Kevin Mooney is an Irish artist working out of Sample Studios in Cork. He has participated in major Irish and international exhibitions such as EVA International (2018), and ‘Pine’s Eye’ (2020), Edinburgh. His paintings utilise languages of expressionism, alongside figurative elements that disclose political, social, and cultural histories.
Revenants covers recent work from 2016 to now. The work can be described as ‘speculative art history’ as the artist visualises underexplored areas of history. Iconic figures from Irish folk history, like Peig Sayers seen in Storyteller (2016), find their way into the paintings. It could be argued that this privileging of tradition is shared with painters of the new Irish State like Seán Keating or Maurice MacGonigal, but in Mooney’s work their representation is conflicted, and the outcome is one of bathos. In these images, clichés of Irish culture are deployed; in the case of Blighters (2018-21) those of potatoes and the Famine. But Mooney’s reading of history is layered. He identifies how ‘the Irish’ are not a homogenous group but comprised of different cultures and social strata. Each of these emigrated over various centuries, and some became absorbed into the apparatus of Empire, in some cases becoming slave owners themselves. This aligns to post-colonial theorist Homi Bhabha’s ideas of hybridity and mimicry. He said, ‘the discourse of mimicry is constructed around an ambivalence; in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excess, its difference’. Mooney’s ‘speculative history’ occupies the spaces identified by Bhabha. He imagines an Irish visual culture, propagated in the Caribbean and fertilised by its diversity. What might happen if an alternative visual culture had emerged in the context of the Irish global diaspora, and what might it look like?