Artistic License: Martin Gale

Penny McCormac, The Gloss Magazine , September 7, 2023

Irish artist Martin Gale's new exhibition combines seemingly small insignificant incidents and his curiosity about circuses …



What was the inspiration for your new exhibition?

The title of the exhibition is “Happenstance”, a word which goes some way to describing how the paintings come about. As I tend to work in series, it is often the case that a picture is a direct follow on from the previous painting. The idea for a painting or even a whole series can come from a place that strikes me as a good location in which to set a work, a even from a phrase or something I have read. On more than one occasion the title has actually come first. So there is no direct route into a painting. Happenstance, meaning an event or fact that causes or helps something to happen, seemed an apt title for the show.


You seem to be particularly interested in circuses and landscape? 

Apart from eight years in Dublin when I was at college, I have always lived in the countryside, it is part of my lived experience, so as most of the work has an autobiographical slant it is bound to play a big part in the paintings. However, the landscape is never the sole subject – I have no interest in painting scenery – but rather it provides a setting or background for whatever else is going on. Typically the paintings carry a suggestion of a narrative, but it is never completed. There is no beginning, middle or end, just a few ingredients that may be part of a story.

The circus tents are also an ingredient rather than the whole subject. Although I respect the tradition around that way of life and the romance that goes with it, I have no real interest in circuses as such. What I am interested in is the impact the tents have when they arrive in an area, bringing colour, excitement, anticipation, and a hint of exoticism with them. There is a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ side of it which is compelling. They also excite curiosity; I like snooping around when they are setting up or between shows. I am especially drawn to them in the evening when the lights come on and you have several different light sources.


How and where do you work? 

Some years ago I built a studio on to my house. It is a big square room with corner windows and an attic conversion above it. There is also a small storeroom that is so full of clutter it is beginning to spread out into the studio. I go into the studio every day, there is always something to be done. You could say it is central to my existence.


Your paintings are full of brief incidents suspended in time – to quote Seamus Heaney, “They hold in a single, steady, local focus the reality and anxiety of the times”. I believe you have a connection with the late poet?


Seamus Heaney wrote a very nice piece about my paintings some time ago. It was very insightful. I had illustrated two limited edition books for him, published by The Gallery Press. The first was The Riverbank Field published in 2007, a collection of poems written in response to the birth of a grandchild. The second was The Last Walk, published in 2013, Translations from the Italian of Giovanni Pascoli. It was hugely significant to me that he had taken the time to understand what I was trying to do with the paintings. You can find his piece on my website;