Catherine O’Donnell | No Barrier to Entry

Familiar facades in America – An opportunity to exhibit alongside international artists in America positions Catherine O’Donnell’s 'Sydney Fibros' in a dialogue with the architecture of Chicago.

Catherine O’Donnell’s Sydney Fibros series look quite at home in Chicago. Presented in a group exhibition No Barrier to Entry, O’Donnell was approached by Gallery 19 Chicago to exhibit alongside three other international artists: Alejandrina Herrera, Henrique de Franca, and Ana Zanic. Reaffirming the strength and emotional impact of drawing, each practitioner pushes the medium to different lengths, demonstrating the ongoing relevance of drawing as a foundational medium in contemporary artistic practice.

Viewing O’Donnell’s work in America marks an exciting stage for the artist and the international relevance of her art. And more specifically, the location of her socially intuitive work holds a resonance in Chicago – a city whose identity is historically defined by its social geography. O’Donnell first began her examination into the geometric architecture of fibro houses in Australia while undergoing a Master’s degree in 2013. Whilst historically these buildings represent sites of socioeconomic disadvantage, O’Donnell’s nuanced and sensitive depiction reminds the viewer of their significance in the cityscape.

O’Donnell’s recent travels and residencies in the UK and Europe, and her expansion into large wall drawings, have clearly strengthened the conceptual scope of her most recent small-scale works. In Sydney Fibros she deconstructs the geometry in confident bounds – creating greater negative spaces and marking strong ruled lines as evidence of her hand – removing any question of whether she is reproducing reality. In her close attention to the shadows and detail of doors and windows, O’Donnell pushes into the interior, away from the real, asking the viewer to consider who is behind these geometric facades. Hints of light and moving blinds draw us into an intimate analysis of these familiar buildings that usually go unnoticed.

Like O’Donnell, artists Alejandrina Herrera, Henrique de Franca, and Ana Zanic present sophisticated drawing series that push the boundaries of memories and narrative. Brazilian artist Henrique de França seems set to draw the viewer out of the real into his in-between spaces and landscapes. His carefully balanced compositions position people and objects in liminal spaces, caught in a state of both emerging from and disappearing into other worlds. While at first glance they appear as landscapes, these compositions are shifting, combining the rural and the urban, the imagined and the real, in the internalised narrative of the artist.

Time and the passing of it is a consistent theme throughout the exhibition. Working with memory, Mexican artist Alejandrina Herrera’s minute, circular works appear as if wormholes or flashing glimpses of past moments in time. Slowing down the process of remembering, her hyper real drawings reimagine scenes captured previously in photographs. What remains striking about these tiny works is Herrera’s confident articulation of light, whether piercing through perforated paper in a family domestic scene or outlining the texture and movement of clouds. This movement of light and tone takes centre stage in the abstract ink works of Croatian artist Ana Zanic. A refreshing injection of colour to the exhibition, the artist balances her floating worlds with detailed and poised black silhouettes that delicately move across the paper.

Within Chicago, O’Donnell’s examination of architectural spaces draws interesting parallels with the work of Chicago-based installation artist Amanda Williams. As a social activist, academic and artist, Williams’ work engages with architecture and urban spaces. Whether working from small, cut out and layered paper maps that reveal the links of place and identity, or painting entire houses in South Chicago before they are demolished for gentrification, Williams – like O’Donnell – plays with architectural scale and form to evoke the complexity of stories and conversations embedded urban spaces.

An arresting showcase of international artists, No Barrier to Entry positions O’Donnell and her ever-expanding practice on a trajectory for engagement with a global audience.

EXHIBITION
No Barrier to Entry
Until 27 April 2018
Gallery 19, Chicago

Courtesy the artists and Gallery 19, Chicago.