, shop fronts and residential windows. But his new show at the Molesworth Gallery, Figure and Void, has a heightened sense of drama underpinned by a newfound nod of dystopian familiarity.

Here, Matthews references the Masters, in particular their use of chiaroscuro, the atmospheric and depth-creating use of light and shade in a scene, commonly provided by a single light source (obviously in the likes of Vermeer’s time there was no other choice, daylight and candlelight being the electricity of the day). The Dublin artist, for this show, has pared human presence back even further, to haunting effect.

 

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When once his paintings depicted witching-hour scenes through the eyes of a night owl, or shift worker, now evoke a city in curfew; suburbia shuttered by a global event. We see the sheen of fresh rain on tarmac – but no car lights reflected in puddles, because no one is driving anywhere in this absence of nightlife. In “Charlotte Way,” a neon Carlsberg sign glows impotently atop a building, and in “Grosvenor” a single street lamp spotlights a gleaming bicycle. The only signs of life here are the soft glow of a kebab shop or, more tantalisingly, a motion sensor light in an alleyway.

The one interior in the exhibition is Storage World, a gleaming, clinical corridor that, in the time of corona, suggests zealous sanitisation. What it is being stored behind those spotless doors will depend entirely on your presence of mood... But what is certain is Matthews’ mastery of photorealistic shadow play.

 

Header image: Charlotte Way; Donnybrook; Storage World by Francis Matthews
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Figure and Void runs at the Molesworth Gallery until October 30.


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