Skimming The Surface, Sarah Dwyer.

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” T.S.Eliot, Four Quartets

At first, we skim the surface. If something catches our eye – wink, blink – we briefly consider what has been presented to the world. Like the red lips of a girl on a train, our second cursory glance is the response to an invitation, one that is framed by what the artist wants us to see. The surface of a work, like a veil that might be lifted, represents the beginning, the entry point, for an encounter. It openly, sometimes audaciously but more often subtly, whispering, asks us to probe beneath. In this sense, the surface is the space between the artist and the viewer, but also the place where they meet.

Helen Barff Katharine Beaugié Sarah Dwyer Dominique Gerolini
Echo Morgan Ginny Parry HelenA Pritchard Alice Wilson

Like a newborn’s skin, the moment an artist stops intervening on the surface, when their surface work is done, is the moment its relationship with the world begins. With each of the artists in this show, surface elicits as much as it demands; it holds a meaning as diverse as the specific methodology it provokes.


Sarah Dwyer is a painter who digs, layers, unearths, reveals, conceals. Her deliciously textured abstract oil paintings are like maps from another realm, distantly familiar, as if seen from the window of a plane. Like mind maps, drawn from an imagination without borders, they have a distinct lexicon, a very Dwyer language of mark making. She uses paint like a poet uses words, subtly building a picture your eye returns to over and over again.

“The surfaces of Dwyer’s paintings often appear densely worked; the result of repeated application and erasure, where the brush moves between areas of impasto, chalky white washes of paint and sketched lines that seem to reveal an amorphous shape, or corral a cluster of forms. This method of revealing and concealing holds the surface of the work in constant tension.” (Sunk Under @ Jane Lombard Gallery 2015)

Interestingly, the title for her first solo exhibition in New York, Sunk Under, was taken from a poem by Seamus Heaney, entitled ‘Bogland’. Heaney once described this bogland so unique to Ireland as ‘…a landscape that remembered everything that had happened in and to it.’ Her paintings have an underground, often brilliant coloured like gems, which is worked over – like time compressing the land – with paler, softer colours. She buries treasures, which are then pulled back to the surface, colours dragged back into the light in the final stages of painting.

Dwyer’s poetic process is rooted in the impulsive nature of drawing: of creating a line. This offers the viewer a vocabulary of forms, particular shapes and drawn lines recur across works, or even outside of them (realised in freestanding plaster sculptures to accompany works). She plants them for us to read in a softly inviting and luminous palette of fleshy pinks, aqua and sea blue. Suggestive of both personal and shared histories they recall the physical paintings of Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky, and speak to Ireland’s poetic tradition that infuses the real with the imaginary.

Sarah Dwyer (b. 1974, Ireland) earned a Master’s in Painting from the Royal College of Art, London, in 2004, after an MFA from Straffordshire University in 2001. Dwyer lives and works in London. Recent group shows include New Order: British Art Today, Saatchi Gallery, London and Fade Away (Touring exhibition), and solo shows at Jane Lombard Gallery, NY, and Josh Lilley gallery London.

The opening of her group show at JGM Gallery is on the 6th June. If you are interested to join me at the VIP Breakfast, please do email me here