The Artists’ Laboratory is a series of exhibitions that give Royal Academicians the chance to produce experimental work. The fifth artist to feature is Hughie O’Donoghue, who has created five works that reflect the personal experiences of his father during the Second World War.
This project came about when O’Donoghue was sorting through the effects of his late father. They represent his attempts to ‘remember’ events he has not witnessed.
Running through the heart of the two galleries is ‘Road’, a narrative piece made up of photographs, maps and sheet music that tell his father’s story. This piece both holds the exhibition together and is a lead off into the other works.
Three of O’Donoghue’s large-scale paintings are in his signature style of glowing colours and blurred outlines, but two of these have his father’s personal effects embedded within them. For example, ‘Diver’ is a metaphor for escapism and also features a flute that his father used to occasionally escape the horrors of warfare.
The highlight, and even O’Donoghue admitted ‘it steals the show’, is Crossing the Rapido III. It’s a large graphite composition intentionally comparable in size and scale to Picasso’s Guernica. In it, an apocalyptic scene unfolds where a town is afire and hands seemingly emerge from the water to seal a drowning man’s fate. It’s a chaotic and encapsulating piece that’s worth the visit alone.
Our only negative comment is that an admission charge for such a small exhibition might put off visitors. This would be shame as this laboratory has achieved its aim of showing that an artist stepping outside his comfort zone can create some of his best work.
Artists’ Laboratory 5: Hughie O’Donoghue – Painting/Memory is on at the Royal Academy of Arts until 14 October. Admission is £3 or free with a ticket to any other Royal Academy exhibition.
Also still on at the Royal Academy is the excellent From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism.