Go, Go Pitch Black Night: Martin Finnin

7 June - 2 July 2018

‘Titles become micro poems, a collection of fragments on a painting’s journey. They try to describe things that there are no words for.”

Martin Finnin

Each summer Martin Finnin packs the contents of his Cork studio into an old ambulance and drives from Ireland to a friend’s farm in the hills outside Lucca in Italy. Here he paints for several months, returning to Cork in the autumn. By then some canvases will be finished and those that remain unresolved will continue to be worked on through the contrasting environment of an Irish winter. The development of the paintings for this exhibition was recorded by his wife Maria in a series of photographs taken between 2015 and 2018, some of which are included here next to the finished works. They offer a fascinating insight into his ideas, recording moments on each canvas that now only linger as faint shadows beneath months of later revisions.


Finnin works instinctively. Every step in the progress of a painting is a response suggested by the painting itself: “Paint is its own boss”, he says, “…sometimes it’s better just to observe how it wants to be…colours and shapes emerge and if they work they stay, if not they are wiped away. This process can continue for months, sometimes years”. The struggle is over when every element of the canvas feels right, each playing its part in the whole and yet maintaining a sense of spontaneity and immediacy, “a freshness that needs to be captured at the right time then left untouched, a moment when everything is in balance”.


Qualities in his work that one might expect to derive from the light and colour of the Tuscan landscape find their way into the paintings only obliquely; perhaps in a title or a combination of colours or shapes discovered in the early Renaissance paintings he visits around Tuscany. The dramatic possibilities of darkness came about after seeing one of the earliest paintings of a night scene, Piero della Francesca’s ‘Legend Of The True Cross’. “Night gets a bad press”, says Finnin. “Miscreants hiding in doorways, monsters, mysteries; real and imagined fears existing under cover of darkness.”. Finnin revelled in the substance of night and subverting the darker connotations of darkness. Instead, paintings like ‘Go Go Pitch Black Night’ and the irresistibly titled suite of etchings, ‘The Prints of Darkness’, became a series of joyful night-time adventures which were to help define the direction of the show.


And yet the myriad influences of his environment, travels and observations have but a tiny influence on the outcome of his paintings. These influences may shape him, but don’t directly affect the paintings. More importantly, if there is one constant thread in his work, it is that not a single element should be recognisable: not a sign or symbol or combination of colours that may hint at something external. To be complete and finished, the paintings must exist in their own right, not in reference to anything else. Weightless, freed from our need to impose meaning, his paintings create a space that is new and continuously fascinating. Don’t try and understand Finnin’s paintings; they defy any attempts to be read or interpreted, they exist only in themselves, describing things there are no words for.


John Martin

Installation Views