Colour and chaos

Assembling Atelier Maser's latest contemporary art offering

Helen Steele has completely ruined her spare bedroom. 

There's paint splatter all over the floor, the carpet, the walls, and the radiator - energetic splashes of colour that are usually reserved for her studio in Monaghan, but have been temporarily relocated to her home as a result of the mild havoc cause by Storm Ciara. 

Helen has been working on creating a series of pieces to showcase at an upcoming group exhibition, Assemble. 

As usual, her work is very much focused on colour, patterns, and vibrancy - but this time, the designer is hoping to bring something a little different to the table. 

"I've destroyed the place," she tells Her. "Completely ruined the spare bedroom.

"I was originally working on something that was very provocative and feminist driven, but unfortunately I was working on a medium that I had never worked with before... and it collapsed. 

“I’ve done about six pieces so far and I can’t make my mind up about which to include. That’s just my personality though, I chop and change whenever I have to make a decision. I'll use whichever ones I like I suppose, or whichever ones dry the quickest."

Helen is one of seven artists contributing to the upcoming exhibition by Atelier Maser. 

Displaying new work from Steele, Leah Hewson, Deirdre Breen, Jane Fogarty, Lola Donoghue, Alice Fitzgerald and Aoife Scott, Assemble is a celebration of contemporary art in Ireland. 

Featuring paintings, prints, textiles, and sculptures, the ambitious project will showcase the work of some of Ireland's most talented contemporary artists in a way that is both new and innovative. 

Each selected by Maser for the project, the artists are unfamiliar with one another's latest pieces. Instead they're all working entirely separately at opposite ends of the country, eventually coming together to present artworks that compliment each other - but ultimately tell their own story. 

Helen says that not having seen any of the other artists' latest work adds another level of curiosity to the project. 

"We’re all creating what we want and then putting it into the exhibition so it’s really different," she says. "It’s like buying a lucky bag and not knowing what you’re going to get. It’s not structured or over analytical.

"I hate the pseudo-intellectualism that comes with a lot of art and the tendency to over-explain things. It alienates people from the work and from galleries.

“That’s why I love the work that Atelier Maser are doing. It’s a really good reflection of not just the work in Ireland, but the work happening around the world."

Some of Maser's most instantly recognisable work comes in the form of the iconic Repeal heart. 

Created amidst the campaign to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Irish constitution, the artwork was displayed on the wall of The Project Arts Centre before being removed - twice. 

The heart - the remnants of which still partly remain - quickly became a symbol of a desired change within Ireland. Its positioning on The Project Arts Centre, and its subsequent removals, ended up being inherently political - even if they weren't originally intended to be. 

Helen says that Assemble isn't necessarily intended as a statement either. 

The exhibition may include work from seven women, but the art itself isn't necessarily concerning an all-female experience. Rather, it's simply representative of the contemporary art landscape in Ireland today. 

"From my point of view, and as a group, I don’t think it’s a female or male statement, it just happened that way," says Helen. 

“A lot of Maser’s previous shows were solo exhibitions with a lot of male artists so he might have wanted to do something different. 

"It’s not really about feminism, it’s more about the work."

The work, although incredibly distinct, is still linked by a series of common threads. Colour, form, abstraction, and chaos. 

Designer and visual artist Deirdre Breen's own work feeds into this class. For years, she has been working with mural installations, screenprints, and textiles, creating pieces that are as heavy in theory as they are in refinement. 

Based in Cork, Deirdre is still in the process of finalising her contributions for the exhibition - pieces that are very much involved in the exploration of form and colour. 

"I’m thinking indepthly about the ways we perceive colour and playing with those relationships," she says.

"My three pieces all work together looking at the juxtaposition of colour and how people respond to that.

"It has been scientifically proven that humans respond to juxtapositions differently compared to a single colour, so my choices look at how colours can change based on what they’re in relation to.”

Deirdre says that despite having worked in group shows before, she is aware of a difference in Assemble - in the way that it has been organised and the wide variety of artist disciplines it is showcasing. 

"It was almost born organically," she says. "[Maser] had been online, looking at different contemporary practices around Ireland.

"He shortlisted the ones that he liked, and probably the ones that shared similarities and threads within his own work, and it sort of just grew from there.

"It’ll be interesting in terms of the curation because we’re all so separate. We’re also all based in different areas in Ireland so it’s not necessarily a Dublin based exhibition, which is great."

Assemble runs from March 12 - April 3 2020 at Atelier Maser. The exhibition will also be a part of this year's St. Patrick’s festival from March 13 - 17. 

You can find out more here.