Biography by Jennifer Goff, B.A., M.A.
Art & Design Historian
National Museum of Ireland
Jenny McCarthy is an established contemporary Irish artist who lives and works in the remote west Kerry village of Ventry on the very edge of Ireland’s west coast. Jennys’ paintings are oil on canvas and her works include the dramatic scenery where she lives. More technical works such as the Navigator series feature detailed paintings of sailboats and navigational instruments. She employs a limited palette to create a purer result and is influenced by Monet for colour and by Turner, for light.
Throughout her career, Jenny McCarthy has remained faithful to the classical tradition of landscape painting – but with a twist. Her animated nimbus skies, low horizon, and stripes of equanimous sands are her signature style. Her work is informed by naturalism and optical verisimilitude – interwoven with touches of cubist brilliance. Illuminate reveals a collection of work where the less hermetic world of West Kerry opens up before us.
The frenetic energy and constraints of our daily lives are resolved in the harmony of McCarthy’s creations. The luminous reflection and illumination of a purer world is the dominant notion in these wonderful crystalline paintings. In their colours and forms they delicately linger between abstraction and objectivity.
A traditionalist and an avant gardist in one, her paintings invoke a distant past, yet in their artistic sensibility they are firmly rooted in the contemporary. Touched with classical undertones her unique style displays knowledge of colour theories through her limitation of the palette. At times her methodology changes from Abstraction to Cubism, through the distillation of form as in Skellig Diptych and the fragmentation of shapes seen in Ventry Beach Night Storm. The former painting is the first diptych McCarthy completed. Concerned that the physical division of the painting would break the visual continuity of the theme, McCarthy abstracts the rock face.
Through her treatment of the low horizon and the overall silver gray tonality of the light, unified by the whiteness of the sky, she subtlety interacts the islands. This pictorial device successfully secures the subject matter of the paintings, integrating them as one. In Ventry Beach and Approaching Rain McCarthy foregoes description in favour of pure effect where the paintings are visually framed by the animated blackness of the sinister skies. This is pictorial architecture at its best.