What better way to ring in 2017 than with a cuckoo from the wallpaper ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’, designed by Irish artist William McKeown (1962-2011), and first exhibited in 2004? The scintillating orange background and perkily symmetrical birds strike an apparently positive note, but closer observation and reflection raise darker concerns. Colour symbolism, the habits of the cuckoo,the nooses around the birds’ necks, the way the birds form a mesh-like grid (not unlike chain link fencing), all hint at the artist’s experience of growing up in the divided and restrictive environment of Northern Ireland in the 1970’s. McKeown’s paintings – often exhibited against the wallpaper – are by contrast gentle, semi-abstract evocations of early morning light, inspired by his love of the Tyrone countryside where he was born. The few to which he gave titles (e.g. ‘Hope painting – the sky inside’) suggest that the paintings – all small and unframed – could be viewed almost literally as windows offering a view through and beyond the wall of birds.
William McKeown, ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ wallpaper and untitled painting, in the exhibition ‘Chance Encounters II’ at Loewe Miami, until March 2017.
William McKeown died far too early in 2011, but his artistic estate is managed by a trust, which ensures that his work continues to be exhibited. In 2016 we screen-printed ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ twice, both times for installations in the United States. The first of these was in the Bard Centre for Curatorial Studies in upstate New York. The second installation is currently on display in the beautiful exhibition space which forms part of the Loewe Store in Miami’s Design District, and formed part of Art Basel Miami in December 2016. For more images, go to:
William McKeown is represented by the Kerlin Gallery, Dublin. http://www.kerlingallery.com/